Sunday, June 08, 2008

Trackers, Maps, and Tweaks

For those of you up late Sunday night, you might have noticed I took Atlas Quest down for a little over a half hour to upload some updates for the site. It's a major update, but not really.....

The main thing I updated were trackers, and for those of you who aren't into doing postals, LTCs, and other spinoffs from letterboxing--you can pretty much ignore it all. =) For those of those who ARE into them--you'll notice some pretty big changes. I gave trackers their own space under the 'Letterboxes' menubar option. Trackers aren't letterboxes, obviously. Heck, they aren't even actual objects. It's a conceptual thing to keep track of boxes and people and their relationships, but I couldn't think of a better place to put it. I had considered adding another menubar option specifically for trackers, but that seemed like overkill. At least for now.

But I digress.... if you go to the tracker page, you'll see at least two prominent columns. The first one will list any "active" trackers you're in. What's an active tracker? Glad you asked! =) You'll notice that for each tracker you participate in, you can set your status in the tracker to either active, waiting, or completed. Active means that you have something you need to do with the tracker. If it's an LTC, it might mean you need to create a bunch of cards and get them mailed off. If it's a postal, it might mean you need to create a postal or are in a ring and need to forward boxes on.

Waiting means just that--you still have a place to play in the tracker, but you're generally waiting on something that's out of your control. You might be waiting for the start date. You might be waiting for a single letterbox and are number 20 on the list to receive it. You have a long wait, and you don't want it cluttering up the search results. Then there's completed--you're done with your part in the tracker. This lets you get rid of such trackers from your search results without actually having to drop yourself from a tracker or wait for it to become retired.

The other major column on the main trackers page is a list of upcoming trackers that are open, have room, and about to start. If you want to get in and get started quickly, check out that list. Only available trackers are listed, and they are sorted in order based on their start dates.

Trackers now have their own special search page which lets you search based on availability (the tracker must be open, with open spots available, and hasn't started yet), as well as specify what type of tracker to return (all trackers, postal trackers, LTC trackers, other trackers, or boxing buddies), and your status in the tracker (active, waiting, completed, or all of the above). You should be able to get quite specific searches with these new search options. =)

The main focus has been postal trackers and LTC trackers since there's been a bit of a feud going on between the two sides. Trust me, I've heard the complaints. ;o)

I also added support for "other" trackers--which, naturally, support "other" boxes. I threw that in so the next time someone invents a new type of box and start listing them as others, then they'll also have access to a tracker that can track them. I don't know of any particular use for that type right now, but I'm sure it'll come in handy at some point.

Then there's support for boxing buddies. For a long time, I wondered about how to support those. Listing it as a type of box made no sense since it's not a box at all, but I loathed the idea of creating an account just so the boxing buddy can record finds. I rather suspect a lot of people would prefer these pseudo people not logging finds on their boxes (which includes myself, I might add). Then it hit me. It's a bunch of people (with buddy in tow) finding a bunch of boxes, and there needs to be some way to track such going ons. Hello? That's what trackers do! =) So, thus, boxing buddies are now officially supported in the form of trackers.

Now the interesting thing with these trackers, since each type is segregated in the code base, I can make tweaks to each of them based on their specific properties. For instance, postal boxes show that chart of people and boxes and who's recorded finds on what. That chart doesn't really make sense for other types of trackers, however, and therefore you won't find it with other tracker types. But! If you are in an LTC swap (for instance), you'll find a new "Record Finds" button that allows you to record the finds of all LTCs registered with the tracker. The boxing buddy tracker has a separate "add box" list.

And finally, trackers now support what I call "notes." I know a lot of Yahoo Groups were created for specific trackers just so people in that tracker had a place to swap information. It's kind of like a primitive message board for each tracker that only people in the tracker can post to. I'm not sure how the use of this particular feature will evolve, but it might be interesting to watch. =) The main tracker page will show the most recent notes posted to any of the trackers you're in, but nobody will see that at first since there are no notes and therefore no notes to show you.

There's a few other tweaks I've made to the trackers, but those are the major ones you should be aware of. I'll let you find the rest on your own time. =)

Next up..... Premium members will see a new link in the upper-right corner of the page whenever they do a search on traditional letterboxes. It says KML, and I'll bet most of you have no idea what that means. No to worry, neither do I. =) Well, I know what it means, but rather I don't know what it stands for off the top of my head. But that doesn't matter. What does matter is that it's the format that Google Earth uses to read in lots of interesting data. If you have Google Earth installed, click that KML link and open the resulting file with it. It'll plot the first hundred results of your search in the program. It's really pretty cool. =) It seems that Google Maps recently included an option to import KML files as well, but I haven't played with that use of it as of yet.

For those of you who box with friends, you can now hide the plants and finds of your friends' logbook in your own searches. Keep in mind, however, this will only work if your friend does not have their finds hidden from public view. (Their plants will still be hidden, since those are always public anyhow.) You can do this neat little trick from the Advanced Search page. Type in your friend's trail name and click the "Hide Plants & Finds" button and presto! A search returning boxes that neither of you have found or planted. (Assuming, of course, you haven't forgotten to check the boxes to hide your own plants and finds!)

And that, I think, pretty much covers the new stuff--or at least the major stuff worth noting. As always, an eagle eye will likely find spelling mistakes mysteriously fixed, the buttons on My Page now used text that's 90% of normal size, and other miscellaneous details, but they're generally things you don't need to worry about.

Happy trails!


Kaaren said...

Liking the tracker stuff. Off to play before work.

Stacy Christian said...

I really should learn not to log into AQ before coffee, but now that I'm well caffinated I love it! Thanks, GT!

Marissa Dupont said...

Woohoo! Ryan rules! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks the tracker stuff will make it so much easier! You are awesome. I especially love that we can log finds for an LTC swap all toghther.
Thanks again Ryan this site is so fabulous, and it keeps getting better.

Anonymous said...

really nice ryan. love the tracker stuff and the notes about my upcoming tracker. thanks for the links to check it out as we read about it. you are the best of the best.


Woolfairy said...

Oh cool! Love the Google Earth thing. Now I just have to explore the tracker stuff. Sounds great too though. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Cool new tools!!! You are definitely the greatest!!! Thanks, Ryan
O Dog

dee expaddy said...

Nice job with the KML. Now to figure out how i can quickly convert KML to GPX and load it into GSAK along with my geocaching waypoints!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your hard work Ryan!!!
er dvm

Anonymous said...

I created an XSL transform to do just that jonathan -- load the clues from the URLs listed in the KML file, in a format that GSAK likes. Neat-o!