How Ushahidi helped OpenROV build a digital field journal

We blogged about OpenExplorer in November last year, describing how we used it to track our Nile adventure. We thought it would be interesting to go into more detail about what exactly this tool is and how our Solutions Team was engaged to build it.
OpenExplorer is a digital log book which allows adventurers and citizen scientists to plan, document, and share their expeditions with the OpenROV community. Through the site, explorers can also crowdfund expeditions and receive sponsorship, and users can discover and follow exciting expeditions worldwide. The platform launched in August 2014, grew quickly, and has been featured in Fast Company and Wired.
Expeditions on OpenExplorer feature an interactive map, a geo-tagged timeline of journal entries, and the ability for users to follow and comment on expeditions.
The Solutions Team’s role began with the OpenROV team’s vision of a way for their community of underwater robot enthusiasts to share their trips and collaborate. They had planned how most of the functionality of the platform would work, but weren’t sure how it could best be implemented. It turned out that Ushahidi’s Crowdmap API was perfect for what they wanted to do, and would be much faster to build with than creating a platform from scratch.
The project officially kicked off in late 2013. Solutions Team designer Sebastian started by creating some rough mockups to capture the functional requirements OpenROV had in mind:
expeditionDetail-During2Early OpenExplorer mockups
These designs went through several iterations before the final look and feel was obtained. The OpenROV team’s detailed feedback and ideas were incorporated throughout – the design would never have been as effective without this in-depth collaboration.
Crowdmap lead developer Brian planned and oversaw development of the system. Key customizations included:

  • The ability to divide an expeditions log entries into 3 stages (Preparation, Underway, Debriefing) on a timeline, adding a rich layer of storytelling to the platform;
  • Creating an “Explorer Dashboard” where users could manage their expeditions and see their followers and comments;
  • Integrating a payment system allowing anyone to help crowdfund an expedition.

The development process had 3 phases, planned to efficiently lead to the end result but minimizing the risk of diverging from the project’s initial goals. At the start, only the OpenROV team could post expeditions. Phase 2 allowed anyone to log their trips, and Phase 3 opened up users’ expeditions to crowdfunding.
After launching, some very interesting projects have been posted on OpenExplorer. Here are three of our favorites:

After the three Phases, the project entered a prolonged period of testing and updating. We set up a simple system in which the OpenROV team could decide on a new feature, discuss it with us, and have it implemented, usually within a few weeks. This was an effective way both to make sure client and user feedback was quickly acted on and to iteratively update the platform.
We’d also like to mention project manager Celestine who kept everything going, and Vladimir, who did crucial code reviews and made sure the platform remained stable after updates.
The Solutions Team advised OpenROV on what was possible and what users would find compelling, and the OpenROV team inspired the Solutions Team with their vision and knowledge of their community’s needs. This fantastic collaboration resulted in an exciting platform which users love and better community engagement for OpenROV.
Have an idea for your own map-based platform but not sure how it could be implemented? Contact the Solutions Team and tell us what you have in mind… we’d be excited to get involved!