A little while ago I posted about an idea to create a good online database of places that offer WiFi
. My motivation for this is that, as I have no real office, it's often nice to work from a cafe or something like that. This is especially true during the summer as those places usually also have air-conditioning that I can take advantage of as well. Additionally, while there are any number of sites that claim to fulfill that purpose, none of them do a good job at it. I've been unhappy with every such site I've tried for pretty much as long as WiFi has existed. So now I'm going to do something about it.
This project is also a good opportunity for me to learn some more web development skills. Up till now the web development that I've done has been almost entirely in PHP. It's also been coded 100% by hand. I like doing things that way because it means that I know exactly how everything is working under the hood, and have no qualms whatsoever about going in and changing things. Now, however, I'd like to expand a little beyond that. I'm comfortable enough with the way web programming works that I no longer feel the need to be completely in control of everything; it's time for some shortcuts. Fortunately, frameworks such as Ruby on Rails
exist to provide exactly those sorts of shortcuts. Being, as I am, a huge fan of Python
I've decided, with a little input from Jesse Legg
that I'm going to create my WiFi database site with Django (I've got another project planned for the near future that I plan on using as an opportunity to learn Ruby on Rails as well).
I've just finished installing Django on my web server, so development for the WiFi project will be beginning shortly. The way I see it, the key to creating a successful site as opposed to the ones that have existed previously, is to make sure that all
the relevant information that people might want (information such as available bandwidth, number of outlets available to customers, whether or not you need to purchase a coffee to get a code before you can use the internet, &c) is available, make sure it's presented in an easy to use way, and, most importantly, make sure that the list is complete enough and the site good enough that users actually want to contribute. This will never work if I just try and make a list of cafes with WiFi that I maintain myself; it absolutely needs to allow for contribution by users. People need to not only be able to find out that the Boloco in Davis Square has free WiFi, they also need to be able to add the Grand Prix Cafe to the list as well if it's not already there. They need to be able to let other visitors to the site know if they've had problems connecting to the network with Vista or OS X or Linux, or if the staff at that particular cafe tends to be rude with people who spend 'too much' time using the WiFi. There's a whole lot of information out there that someone looking for a place to get WiFi could use, and the only way to make sure that all that information is available is with some sort of community participation.
Basically, this is probably going to turn out to be a pretty large project. It will be interesting to see if and how it grows. It will also be interesting to see how much data needs to already be on the site before it hits that critical mass point and becomes useful enough for people to want to add more data on their own. It should be fun.