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JungleDragon 4 - Strategy update »

FERDY CHRISTANT - APR 20, 2015 (09:34:48 PM)

JungleDragon V4 development started less than 4 months ago, 117 days ago to be exact. In that period, a whopping 21 site updates were deployed, and many of them were big, not just small changes. Update 21 closes an important goal of JungleDragon V4, therefore it is time for a strategy update. In this post I will look back at the previous period, as well as forward as to what is to come.

JungleDragon 4 - core goals completed

Hereby an overview of what happened during the last 21 updates:

Update 1: Small moderator improvements and bug fixes, the kickoff of a new season of development.

Update 2: A core feature, species identification, became 10 times faster!

Update 3: Personal tags radically improved, allowing you to organize personal sets any way you see fit, with full slideshow support.

Update 4Species introductions, identifications and species photographed are now linked to user profiles. At a single glance you can now see for any member their species "collection" and their overall contribution to JungleDragon.

Update 5: Another brand-new way to explore photos: by season, where the season is automatically detected from your photo's timestamp and location. Furthermore, every single list in JungleDragon now has a counter in the "More" button.

The big idea: An in-between post in which I envision what V4 will really be about: exploring wildlife by geography. Most of the updates that came after this are related to these ideas.

Server move: Unplanned, yet JungleDragon had to move to a brand new server and software stack. As a result, the site is faster and more scalable overall. Some specific actions (such as processing photos after an upload) are now dramatically faster, Im talking 10 times as fast. As a result, there's virtually no actions anymore in JungleDragon where you are really waiting for the system.

Update 6: A new slider carrousel on the homepage explains to new users the unique aspects of JungleDragon, which are not immediately clear otherwise.

Update 7: A better photo edit flow, and a brand new feature for handling photo deletions, which greatly streamlines the old process. Furthermore, several fixes.

Update 8: Species introductions, JungleDragon's most heroic action for any user to realize are now further celebrated by means of a new indicator on the photo page as well as any thumb of a photo. 

Update 9: Moderators who spent a lot time educating other users in how to properly share photos now have a new guidance tool which saves a lot of time explaining the same concept over and over again to new users. The guidance features automates standard messages and is further supported by help content. In addition, this update introduces feature control, which allows administrators to selectively enable/disable site features without bringing the whole site down.

Update 10: This update marks the true start of the "country idea". In this update, I prepared the back-end and data sources, enabling the country features in the updates that followed.

Update 11: An essential update which introduces exploring navigating to countries via a country selection screen, guided by a cool widget. For the first time, a "country" is a very visible thing in JungleDragon.

Update 12: Finally, photo overviews (not just map pins) are added at the country level. As of now, anyone can explore photos by country, which is crucial. And of course, there is full slideshow support.

Update 13: In order for the new country features to work well, photos need to be mapped to countries. This works automatically for geotagged photos, yet this update introduces simple yet powerful tools to set the country for non-geotagged photos. Besides species identification, this brings a new discipline to photographers and moderators.

Update 14: This update further supports the phenomenal progress the community made in mapping photos to countries. Using personal "unmapped" overviews and country counters, it is a task now easier to track and manage.

Update 15: A historic JungleDragon update which introduces species at the country level. This feature is a breakthrough of which the impact will only be felt longer term. In addition, this update also introduces an entirely new concept: country intros. Another way to fuel to obsession of the community in collection species.

Update 16: Many country updates packed in a single update: country intros at the user profile, a brand new link from a species record back to countries, new sortings for selecting a country, better country borders on a map, and moderation help updated.

Update 17: A crucial follow-up to the country species feature: you can now filter them based on popular species categories. This makes possible things like "birds in Costa Rica", "Mammals in the USA", etc. A very natural and intuitive way to go about exploring wildlife. A vision coming to life.

Update 18: A spectacular update that introduces parks and protected areas for countries. On a country map, that countries' protected areas an parks are drawn as polygons and points. A great guide in planning wildlife trips in your home and travel countries! 

Update 19: A simple update that adds member overviews at the country level, allowing you to find peers in your country.

Update 20: This update introduces direct messaging, allowing members to contact each other privately, in a secure and controlled way. Combined with update 19 this makes connecting with people in your country possible, for example to plan a photo trip together.

Update 21: This updates introduces videos at the country level, similar to how one adds videos from Youtube and Vimeo for species.

Progress summarized

Phew, those are a lot of updates, with a lot of progress. Mountains were moved in a very short timeframe, and we did it together. The community has been excellent in appreciating the updates, using them, and reporting bugs. In just a few months time, JungleDragon has radically changed in many ways. 

The most important takeaway for me is that the vision to explore wildlife by geography in rich ways is now a reality. The ideas outlined in The Big Idea are now here. They are being used and will only grow in value over the years to come.

That's right, I'm calling the "country" feature complete as of update 21. If you read the Big Idea post, you may note that I also mentioned country books and travel tabs, but those I consider of minor importance, something for the future. In addition, the parks feature has been delivered, but not as deep as initially imagined.

More importantly though, we now have country photos and species and tools to map photos to countries, which is the real core of the concept.  It's done!

What's next?

In a way, what I envisioned for V4 is now done. Yet I will not close V4 development, it will continue.

For the 2nd half of V4 development, meaning the months to come, I will focus on streamlining the features we have. JungleDragon has a lot of features currently. Instead of building even more, I am now going to focus on optimizing the features we already have. Delivering them better, faster, more beautiful, and better usable on mobile.

Instead of some updates introducing big things, this phase will be about many updates improving small things. It will be a tweak phase. The devil is in the details, as they say. Ultimately I want every page and interaction within JungleDragon to make sense, be usable, clear, beautiful and fast.

There's also a personal note attached to it. I tend to do the heavy lifting in winter, when the days here are dark and cold. These last months have been a bit extreme in my devotion to V4 development. Don't get me wrong, I love doing it, but it was a bit of an unhealthy balance compared to the other responsibilities in my life.

Therefore, development will go back to a more normal pace. Regular updates, but not into the extreme. Catching some breath for both myself and the community. A more balanced approach. Yet don't forget: many small updates over time will still add up to big changes a few months from now. 

Thank you as always for being part of this. It's a long road, but I seriously believe that we are now at a point where JungleDragon is unmistakingly valuable and useful. I hope you agree.


JungleDragon 4 - Update 21 »

FERDY CHRISTANT - APR 17, 2015 (09:38:45 PM)

Update 21 of JungleDragon V4 is now live. This update introduces country videos.

Countries are now a huge thing in JungleDragon. They have maps, photos, species, parks, members, and now also videos:

Note the new "videos" tab at the country level. Adding a video works very similar to how you add a video to a species, a feature that already exists. Any logged in member can add a video using the "Add video" button, which launches this dialog:

Here you simple paste the Youtube or Vimeo video in, and JungleDragon will do the rest:

Above is a scaled down screenshot of a country video being played, the very first one ever. This concerns an incredible 4K 60fps video of Costra Rica, played at 2560 x 1440p in JungleDragon's fullscreen video player. Here's the live link.

Furthermore, the country selection screen now has a new counter, indicating the number of videos for the country:

On photos that have a country mapped, the video counter is also added:

As this feature has been deployed only just now, you're going to find a whole lot of zeroes in those counters, but I hope that will improve soon.

That's it, country videos in action!

JungleDragon 4 - Update 20 »

FERDY CHRISTANT - APR 10, 2015 (10:49:28 AM)

JungleDragon V4 - update 20 is now live. This update introduces a long-awaited feature called direct messaging.

What is direct messaging?

Until today, JungleDragon had no way for members to contact each other directly. Instead, you communicate via JungleDragon content, for example via comments on photos or via posts in the forum. It is an indirect way of communication.

This is intentional, as I believe JungleDragon discussions should be public, and be related to the goal of the website. JungleDragon is not a private chatroom. However, members have expressed the need to contact other members directly, and there definitely are situations in which this is useful. A prime example would be to connect to another member in your area to go on a photo trip together. This would require the exchange of private information that not everybody should see.

For situations like that, JungleDragon now has a simple and secure way to connect to each other. 

Direct messaging demo

When you now visit any members profile, there is a new button in the header called "send message":

This button will only be visible if all of the following is true:

  • You are signed in
  • You have a minimum class of 2 in the karma system
  • This is not your own profile
  • The target user (Panda in this case) has direct messaging enabled, which is true by default

The minimum class level is to avoid spammers or bots from hijacking this functionality to send out emails on a large scale. The direct messaging setting per user is so that people can decide whether or not they want to receive such direct messages. Here is that new setting on the user profile:

If all the above security checks are passed, the "send message" button appears as shown. If you click the button, a simple form appears:

Here you just enter your direct message and click "Send message". At this point there is another security check, there is a maximum amount of messages one can send per hour and per day. Normal users will never reach that treshold, this is again a measure against automated bots. 

The person you sent a direct message to will receive an email, like this:

The direct message is sent to the user, your email address is not shared in any way with the user. From the email, you can click the reply link to sent back a message immediately:

And this way you can continue to have your private conversation with the other member. If you trust each other enough, you may share contact info this way and take the conversation outside of JungleDragon. It's your choice.

Finally, an important thing regarding privacy: JungleDragon does not store the contents of your direct messages. I have no record of them and therefore cannot see them, JungleDragon only forwards messages. This also means that you cannot see a history of messages sent to you in JungleDragon, that history is in your email only. 

Wrapping up

With the direct messaging feature, a long-standing request is finally delivered. I have tried to strike a balance in keeping it simple and secure and to make possible the scenario of contacting each other. You can now initiate your private contact with another member from JungleDragon and continue to have the conversation in JungleDragon or outside of it. I hope you like it.

JungleDragon 4 - Update 19 »

FERDY CHRISTANT - APR 6, 2015 (12:10:22 PM)

JungleDragon update 19 (of V4) is now live. This is a simple update that introduces an overview of members at the country level:

Above is an example for India. We are at the country level (India) and there is now a new "members" link. This overview simply shows members from that country. This is based on said members indicating their country on their user profile, which is optional. The list is sorted by karma, the most contributing users are on top of the list.

As you use this, you will notice that almost all members come from a top 10 list of countries, other countries will have few or no members. 

Anyway, the idea of this feature is that it allows you to possibly connect with other members in your country. For that to happen, JungleDragon needs a way for members to directly communicate with each other. That is not yet possible, also not after this update. However, I am now considering to build that next.

The reason I have been delaying that feature, which has been requested before, is that it is a feature that is much harder to realize than one might think. Sending messages between each other is simple, yet it has to happen securely, and it should respect people's email address remaining hidden. Furthermore, it should be resistant to spammers. And then people want notifications, the ability to mute individuals, before you know it, a simple feature turns very complex. 

I am going to build some way to communicate with each other directly though. I'm hoping to keep it simple. That will be the next update.

JungleDragon 4 - Update 18 »

FERDY CHRISTANT - APR 3, 2015 (11:17:45 AM)

JungleDragon update 18 (of V4) is now live. This one is a breakthrough update that introduces the concept of Parks (protected areas) to JungleDragon. This idea was first explained and imagined in my Big Idea post. Although that post focuses on countries, parks are indicated as a secondary goal.

Today, that secondary goal is implemented, partially that is. There is both good and bad news to share, so let's see what we got.


"Parks" are a short term for conservation areas within a country. Those conservation areas can have various designations, they can be a national park, a habitat protection area, a bird conservation zone, many things. They exclude zoos.

The idea was for JungleDragon to have these parks available at the country level. With that, not only can you explore a countries' photos and species, but also interesting areas and habitats. Whether in your home country or a planned travel country, it can help in actually planning trips.

For this to work, we need a data source, the actual collection of parks. After many tryouts and much debate, we eventually discovered protectedplanet, which has this data. As outlined in my previous post, this data is not perfect and not without problems, but it is as good as it gets. This data is the base for the feature I'm about to explain next.

Country parks

Parks are linked to a country, therefore we must first navigate to a specific country to see them. Let's quickly recap the two ways this can be done in JungleDragon.

See above. You can use the country selection screen to pick any specific country, using various sortings. Alternatively, if any photo has a country linked to it (which is true for about 75% of all photos currently), you can directly navigate to said country from the geo panel on the photo page:

See above, note the "Explore" link that takes you directly to the country, Madagascar in this case.

Arriving at the country level, we see these options:

The new option is named "parks". I have separated the normal map (which shows geotagged photos) from the parks map so that they do not interfere with each other. Another reason is that parks can take a while to load, depending on the country. The parks link for a country will only show when that country actually has this data. This is true for most countries, 225 of them.

So here is the big reveal, JungleDragon Parks in action for Madagascar:

Highlighted in a clear green color, we see both areas (polygons) as well as points (markers) that are considered protected areas, according to ProtectedPlanet. Let's zoom in a little:

As we zoom in, we see that the area shapes are half transparent. Furthermore, clicking on the area reveals the park's name. 

I wanna share a story on how useful this feature can be. My girlfriend and I are considering to revisit Madagascar this year. Looking at this map we discovered many areas and parks that we missed during our first trip. Parks that are not in the travel magazines. Parks that were very close to us when we first visited, yet we did not know existed, and thus we missed. We are now using this feature to plan our 2nd trip.

Let's have a look at a few more examples. 

Above are parks in India. As you can see, they supply mostly point data, not area data, but there are many of them. 

Above is Tanzania, which seems quite well protected.

Above is a section of Australia, to demonstrate that protected areas can both be land or marine.

Above the highly complicated geography of Indonesia, with its wide range of conservation areas.

The bad news

I am quite proud of the above result. It took some soul crushing effort to realize. Unfortunately though, it is not perfect, there's a serious limitation to discuss.

The visualization of these parks is implemented as a KML layer on top of Google Maps. You may know KML layers from Google Earth, where they originated. In order to load such KML on Google Maps, one is restricted to certain constraints: a maximum of 1,000 shapes, a maximum file size of 3MB/10MB (compressed/uncompressed).

In the data set provided by ProtectedPlanet, there are 45 countries that do not fit within those constraints. I cannot lift those constraints, therefore my only remaining option was the delete selections of data for those countries specifically. I used this process to "smartly" delete parks:

  • Delete by IUCN category. Category I and II are more important than III, IV and V.
  • Delete by designation. For example keeping national parks, yet deleting "protected habitat"
  • Delete by size of the area.

This was a truly painful exercise as I had to willingly delete useful data just to fit inside the constraints. The result is that some countries took a heavy hit. And as a result of that, for those countries the parks feature has become less useful, or less complete. A handful has even become close to useless.

As said, we're talking about 45 countries here, all other countries (180) have their full data. Out of those 45 countries, about half had acceptable deletions of parks, where the most important parks remain, and thus the feature remains usable. 20-25 countries though, had deletions that truly damage the usefulness. 

And some of those countries are very important, making it extra painful. A prime example is the USA. This country had so much data that I had to delete 74 out of 75 entries. The end result is horrible. And it can get worse. For countries New Zealand and Finland, I had to delete all parks. Not a single area would fit in the constraints due to their polygon data being simply too large, even for just a single park. 

So that is it, 20-25 countries are partly or barely usable, whilst ~200 countries are fine. It's a matter of seeing the glass half empty or half full I suppose. 

Having worked with this data now for a few weeks, and due to the above limitations, there's another consequence. For now, I will not pursuit integrating photos with parks. Parks will remain on their own. The reason for that is that if I do some simple number crunching, even if I manage to auto detect a park from a photo's GPS coordinates flawlessly, it would only work for a too small percentage of photos, due to the nature of the data and the popularity of specific countries in JungleDragon. I may come back to this decision one day when we have more content, but for now it is too much effort for too little value. I have other things to do. 

Wrapping up

That was it, the good and bad about JungleDragon's all-new parks feature. I think it is a very cool extra. Not only  can we now explore a countries' photos and species, we can also explore its natural areas, and plan to visit them. Remember that only a few weeks ago, the concept of a country did not even exist in JungleDragon, yet now we can do all these things. 

As said, how well it works depends on the country. It works perfectly for 180 countries, good enough for 20 countries, and in limited/poor ways for 20-25 countries. This is the maximum I could get out of it, so I hope you appreciate it.

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