Walking Through Time Project Summary – Development

In the spirit of Chris’s post on SWOT’ing.   I thought I would give a similar post from the development side.


Web Application – After some initial wobbles we were set on doing a Web Application which paid of for us in many ways.  We originally thought that we would have to create  a bespoke application for a particular mobile application to access the GPS features of a device.  Chris had originally put us on the iPhone track and we looked into Objective C but as neither Petra or I were Apple developers, we got lucky and the geoLocation object came out for both mobile safari and desktop browsers; which solved that problem.  This small turn of fate turned out to be the ultimate strength of the Application.  The original goal was to create a field work tool but in making a web application we were able to open it out to a wider audience.  We were able to quickly turn around changes via the Web App – just using HTML and Javascript.

Java – Petra’s decision to use java on the backend also paid off.  As she is a much better Java programmer than me, she was able to quickly get a flexible framework up and running without too much fuss.

Creativity – Working with the Art College for the first time was a real breath of fresh air for the project team.  Working on an application which was both creatively and technically rewarding was a very pleasant side effect of working with our colleagues.  The team from the Art College were able to provide both help in terms of technical ideas  but also the much more conceptual ideas of what the project could offer.  This is a fairly rare thing to get when working directly with a customer, one I found particularly rewarding.

Design – We were able to explore some rather radical ideas which; didn’t manifest but we were able to use tools like Balsamiq to articulate these ideas quickly and easily to the other members of the team.


Mobile Platform – The platform of the phones as a real issue.  Screen size and speed were the 2 biggest factors.  We were able to overcome a lot of the issues but it meant that we were spending a little longer than we would have liked looking at solving speed issues rather than coming up with features.

Workload –  I for one certainly was working with a number of other projects while developing this and Petra was developing this full time, and I was not able to spend as long on it as I wished to.  Also we were perhaps a little ambitious in scope, I for one was keen to try some rather odd things which perhaps were shooting a little too high given the time.


EDINA – we were able to work with EDINA for the first time which was very rewarding.  Our colleagues there were extremely helpful in getting us started and providing solutions.

Agile – we were able to explore working in a very Agile style way with this project.  We deliberately tried to work with the customer to get as many ideas from them as possible, we also gave ourselves fairly strict schedules to accomplish our “work packages”, dropping or adding features as time would allow.  This was a very developer centric way to work – which for us as developers is great but it would be interesting to explore this in a slightly more controlled situation.

Mobile Devices Development – This was  a great exposure to work with mobile devices and explore what is possible.  This is not something that we would have been able to explore without the funding.  To have some time to do this with some leisure has been a great learning experience.


I am not sure that I can really add any threats to the project from a development perspective after the fact but I think I can easily say that when we started we had no idea how to do this.  It was based on some ideas, scraps of paper and some bits of code.

Well that’s a very brief round up of some of the development process of this little prototype

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Minutes of project meeting, 22nd October 2009

Present: Chris, Dave, Peter, Petra


  • Chris has uploaded the MP3 file of the discussion with the Historical Society and the promotional video.  We will continue to improve these.
  • Peter gave a 10-minute pitch at the “This Happened” event on Monday 12th October, which went down well.  We got some vey good questions from the audience.
  • Dave wrote a joint article with Richard Rodger, Steven Vickers & James Reid for the University’s internal IS newsletter.
  • Chris’s paper was accepted for the Mapping, Memory and the City in Liverpool.
  • AHRA – The Architectural Humanities Research Association – is meeting in Edinburgh on Nov 20-21.  Chris will give a demonstration of Walking Through Time.
  • IT Futures – Chris and Ian to give a presentation at the university’s IT futures workshop on December 15th.
  • Chris to set up a web site, to complement the blog.

Work Package 6 (User Community and Embedding)

  • Karlyn’s work with students went well.  Karlyn to blog.
  • One UI improvement was to provide on-screen buttons for switching between years.
  • Ian will invite the Historical Society to see the improved version.

Work Package 7 (Closure)

  • Petra to put the code on SourceForge.
  • Dave & Chris to prepare the final blog post.
  • Dave will complete the IS completion report.
  • Petra and Peter producing user manual and technical documentation.


  • James to arrange a meeting with Landmark re map licensing.
  • Dave to speak to Informatics’ KT staff.

Future support

  • IS will keep the current server running.
  • The blog will remain open.

Next Meeting: Monday 9th November, 12:30pm

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Project Evaluation

Oops manage to miss most of the official Progress Report blog posts. In truth all of the content is located through our posts, but an extended reflection follows:

So WTT is proving to be a rollercoaster, but one that has stayed well on its tracks!

lets go through some SWOT…

Strengths: attributes of the person or company that are helpful to achieving the objective.

So unlike many applications that i’ve been involved in the project team didn’t really know each other, at all! But this has proved to be a stunning strength. Due to not knowing each other, everyone has retained a professional approach and has listened carefully to each others positions to maximise the project. There is no ego, no driver, and everyone is learning to appreciate each others skills and interests to make the project work. The Div Apps guys are amazing, so many times i’ve worked with developers who want to push their own agenda placing the project in jeopardy, but Peter and Petra seem to just get on with stuff and are able to solve problems with tenacity and enthusiasm. ECA end is ok, in truth the rapid innovation is really a tech thing, so once the creative parameters were established we just sat back – an extraordinary comfort and privilege! But thats not strictly true because communication and reflection has always been very good indeed.

Weaknesses: attributes of the person or company that are harmful to achieving the objective

Weaknesses are relative i guess, we’re trying something pretty ambitious things here and pushing the envelope is always going to have some fallout. We might reflect upon the decision to go web app one day – but the pay offs with the web app are immense as the phones get faster. Even the new 3GS has suddenly added more speed to what was a slow web app. If we’d had a bigger team (budget) we may have had more chance to trial a proper app. But then we’d have cut out our Google audience. There a cool app here http://emergencestudios.com/historicearth/ and they clearly have gone for the single platform killer app. Doesn’t look as though the blue dot falls though – this is critical for the embodying the map within the user experience.

Opportunities: external conditions that are helpful to achieving the objective.

I think the gap between institutions  (ECA and UE) is good – they work very professionally and the college are bit sloppier – not bad sloppy but just creative sloppy. Div Apps are tight and well ran with Dave at the helm checking our every move. In the big wide world i’m still stunned that people don’t question the Google tiles, so despite being an incredibly obvious business / creative move to swap them the world seems prefixed with navigating the present. I guess we’re also lucky with EDINA – access to alternative map tiles is not easy, and with EDINA on your doorstep and with James and Ben providing so much constructive support we’re very lucky indeed.

Threats: external conditions which could do damage to the objective.

Well the world does catch on, and http://emergencestudios.com/historicearth/ is a good and close app to ours. It clearly has difference objectives and we need to identify ours (social dimensions, community and the fact that its a web app). Our biggest catch may be the licensing behind the EDINA maps, with the best support in the world, James can’t make the maps visible to the public on a wide scale yet – not without somebody paying for the license! We need to get some press soon, and we need a work around really to make this app as successful as it possibly can be. Hence making the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJwYv-6wgf8 but this needs more work  – my use of grammar is under rapid innovation 😉 Users so far seem keen and enjoy the moment of going back in time, so we’ll continue to develop toward their suggestions.

all for now


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MP3 From Edinburgh Historical Society

Meant to post this ages ago.

Its an ok quality recording of one of our early trips with our phone app that didnt go so well.

it was with Edinburgh Historical Society and the outcomes proved interesting for the developers.


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YouTube Edit 1.0


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This Happened – it happened even if I wasn’t quite ready for it

I was a little less than prepared (I blame last weeks knee injury) but I presented at This Happened last night.

We opted for a little bit of tech presentation and I tried to make it as accessible as possible but I did find myself rambling a little bit (during a 10 minute presentation is not a good idea).  The audience response was very kind and people asked some great questions.  So thank you everyone who attended and listened and for Chris for arranging.  Also I forget to thank Petra for all her hard work during the project but the timer was scarily ticking down to zero and I was really quite keen to get finished.

Michael Salmond – had some interesting links to ours in trying to view the city in different ways from a double decker bus and the juxtaposition of ideas of colonialism and cultural diversity.

Paul Rodgers and Ewan Winton –  might be of interest to some of our colleagues on the JISC RI funding programme, as it explores the connection between the tools of social media and the actual use in the creative industries.

Anab Jain – her talk was about a project see undertook with 8 people to explore the idea of the future and peoples desires, needs and expectations of the future.  It’s a really interesting project exploring the aspirations and consequences of a group designing for the future.

Sarah Drummond and Laurie Currie presented mypolice which is quite simply a really brilliant idea.  Allowing anyone  to engage with the police in both formal and informal ways using social media.  The idea being that people can celebrate interactions with the police where they have had positive experiences, to reinforce good work.  It also allows a dialogue when the service has been less than brilliant, allowing people to have a democratic voice to highlight flaws but also get some feedback to hopefully feel they are being listened too.  The work came out the Social Innovation Camp in Glasgow, which unites nerds and non nerds to produce interesting work in 48 hrs.  It’ll be really interesting to see how they bring the idea to market.

Twitter discussion

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Minutes of project meeting, 8th October 2009

Present: Chris, Ian, Karlyn, Dave, Peter, Petra

Chris has produced an MP3 file of the discussion with the Historical Society.  He needs to edit this further, after which he will put it on the blog.

Chris has also produced a promotional video which will be posted to YouTube.

Peter will give a 10-minute pitch at the This Happened event on Monday 12th.

The AHRA Meeting (Architectural Humanities Research Association) will be in Edinburgh on Nov 20-21.  Chris will give a demonstration of Walking Through Time.

BITS is the internal IT newsletter for the University.  Dave will mail other researchers working on historical maps about a joint article.

Chris and Ian will give a presentation at the university’s IT futures workshop on December 15th.

Chris will set up a web site, to complement this blog.

Work Package 5 (User Community Enhancements)
We completed the development.  There were only a few days on this WP5 after the last project meeting, so the bulk of the changes were as reported there.

Work Package 6 (User Community and Embedding)
Karlyn has started to work with students.  One piece of feedback was whether we can record a route.  We don’t currently provide this functionality.  We could add this but it hasn’t been a priority.  We would have to think about how to represent the route.  To an extent, this functionality isn’t the key point of the application.

We will invite the Historical Society back to see the improved version.

We had a discussion about the licensing of the map data, which is restricted to users in UK Higher Education, and how we could extend access within the terms of the license.  One idea was to set up a user group.

Next Meeting: Thursday 22nd October, 2pm

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Minutes of Project Meeting, 23rd September

Present: Chris, Karlyn, James, Peter, Petra, Dave

Historical Society feedback
The meeting with the Historical Society was useful but a little disappointing.  The system didn’t work well on this occasion.  It turned out that one iPhone had 3G turned off and therefore didn’t work at all.  The other had UI problems that we hadn’t been encountered before.

The users were also frustrated that they couldn’t zoom in to see the maps in more detail.  This didn’t work because the map images that we are using were scanned at only 300dpi.

Among the feedback on the UI, the users requested a button to switch back to the Google Maps without using a menu, and they would have liked an online introduction.

Work Package 5 (User Community Enhancements)
– To improve the download time, we compressed the images, cached downloaded images, and optimised the Javascript and HTML code.
– We improved the UI in response to feedback.
– Among new features, users have ability to create their own markers and routes, upload them to the server and share them with others.
– The beta version of the new Google API is still lacking some functionality so we haven’t been able to use it.

Work Package 6 (User Community and Embedding)
– The Conservation students are now back.  Chris and Karlyn will lead them in exploring the opportunities that the system allows.
– We will buy an iPhone 3GS for user tests
– Minor point: we need to add functionality to see full the text associated with a marker.
– Minor point: we need to modify map names to indicate scale more clearly.

NLS maps
We have been in discussion with the National Library of Scotland to get access to higher resolution, pre-OS, maps.  These won’t be available in the timeframe of the project, because they need to be georeferenced.

Discussion of followup activity
We discussed possible followup activities, both academic and commercial.

Management Actions
Dave to check budget re iPhone purchase and expenses for Manchester trip.

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A little bit of Cache goes a long way – a win

Petra enabled some of the compression and caching on the tomcat server and too great success.

Petra and my tests have been against a 3GS and Chris loaned us a 3G to do some testing.  A little bit of pre-caching of some images and the site now flies along.  As the data is not changing a great deal (it is historical after all) we can have a long cache time on and well it works.  Don’t know why we didn’t think of it sooner (well I didn’t and Petra did)

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Google Maps 3 API – Fail for us

We tried – we failed…  For us to implement it, would require a good bit of re-write and we took the decision to not go with it this time.  It did make us think about the modular nature of the javascript

It doesn’t quite have the feature set at this time that we were looking for but it does look like it’ll be great when it’s finished.  The focus on mobile tools would be great and gesture support for Android would be great.  Not this time but we did think it would be worth  keeping an eye for when it matures

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