I'm really pleased with the changes that I made to the Where can I Fly? page, simplifying the "When" buttons made checking slope soaring days much easier. The new Weather Permitting Map has been really well received too, which is a relief after so much work went in to it.
The transmitter straps I ordered arrived from china at the end of last week, so now I just need to sit down and plan how to distribute to people who are want to cheer lead for Weather Permitting.
I had various replies to Friday's newsletter requesting features. People were particularly keen on being able to search for slopes other than their usual favourites, to allow them to find slopes whilst they're travelling, or to plan soaring trips.
I had a couple of features in mind that might be worth prioritising above the "Travelling Soarer", so I sent out an impromptu poll to find out what you all thought, and here are the results...
Embeddable Tool for Club Websites
A small code snippet for clubs to insert into their website that will display a club specific version of the "Where can I fly?" page showing which of the club's slopes are suitable for slope soaring.
Perfect for showing your club slopes and helping new members get to grips with your slopes and their wind suitability.
Allows you to use the "Where can I fly" tool but for slopes near to their current location, rather than their favourite slopes.
Perfect for when you're on travelling with a plane and want to get a few flights in with the locals.
Allow users to share where and when they're slope soaring so that you can quickly see where and when your mates are flying, and join them (or avoid them!).
Whilst I'm surprised about how low "Intent" placed, it wasn't a muliple choice poll, people had to choose their favourites, so I'm hopeful that there's still demand for it, as it's a feature I'm looking forward to using personally. Flying alone is nice once in a while, but I really enjoy socialising on the slope.
It's pretty clear that people see Weather Permitting as not just a tool for finding suitable slopes, but as a directory for planning where they can fly outside of their favourite slopes. In fact, we could well find that's what people view it as primarily, and the tool becomes a "nice to have". Time will tell. The mobs have spoken, so development has started on Travelling Soarer, I think I'll be a few days shy of getting it launched by Friday, so early next week is likely.
3 weeks since the last Weather Permitting blog post, oops! I've been polishing lots of existing features, and fixing bugs since my last update, but the biggest addition is the new Map page which shows all the Slopes in the UK.
The new Map page shows all UK Slopes and Clubs by default, allows you to search for UK locations and provides Slope/Club information when you click an icon. You can even follow a Slope from it's pop up info window on the map.
You also have the ability to show just the Slopes/Clubs that you're following, or none at all... actually, as I'm typing this I realise that having a None option is useless, it just gives you an empty map, what I'd meant to add was a "Not Following" option. I'm going to change that as soon as I'm done with this update. Amazing what you realise just by talking about it :).
I've had the Map page "finished" 2 or 3 times since the start of February, but it's important that any feature is easy to understand and use, so it's taken me several attempts to get it just right. No doubt there will need to be tweaks, bugfixes and improvements, so I really hope that you can give me some feedback on any improvements, or things that are confusing or unclear.
I've been giving that some thought physical marketing and some "token" rewards for users that I feel have been gone the extra mile for Weather Permitting in some way. I've set aside a budget for researching further, and if you're interested in what I plan to do with that, keep reading...
Promotional merchandise, promotional items, promotional products, promotional gifts, or advertising gifts, sometimes nicknamed swag, are articles of merchandise (often branded with a logo or slogan) used in marketing and communication programs. They are given away to promote a company, corporate image, brand, or event at trade shows, conferences, and as part of guerrilla marketing campaigns.
I've put in an order for some Weather Permitting stickers that people can use as decals, stick on their transmitter cases, or whereever else takes their fancy. They should be weatherproof, so hopefully they'll stand the test of time.
In the 10+ years I've been in business we've never bothered with business cards, but when so much of the interaction between sloaring pilots is on the slopes, it makes a lot of sense to have something physical with the Weather Permitting details on it. So I'm putting in an order for something along those lines too.
and something a bit more RC centric...
I'm also in negotiations with various suppliers to source some Weather Permitting Transmitter Straps. I'll use them as a thank you to users that have helped with either advice, feedback or simply been awesome.
I plan to send out stickers and cards to various club members to hand out to their fellow pilots. It's so much easier to just refer to somethign in your hand, than remember a domain name, so I'm hoping that it will give word of mouth a real boost. If not, at least I have some cool swag to clutter up my workshop.
If anybody has any suggestions for particularly useful swag, I'm open to suggestions. T-shirts are an obvious one, but expensive to give out in numbers, something to think about on a limited scale for competitions maybe.
This is just a research phase at the moment, I have no intentions to sink a lot of money in to it right off the bat, but if it turns out to be popular, and a good return on the investment, then I'd love to be able to give back to those users that are helping the Weather Permitting cause.s
I talk to a lot of Weather Permitting users and one of the bits of feedback that I've received over and over again is that I should contact the chaps at Slope Hunter, to try to arrange import of their data to Weather Permitting.
I've done precisely that, and Gary at Slope Hunter has graciously endorsed Weather Permitting and has asked that I add their slopes to the site. I'll be linking back to their site for the details information, and they will be linking to Weather Permitting also.
It's great that other website owners are so welcoming, and I hope that our collaboration can benefit both sites.
I'll be adding the slopes over the course of the next couple of weeks, so I'd encourage any club committee members to keep an eye out for any slopes that your members fly on, and be sure to add them to your club
The new Clubs feature is here at last. It turned out to be a much more important part of the site than I had envisaged, with many people holding back from adding their slope soaring sites because they felt that their club needed to grant permission.
Clubs on Weather Permitting will resolve that issue, allowing the club maintainer to add their club slopes to the site and maintain the information that is held on them. They will be able to designate the ownership of the land on which the slope resides, and make clear their policy on non-members slope soaring on the site.
Club maintainers can "claim" existing Sites, and users can Follow clubs, which automatically includes the Club's Sites amongst your other Followed sites.
The importance of ownership
It's important that club entries are accurate, and the best way of ensuring that is to allow committee members to take ownership of their club's entry in Weather Permitting.
When a new club is created, the submitter is asked whether they have authorisation from the club to maintain the entry on their behalf, if they do not, they are required to input a list of committee member's email addresses. An email is sent to those addresses requesting that one of them take ownership of the club.
At the moment, users simply follow a club, which makes them a member. I've had a rethink and that's not the best way about things as it doesn't allow the club to manage their members. I'll be changing this in the near future.
Finally, I can imagine that there are some sites that whilst might "belong" to your club, you have no interest in flying at, so at some point I'll want to devise a way for users to ignore some club sites. This isn't a small task though, and I'm mindful of not investing too much time into a feature nobody has asked for yet.
I was asked a number of very pertinant questions about how I handle your data, and how I plan on treating users with regards to adverts. My first reaction was "isn't that obvious?", but it's not obvious, because there are a lot of people and websites that treat their visitors and their data like some sort of commodity, and that's not okay.
I can summarise my attitude to privacy and advertising in one simple sentence.
Don't be a Dick
You can stop reading there if you like, otherwise I've outlined more specifics below
I will never sell your data. I will never share your data with third parties except to utilise their service as part of Weather Permitting (e.g. I use twilio to send text messages, they obviously need your phone number for that).
I will never, ever use your phone number for anything other than site related messages. SMS adverts/spam are a disgrace, I wouldn't tarnish my reputation/website with that crap. The only text messages you will receive are those you have specifically requested, or as a means to resolve incorrect contact details (email).
Typically there are two types of emails that a site such as this sends out.
- Notifications such as "you've received a message, look here", or "you've reset your password, click here", are necessary, the only way to opt out of those is to delete your account.
Advisories are typically sent through a mailing list. You've probably received a few of these over the past few weeks. I use Mailchimp at the moment, so anybody receiving an email can easily click the unsubscribe button and the decision is taken out of my hands.
There will be other advisories about site content/changes etc. that I will not send through Mailchimp, you won't be able to unsubscribe from these, but they will be infrequent and not lengthy.
Unfortunately advertising is often the only income stream for sites that don't charge their users. I have no near term plans to add adverts to the site. My running costs are very low, and I'm willing to invest significantly where necessary.
In the future, I'd be surprised if adverts don't make an appearance. I hate intrusive, annoying, creepy or rude advertising, so any advertising would be applied with that in mind.
There will never be surprise popups, or huge background adverts. There will never be intrusive adverts. There will never be auto-play video/audio adverts.
I don't plan to advertise via email, but I could imagine a scenario where a large RC company sponsors the site. If their advertising was of genuine interest to the website users, I could be convinced to accept it. I would err heavily on the side of caution however.
In the Future
Changes to the above are possible. I'm not infallible, I can't possibly have thought of every scenario. But any changes will always have the same fundamental philosophy in mind.
Don't be a Dick.
I badly want Weather Permitting to be popular and successful, to provide a helpful tool to the soaring community. Before I started Weather Permitting, I was working on another website, which had great prospects for being a successful business. I have a notebook1 full of business ideas. I also have a full time job running my Hosting company. If Weather Permitting is not a success, I will be sad, but have a whole list of other projects just waiting to be worked on.
So with that in mind and with no guarantee that Weather Permitting will become successful, I try to limit how carried away I get with coding new features. In order to do that, I tie new features to quantifiable milestones, such as "reach 100 users", or "reach 50 sites", and try to stick to it. You can see some examples on the Weather Permitting Roadmap2.
Weather Permitting needs more users, so that I can add more features
My thoughts are constantly going back to how I attract more users. At the moment, I'm not at the stage where I can think about accommodating non-UK pilots, which means that BARCS is the biggest place I can use to tell people about Weather Permitting. It's no good touting the site on RC Groups for example, if 95% of the readers can't use the site.
As I discussed in last week's newsletter, I've started work on the "Clubs" feature, which is 90% complete, but I've decided to hold off on launching that until the site "deserves" it. I'm going to get out there and market the site until I hit the milestone I've set for "Club Information". Until the site hits 50 users and 50 sites, no more features.
What if I just bribe people to spread the word?
Now, don't go thinking that I'm going to throw money about. I'm thinking more along the lines of Weather Permitting t-shirts, or swag of some other nature. I'm open to ideas.
If you have any ideas for spreading the word, please let me know.
1 Literally, my wife bought it for me, it's green and has a little holder for a pen, which is also green
2 Milestone based Roadmaps SaaS is another project that I plan to work on in the future
My grand plans to launch new features before and during the Christmas Break were curtailed by a combination of what Americans call "honey do's" and a house full of alcohol that needed working through.
Now that we are in to the New Year it's full steam ahead and I'm caught up on the most important feature...
Users can now message the person who submitted the slope soaring site and make suggestions to improve the information. I currently also receive a copy of the message so that I can manually folllow up on it for now. As it gets used I'll get a better understanding of how the feature can best work, and make changes to better automate the process.
With reams of excellent content invaluable to slope soarers, Soaring Club Websites are a valuable asset, and making sure they are valued is critical to the success of Weather Permitting.
Clubs can also play a big role in the accuracy of slope data. Where pilots may take breaks or retire from soaring, clubs have significantly more staying power. As an example, my own club Rivington Soaring Association has been around since 1973 and has a stable, reliable committee. Embracing clubs, and enlisting their committee's help, is critical to ensure data is accurate for the long term.
The most immediate addition, will be for Flying Site maintainers to be able to add links to club content on the Site pages. For instance, a club already has a webpage on their main southerly slope, the Weather Permitting site page could link back to the original content, which in many cases would be more indepth and contain additional information.
Additionally there will be an entirely new section called (you guessed it) "Clubs"
- Add your club to Weather Permitting or join an existing one.
- Clubs link with slope soaring sites to create a list for their members.
- Clubs can maintain sites they are associated with.
- Clubs manage (add/remove) their members.
Newly added clubs, will be owned by their creator initially, with the aim to have a club committee's take over ownership. Contact details for committee members is a requirement when adding a club, and they will be contacted to ask that they create an account in order to take over ownership of their club on Weather Permitting.
I imagine in time I'll add some provision for club owners to give other committee/trusted members rights to manage the club on Weather Permitting. If that's important to you, please let me know and I'll speed things up.
I've not started any of this yet, and I'm off to a wedding this week, so progress will be a little slower than previously. I hope to have it done by Monday, so if you have any thoughts or suggestions, take advantage of the slower pace and give me a shout.
Austin who administers the British Associate of Radio Controller Soarers gratiously gave me permission to spread the word on their slope soaring forums about Weather Permitting. I got some helpful feedback, a few bug reports, increased the mailing list subscriber numbers by double and gained 10+ registered users to the site! A great success I think.
One of the bugs reported was actually a duplicate of one that Sean Cull submitted during the early stages, I should have investigated it more thoroughly, because it was easily replicated the second time, and fixed in seconds.
The need for accurate data
One particularly noteworthy piece of feedback was the issue of information accuracy. It's something I stupidly hadn't considered, and is of critical importance, because a site that can't be trusted to have accurate information is unuseable. Yet the problem remains that the individual slope soaring sites must be maintained by the users, and therefore I have to rely on people caring enough to update. I've decided for now to add in some "report" buttons that will allow users to submit any inaccurate or missing information to the slope "owner", which will then be automatically passed on to me if no action is taken within a particular timeframe. This is something I'm going to be constantly reassessing to make sure all information is as accurate and helpful as possible.
Mmmmm Google Maps
People understandably struggled with finding Latitude and Longitude data, something I should have foreseen, but unsurprisingly didn't. I had always planned to replace the input fields for those with an embedded google map, which will allow the user to search via text, and the pinpoint the slope soaring position. Much easier all round, and I wish I'd saved people confusion by doing it before my post on the BARCS forums.
This is where I would put a nice christmas wish, and naively announce my intent to get in an hour's slope soaring on Christmas Day, but I want to get some more features pushed out before Christmas Day, so I'm going to hold off as an incentive to push forward.
Previously if an unregistered user text the SMS service they would be told they need an account to use the service. This new feature will actually create an account via text message. You will be prompted for your name, and finally for your email address. The new account will automatically follow popular Rivington Soaring Associate sites allowing you ask for suitable slope soaring sites immediately, without any further input.
To log in to the Weather Permitting site, the you will need to perform a password reset.
Register by SMS is a little limited, however completing the feature set is reliant on development in other areas of the site, so this will take some time. It works though, and should make life a little easier for those without smart phones, or access to a computer.
One particular area that needs reworking is the auto-follow system. As new users from outside the Rivington Soaring Association club join and add sites it will be necessary to populate each account's "auto follows" based on their location. Bit of a pain to develop, so I'm going to shelve that issue until it becomes a problem.