Mycitizen.net has been featured in a guest post at Rising Voices.
The third part of the series has been published, please start reading at Mycitizen.net and its Roots in Burma.
The original concept has started out from users, groups and resources as the basic building blocks of mycitizen.net, suggesting their equal significance. It nevertheless was clear from the beginning that these three categories would not contribute with the same quantity of items, and particularly groups and resources would be used in very different ways:
- It can be assumed that each user is able to participate only in a very limited number of groups, and the number of users certainly exceeds the number of groups. Groups would naturally serve as focal points of activity and as nodes of communication.
- The number of resources could easily grow into larger quantities. Imagine, for example, that a group decides to import a voluminous library of reports. You may easily end up with numerous entries in the listings that all look similar, making it arduous to find the relevant ones.
Despite their different nature is the filter mechanism almost the same for users, groups and resources. This is by design since the concern (or interest), the language and the geographic location are the primary criteria that define relevance across the entire platform. The current method of filtering by tags and a search radius on the map may, however, still leave you with 100 or 200 entries that are potentially interesting. So how would you find what really matters?
The natural way how most people would probably tackle this task is to look through the results and to gradually narrow down the selection by discarding unsuitable items. Unhappy with the presently available options, I realized that a distinct form of presentation was needed for resources, a search layout with the following features:
- Resources should be displayed on one page, rather than users having to browse through long lists that span over many pages.
- The selection of displayed items should immediately reflect changes in the filter settings.
- After automatic filtering, it should be possible to additionally hide Items manually, or to re-order them by simple drag-and-drop.
Find this and more changes in the new version 0.10.
The latest version comes with two major novelties:
- The first feature is something you know from most other websites, and we have already employed this technology in the chats: Most pages – and particularly where you browse through lists or click to detail views – are now reloaded only in their central parts while the unchanged components are not fetched unless needed.1
This “partial reloading into the existing page” tremendously speeds up the browsing speed since data amounts and the number of requests to the server are drastically reduced. If something gets stuck, you can of course still reload the page in the browser. You are also able to share the URL as direct link to a page.
This feature might need some further testing under various conditions, and particularly an unsteady connection might lead to lost page transitions. Nevertheless, we are confident that it deserves to be released in this beta version due to its importance, and of course only after much in-house testing.
- This new feature enables us to deliver a second feature, namely to attach a chat window to the steady part.2 Users can therefore browse the pages while keeping the chat open.
The chat (precisely private messages) on mycitiizen.net is fully WYSIWYG-enabled and it is therefore not easy to squeeze it to slimmer dimensions. We decided in favour of a solution that lets the user switch between the full width and a very reduced sidebar that regularly polls the server for changes.
If you need more details, move on to the changelog.
We have just released version 0.8 of mycitizen.net.
Recent changes include a check to prevent identical subsequent messages in chats. Particularly users in Myanmar (Burma) have often accidentally sent the same message multiple times because an extremely slow Internet connection has delayed the delivery. In another response to in-the-field test results, we have added a dialog window to make sure you don’t accidentally navigate away from a page while you are writing a message.
The most visible change is probably the filter button that – when filtering is active – displays the applied criteria directly on top of the listings. While browsing the filtered list of items, you, therefore, see immediately how this selection was created.
Further additions allow you to refer in messages to other users, groups or resources by using their IDs prepended by @1. The same symbol can be used to trigger a search, while searching by tags is done with #. Read more about it in the user manual or see yourself on the demo.
Behind the scenes we are still working on the mobile app. And if you are interested to read about the story of mycitizen.net, proceed to the article published by the Ethnos Project
Some substantial new features and a security-related fix have triggered a new version under the “Kalay” series: 0.7. Most changes are not immediately visible to the visitor but they aim at improving the user experience.
The lists of connected users, groups and resources, for instance, can now be filtered as well, making it easier to handle large amounts of own connections. The activity stream optionally includes items that have recently joined so that you can make sure not to miss any newcomers. Administrators and moderators can insert into the users’ streams system-wide announcements. And, just to mention one more feature that was added in response to a request: The image upload has been extended to allow also for common office document files, like PDF, text documents, spreadsheets, or presentations. This enables you to share these documents directly from your server, as part of a resource or in a chat or private message. Files are saved in a user’s own space on the server.
During our work we are also trying to improve the way how we describe the concept of mycitizen.net. We have understood that merely talking about social networking understates the collaborative aspect, evoking ideas of platforms that are merely for communication but don’t facilitate the formation of groups and the sharing of resources in a way that makes it possible for others to easily find what is relevant to them.
Read the whole list of changes or grab the code. Particularly during testing, we are glad about helping hands. If you think that your engagement with civil society could benefit from a hosted deployment, please contact us and we will see if we can help out. This applies to the time during the beta phase and mainly – but not exclusively – to activities inside Myanmar (Burma).
Most changes in this version are small but should noticeably improve the user experience:
- You can see now who are the friends of your friends (unless, of course, they have chosen to remain invisible). This makes it easier to find new connections that matter without, however, having to sacrifice on privacy protection.
- We have improved the ways how to find out what has recently happened: Users who are currently online are marked with a green dot, while others reveal the date when they last have been online. This information is only visible to users who are logged in.
- Recommendations on the home screen are now compiled by considering your position in a growing radius. If even the larger radius doesn’t yield sufficient results, the position is entirely disregarded. This way, you will first receive items close to you, and only if there is nothing around – or if you have already added them to your connections – the search will be extended to other areas.