Saturday, June 13, 2009

End of the Brew, here's what's new

The first Trip Hopping Brew in Arizona was a success! We had fun meeting volunteers showing their interest in Trip Hopping and watching the number of rides and member sign ups continue to grow. We've added features, sped things up and improved our organization in general, we've also laid out some more ideas for going forward.

Here's what's new:

Search rides more efficiently, prepare for the weather

Visually, you'll notice highlighted lines on the map that follow the roads for people's ride posts, green for offers, orange for requests. This is an improvement from before when we showed straight as-the-crow-flies lines. You'll notice that the map in general has a cleaner look with things organized better, there's an updated Google search bar at the bottom too that let's you search anything from sushi to bike shops.

More rides are shown now, a search from St Louis to Denver will turn up more rides that may be relevant. This includes ride that may be passing through, like rides from New York to Utah, as someone may be willing to stop along the way and pick you up.

Weather is now on the map! You'll see little icons of the sun or storm clouds all along your route when you do a travel search. Clicking these icons gives you a more extensive look at the upcoming weather forecast. This is particularly useful for hitchhikers like myself, it may be sunny here in Phoenix, but it can be good to know that you'll be getting rained on come Utah.

After posting a ride, you'll be given an easy copy/paste option to embed your ride into other sites like Craigslist and Couchsurfing to improve your chances of connecting with someone.

Focus on the people

There's a new tab you may have seen already, "People". This is a look into the newest members, latest blogs and photos and even the most recent rides posted to Trip Hopping. It's got a simple lay out, you can also switch to "Friends" to see the same information, but just from your friends.

More pictures! We're not a photo site, nor do we want to be. At first we only allowed one photo upload per person to keep things simple. As more people joined we realized one was not enough, but at the same time, we didn't want to open the floodgates and have people uploading 60 odd pictures. We decided to let you upload a few more pictures, but we're making it fun by adding specific types of photos. One is of you clearly, a profile picture that people can identify you from. Then a picture of you with a cool background, a Hopping picture (you must be airborne, falling, jumping) and a picture of you traveling, so hitchhiking or in your car or whatever you can think of. This is already turning up some very cool results, upload your cool pictures! Of course, if you have 60 odd photos you want to show off, you can check out Google Picasa which lets you upload a ton of photos, when you upload photos you'll see how you can link to all of your photos there.

Profiles in general are looking a bit cleaner and more consistent. When you look at your own profile, you'll see some code you can embed on other sites to show off your Trip Hopping profile, look right below your "About Me" section. Put this on your blog, website, couchsurfing profile, anywhere you want people to notice your presence on Trip Hopping.

We're also working on a Community Forum where our members can talk with each other. Mark Ovaska flew all the way from New York to volunteer with us and got this started for us. It's still in testing so we're not linking to it directly on the site yet, but if you want to check it out and help us find any flaws with it, go to http://www.triphopping.com/community and the conversation started!

Hopping faster than ever!

We've made some significant speed improvements! Walter Heck, our database admin, has been squeezing in what little spare time he has to optimize our databases to make accessing data from them lightning quick. I've also been working with him to improve the queries to the database to be more efficient across the site. Mark came in and chopped 1000 lines of code off our CSS, and we've also improved our javascript to run more efficiently. Things are hopping along nicely.

Supporting Trip Hopping

We've decided to just about do away with advertisements on the site, and have stripped them off. Sometimes ads are useful and relevant, and sometimes it makes sense to show support for companies we know and trust. We don't want to say ads are gone for good, but we will say they won't come back unless it's truly awesome stuff. This means that donations and verifications from you will be what's keeping us hopping. It costs money to maintain our servers, cover business expenses and afford to spend our time improving the site. If you love the site and like where it's going, get verified or donate!

We've also made a volunteer page at http://www.triphopping.com/brew. If you're interested in offering your time and talents to make Trip Hopping better, check it out! We're looking for all kind of folks, from techies to fundraisers to communications to PR people and more.

Thanks!

We had a great time playing with the site, we even got a day off going tubing on the salt river which was awesome! We hope you enjoy all the updates we've mentioned, there's plenty more things we couldn't quite squeeze in here that you'll notice too. Thanks to all our volunteers that came and helped with techie stuff, artwork, data entry, design, donations and helping to get the word out, you guys make this work.

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