Tue, 26 Jun 07

A great day at work and reevoovision (twittervision for reviews)

A few of days ago I came across twittervision. Just ten hours later I had checked some code into our repository that allows us to do the same thing (as twittervision) but for our reviews. Yup, it was a very good day indeed. Although the initial code was complete within a few hours, it needed a bit of polishing (kudos to Paul) which meant that we only got it deployed yesterday. I guess one working day between proof of concept and deployment isn’t that bad… Anyway, go check it out – reevoovision.

The days events

I started the morning by creating an xml feed of the ten most recently published reviews. On filling a review, the reviewer is asked to enter their town, which needed to be converted to latitude/longitude to allow us to plot a point on the map. Luckily, a little googling revealed the geonames web service that did exactly what I wanted. So, using a combination of ruby, rails, curl, hpricot and mongrel I had a simple web server that downloaded and parsed the reviews, converted place name to lat/long, and plotted the results on a google map (with help from the fridays google map book). A good proof of concept but not quite right.

I was reminded that we collect the purchaser’s postcode from our retailers. This, in combination with a free list of UK outcodes (the first bit of the postcode) against latitude/longitude, allowed for much greater accuracy (well, to within about 2km) in plotting the location of the reviewer.

The next step was to polish up the rough demo. Instead of the previous server side hackery, I used the excellent jquery javascript library to perform an “Ajax” request of the reviews and parse the xml to build a simple hash of the required data. Using the twittervision source as reference, I got a ‘proper’ (i.e. reviews popping up in sequence) demo running.

From here, it was a basic case of tidying up some rough edges. Instead of returning the reviews data as xml, I converted it to json to make for trivial parsing in javascript. I also added the jquery dimensions plugin to resize the containing div, and in turn the map, to the size of the page. The final touch was attempting to keep the UK centered in the window.

Reevoovision currently selects and displays published reviews at random to provide a constantly updating map, although maybe it’d be cool to get it to display submitted/published reviews in real-time.

I can’t get over how addictive it is to watch the reviews pop-up all over the country, it really emphasises the fact that these are actually real people writing about their experiences. Hmm, that sounds a bit sales & marketing. I do mean it though, honest.