Ruby on Rails
ExhibitFiles is an NSF-sponsored community site for exhibit designers and developers. Together with Project Directors Wendy Pollock and Kathleen McLean, as well as a dedicated group of advisors, Ideum has helped develop and operate the site. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the community site grow from a couple dozen people to nearly 1,600 members and there are now over 200 member-contributed exhibit case studies and reviews.
Last week, we rolled out some new features, including improvements to the Members section, greater visibility for the ‘Bits feature, and major improvements to the search function. Individual profiles pages were also redesigned. A new tab navigation system makes it easier to browse individuals’ contributions to the site and connect to social networking and file sharing sites. Check out my profile on the ExhibitFiles site to view the new functionalities. We will be rolling out a few other features and improvements to the site in the next month.
In other news, new research findings from a study of the ExhibitFiles community was posted on the ExhibitFiles blog today(see ExhibitFiles: a growing community). The study was conducted by Carey Tisdal of Tisdal Consulting. More research will be posted in the coming weeks.
The ExhibitFiles Website is a community site for exhibit designers and developers. Almost three years ago now, Ideum worked with the Association of Science -Technology Centers and Independent Exhibitions to help design and develop the site. Created with funding from the National Science Foundation, the purpose of the site is share design practices and provide access to resources that can improve exhibit design. Last week, we launched a new feature called “Bits,” which best described on the ExhibitFiles site itself:
A Bit is an individual media element that you share with your peers. It might be a photo you take of an inspiring exhibit element or design approach, or it could be a prototype you’d like people to comment on — anything you can illustrate with a photo, video, or audio file. You can also just post a question if you’re looking for help from others.
Along with support for uploaded files, you can embed flickr photos or YouTube videos. We will be adding support for PDF documents and audio files in coming weeks. The custom-developed Bits feature and the site itself was developed using Ruby on Rails.
You can try it out at: www.exhibitfiles.org/bits.
There’s more on the Bits launch on the ExhibitFiles blog and Paul Orselli’s ExhibiTrick blog. You can learn more about the ExhibitFiles site development in the Ideum portfolio (A custom-built community site for exhibit developers).
Last night a number of us from Ideum went to the opening of Dawn of the Dinosaurs: Triassic New Mexico at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. We helped develop two computer-based interactive exhibits for this exhibition.
The Fossil Viewer touch screen allows visitors to pan and zoom an image of large fossil block discovered at Ghost Ranch here in New Mexico. There’s more about this interactive in the Ideum portfolio (see Triassic Fossil Viewer).
The other interactive exhibit is a small database collection of information about Coelophysis, the official State Fossil of New Mexico. We haven’t added this to our portfolio yet, but you can see the Web version of this kiosk at nmstatefossil.org. The floor version is a bit different in design and functionality. This Web-based exhibit was developed using Ruby on Rails.
The Coelophysis database exhibit uses the iCab browser, which has an excellent kiosk-mode. Both of the interactives we developed with the Natural History Museum run using Mac mini computers. Along with their low cost and small footprint, we found them powerful enough to run a 24″ monitor at a 1920 x 1200 resolution (for the Fossil Viewer).
Last July, we posted a prototype Web application, RSS Mixer that allowed anonymous visitors to mix RSS (and Atom) feeds together. Back then the page got a lot of notice. There was a blog post from Mashable, one from CNET’s Webware, a brief article in Brazil’s largest newspaper, and literally hundreds of other links from all over the world. The prototype site continues to get traffic and it will surpass 5,000 user-generated mixes and added 10,000 feeds any day now.
Next month, we’ll be releasing a new version of RSS Mixer. The alpha version will still allow for anonymous mixing, but registered (free) users will be able save and edit their mixes. A new and vastly improved feed mixer will update RSS and Atom feeds quickly, pulling images and other rich media. A number of other improvements including enhanced language support, full search, tagging, feed statistics and ranking, and many others will all be part of the package. We will announce the release date in early February. Update: We will be releasing the new version of RSS Mixer this summer.
Yesterday, Webware (a CNET site) wrote a nice post on RSS Mixer: “RSS Mixer stacks up feeds.” They particularly liked the Apple Dashboard widget feature and the iPhone formated pages. They even built and embedded a Web widget in the article’s page. RSS Mixer also received mention in Widgets Lab. It’s been nice to see RSS Mixer get so much attention even in its fledgling prototype state.
The post mentions (as others have pointed out) that there is no way edit or manage user-created feeds, nor is there a search function. Thankfully, the author seems to understand that this is just a prototype. Over the last two weeks, we’ve been thinking about new features for this site, including searching and editing. If you have any suggestions, please send them our way. We’ll let you know what the next steps for the prototype are once we’ve decided.
In the ten days since we released the RSS Mixer prototype, we’ve learned an awful lot. Of course, that’s the point of prototyping anything. However, the scale of the response (which was somewhat unexpected) has resulted in some hard, yet valuable lessons. In just the last four days we’ve had thousands of visitors and have served up over 10,000 pages. So far, visitors have created 600 RSS mixes which include nearly 1,300 feeds. All of this traffic resulted in some performance issues yesterday, and we still need to do some more tweaking.
Most of the traffic coming to the site is from small blogs, social networking sites, and directories, although a few larger blogs have taken notice, too. Most notably, Mashable, the social networking news site (and the “worlds #1 social networking blog,” and the #11 blog in the world according to Technorati) compared us to Twitter: “RSS Mixer could be Twitter with out the Social Network.” We also received nice mentions in DownloadSquad (“With RSS Mixer all feeds lead to one“), Somewhat Frank (“RSS Mixer Makes Blending Feeds Easy“), and Apple Reporter (“RSS-Mix-A-Lot“) among others.
There’s been a great deal of interest from overseas. Since RSS Mixer provides multilingual support, we’ve seen mixes from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. There have been stories about RSS Mixer in Chocolate (Japan), Quanda.Info (China?), Veadar (Japan), WappBlog (Japan), DosBit (?), Genebeta (Spain?), Estrafalarius (?), and many others. All of these blogs, along with two Dashboard Widgets on Apple’s site, have been driving most of the traffic to the RSS Mixer. (Take a look at the Tour de France News and All iPhone News widgets, automatically created by RSS Mixer.) Right now, the site is so new that less 4% of our traffic comes from search engines. But with hundreds of new pages generated each day, that figure will surely grow. We’ll post again as new developments unfold. Stay tuned… we’ll be adding a few new features in next week or so.
Update: July 30, 2007: Digital Streets has post which explains how to use RSS Mixer to create a unified theme for your Twitter, Jaiku, and Pownce accounts, “Use RSS Mixer to Create a Unified Feed from Your Microblogs.” Also, take a look at “RSSMixer.com – Mix All Your Feeds” at Killer Startups.
Our latest prototype, RSS Mixer, is now available. This is by far the most elaborate of the prototypes we’ve been working on over the last few months. All of these experimental applications are part of a larger project that we are developing for release in 2008.
RSS Mixer allows you to combine various feeds into a new one that can be viewed as RSS, HTML, an iPhone page, as well as a Web and Apple Dashboard Widget.
The design is simple: you can create a title for your custom RSS mix and you can add up to ten feeds in the form. A listing of recent mixes, along with a few featured ones, is also included. This prototype (and the others) was programmed using Ruby on Rails.
Each custom mix includes Widgets, an iPhone formatted version, and links to the various feeds in the mix. Below are some links to a custom mix called Environmental News.
Take a look at the site and let us know what you think.
A few weeks back I wrote about a Web page capture utility that we developed as a prototype. We’ve just a built another application that takes things a bit further. Along with a screen shot, this new prototype pulls metadata and other information from your blog. If available, it can pull back the blog title, feed, type of software, author, description, and the date of the most recent feed. In addition, the Technorati Rank (via the Technorati API) and number of Yahoo! Inlinks are displayed (we used the Yahoo! Site Explorer API).
Like its predecessor this experimental application was developed in Ruby on Rails with a bit C programming. Let us know how it works for you.
Try the Blog Analyzer Protype v.01
(Update August 6, 2007: We’ve taken the blog analyzer prototype down permanently. The RSS Mixer prototype is still available and there are no plans to take it down.)
For an upcoming project, we’re developing an application that automatically takes a snapshot of a Web page and produces a variety of thumbnail-sized images. This application was developed using Firefox on Linux along with some C programming and a little bit of Ruby on Rails development. Please try out this prototype: grab any site you like. Let us know how it works.
Try the Site Screen Shot v.01
(Update August 6, 2007: We’ve taken web page image capture prototype down permanently. The RSS Mixer prototype is still available and there are no plans to take it down.)
For the past year we’ve been working with the Association of Science – Technology Centers in desiging and developing the ExhibitFiles, a community site for exhibit designers. (The image here is from the CB Radio exhibition which opened in 1978 and is part of the ExhibitFiles).
The concept behind the site is simple, too often the exhibit and exhibition development process isn’t recorded for future designers and developers. As a community, we sometimes redesign the wheel as there is no central place for us to find out about the best (and the worst?) practices in exhibit development. This issue is becoming more urgent as many of the exhibit designers who were active in the 1970s and 1980s are beginning to retire. Over the years, important exhibition development information is lost or stored within a museum where it can’t be easily shared with the larger community.
The ExhibitFiles site will allow any designer or developer to create a profile and to author case studies and reviews about individual exhibits or whole exhibitions. The software is completely custom. We developed it using the Ruby on Rails programming framework. The site has lot’s of interactive features beyond just authoring including the ability to favorite items, commenting, and even a Flash-based “thumbnail maker.” We’ll be adding the site to our portfolio soon with more details. In the meantime, the ExhibitFiles development blog contains lots of information and discussions about the design process.
Along with ASTC, we worked with Independent Exhibits and a great group of advisors. The site is just getting started and we will adding more features–but in the meantime feel free to join up and contribute. We’ll see you in the ExhibitFiles.