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Latest news from the team behind FixMyStreet Pro

Getting the most out of FixMyStreet Pro: make it easy to find

Once you’ve invested in FixMyStreet Pro, then of course you’ll want to ensure that your residents can find it easily. Here are a few ideas for making sure everyone knows where to make those street reports.

Full-site search and replace

It sounds pretty obvious, but if FixMyStreet Pro is replacing a previous service, make sure you search your entire site to check that all your links are pointing at the right place. It’s always surprising to find just how many forgotten pages can be found in this way, taking users to retired parts of your site, or dead links.

While you’re at it, are there any automated emails or printed materials that might still include out of date URLs?

A memorable URL

By default, we place FixMyStreet as a prefix to the council’s URL, like this: fixmystreet.eastherts.gov.uk.

If you prefer, we can go for something shorter, like Bromley did: fix.bromley.gov.uk.

Once you’ve got a nice memorable URL, it’s easier to put on leaflets, posters and in newsletters and emails.

Give a bit of space

Consider adding a link directly to your FixMyStreet Pro service on your website’s homepage, at least for a while until your users get to know where it is.

How about some promotion?

If you have a budget for marketing, you can see very good returns for a small investment on social media and search engine marketing.

You might like to run ads for a limited time on Facebook or Twitter, where just a few pounds can bring you both brand recognition and multiple click-throughs; or on Google Ads where you can bid on keywords such as ‘report potholes in [the name of your council]’.

If money is tight, see our recent post on low-cost ways to promote your FixMyStreet Pro service.

Or optimise for free

Your web editors are probably already au fait on how to optimise web pages to ensure they rank highly on search engines for relevant phrases. Make extra sure they’re putting their best SEO efforts into your report gateway page for maximum benefits all round.

But don’t worry too much

One nice thing about FixMyStreet is that users don’t have to come via the council website to make a report: if they go via the national FixMyStreet.com website or app, and their report is within your council boundaries, it’ll come to you anyway. It’ll also appear on the council’s FixMyStreet Pro installation.

That happens the other way round too, so the national site also displays reports made through your website. The upshot is, if your residents can remember FixMyStreet.com, they can make a report directly to you.

Image: Sydney Rae (Unsplash)

Grit bins displayed on Bristol Council's FixMyStreet Pro installation

Upping the accuracy of reports, with asset layers

Did you know that, as a FixMyStreet Pro council client, you can add your own asset layers to your installation?

If you’ve got data on features such as, for example, trees, bins, streetlights, bridges… or anything else, and they’re in a GIS format, we can slot them in to FixMyStreet.

That means that when your residents make a report, they can click on the precise asset where the issue is. Net result? Your inspectors and contractors don’t waste any time looking for a problem, because they have the data that lets them know precisely where to zero in.

These visuals needn’t clog up the map interface, either: we can set it up so that they only display when the user selects the relevant category. So, choose ‘streetlights’ from the drop-down menu, and as if by magic they’ll appear on the map.

You can see this feature in action on a few FixMyStreet Pro installations, but Bristol is a particularly good example, as they’ve added a lot of different types of asset. Take a look at this reporting page, and select Bridges/Subways, Grit Bins or Gully/Drainage to see how they’re handled.

Asset layers are available to councils who go for the FixMyStreet Pro ‘Avenue’ package. Find out more about pricing here.

Multi-selectin’ fun on FixMyStreet

As a user or a council, it’s quite possible that you’re already enjoying one of the usability improvements that FixMyStreet version 2.0 has brought — but, as it’s a fairly subtle change, perhaps without actually even noticing it.

multi-select

 

In these days of eBay and department store shopping, we’re all quite used to refining results through the use of multiple checkboxes.

But for FixMyStreet, we hadn’t given much thought to letting you filter reports by more than one dimension, until Oxfordshire County Council suggested that it would be a useful feature.

For quite some time, you’d been able to filter by category and status (“Show me all pothole reports” or “Show me all ‘unfixed’ reports”), but this new functionality is more flexible.

You can now select multiple categories and multiple statuses simultaneously (“show me all pothole and graffiti reports that are unfixed or in progress”) — and all through the power of tickboxes.

If you’re a non-technical person, that’s all you need to know: just enjoy the additional flexibility next time you visit FixMyStreet. But if you are a coder, you might like to read more about how we achieved this feature: for you, Matthew has written about it over on the FixMyStreet Platform blog.

If you’d like to know more about all the features we’ve recently introduced to FixMyStreet, why not join one of our regular Friday webinars?

Peak performance

At mySociety we believe in an open, inclusive web and such we try to build web apps that are accessible in the broadest sense. So while we do care deeply about things like WAI and the Equality Act this post isn’t about that — this is about making a site that works if you have a weak connection or an ageing device. I’m talking about performance.

Graph showing total transfer data for mobile webpages in last year.Now while it isn’t a great metric to track, the fact that the average size of a web page is now over three megabytes (and pages served for mobile devices reaching an average of 2.9mb!) demonstrates that this is an age of bloat that assumes good broadband or 4G connectivity and we don’t think that’s right.

As an example here are some numbers about the FixMyStreet site as it displays on mobile after some recent improvements.

To load a working and styled front page on your phone takes around 9KB of HTML/inlined CSS/inlined images (that isn’t a typo – nine kilobytes). How do we pull that off? Well, the site logo and menu are both inlined so we don’t have to wait for them to load, as is the CSS needed to show the top part of the front page. 5KB of JavaScript is loaded (which amongst other things enables the geolocation) and in the background an additional massive 14 kilobytes of CSS (the main mobile stylesheet) and the remaining 20 kilobytes of images (the example report photos and footer links) are being pulled in. The page also uses prefetch to start fetching the remaining JavaScript while the user is entering a postcode or address to actually get started on FMS.

On a desktop there’s a little bit more to add to the mix (more like 66KB of images, 19KB of CSS, plus a webfont taking 77KB) but it’s still lightning quick.
The team haven’t reinvented the wheel to achieve this – they’ve just been ruthless and absolutely focused on only using the minimum amount of code to meet the user need. When the FixMyStreet site is deployed, the JavaScript and CSS is automatically minimised, and at that point we run penthouse> to work out the critical CSS to be inlined on the front page. And whilst our main JavaScript does use jQuery, we dropped it from the front page to save yet more up-front time (jQuery is far larger alone than our current front page).

If you are interested in more details of how this was achieved, here’s a post Matthew prepared earlier on many of the same techniques, which he used on his own project traintimes.org.uk.

There are of course still improvements to be made – I imagine many front page viewers of FixMyStreet never need or want to scroll down as far as the images in the footer, so ideally we wouldn’t load them unless they do. Due to Windows Lumia users, which we support for a specific client use case, we’re using Appcache for offline support, but adding some form of more modern service worker would also be nice. And most of this work is for the front page (though it helped other pages too); our main JavaScript could be split up more than it is. It’s a continual process, but here is a good place to pause.

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Setting your own categories in FixMyStreet Pro

When a resident makes a report on the national FixMyStreet site, we ask them to choose a category for the issue, and to place a pin in the map to show its exact location.

These two pieces of information inform where the report is sent. Each council can stipulate exactly which categories they would like displayed: commonly these will be Potholes, Street lights, Graffiti, and any other issue types they deal with. Many councils, and especially larger ones, assign each category to a different email address (or route within their CRM if they’ve opted for full integration with FixMyStreet).

As a FixMyStreet Pro client council, you’ll have the ability to edit categories via the dashboard: delete them if you no longer use them; change the title or email address if required, or add new ones — try it out for yourself on our demo site. Non-client councils, by the way, can get in touch with us at any time to ask us to do the same on their behalf, for the nationwide FixMyStreet.com site.

But there’s a little more that FixMyStreet does, too. As a council, you’ll be well aware that just because a report’s made within your boundaries, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s dealt with by you. In the two-tier UK council system, responsibility for different categories of report are often split between county and district councils, or borough councils and the GLA, for example.

FixMyStreet can effortlessly deal with this, based on which category has been assigned to each report. If it needs to be directed to a different council or body, you need never even see it — even if the report is originally made via your own website, it’ll still appear on the map for other residents to see, but it will be winging its way safely to the other authority.

Find out more about FixMyStreet Pro, and ask questions, at one of our regular Friday webinars.

FixMyStreet reaches Borsetshire

What would Eddie Grundy do if he came across a pothole? And how would Linda Snell deal with flytipping on the site of the Ambridge village fete?

Fortunately, these fictional characters now enjoy the same access to FixMyStreet as the rest of us, thanks to the new demo site we’ve built.

The thinking behind it is not, of course, to gather reports from an entirely fictional world. We’re not that mad.

Rather, we needed a sandbox interface where we could show councils exactly how FixMyStreet works, and allow them to play about with both the customer end and the admin side, all without causing any major repercussions to the running of the standard site. Enter FixMyStreet Borsetshire.

Prospective buyers of the system from local councils can experience the various levels of administration that the back-end allows. Just log in with the credentials seen on this page and see exactly how reports can be shortlisted, actioned, or moderated.

So, we’re expecting reports of pigs on the loose, flooded culverts and perhaps even a flying flapjack. But if you’re hoping to find out the precise location of Ambridge, unfortunately you’ll be disappointed: the map is actually centred around Chipping Sodbury, far from the village’s supposed Midlands locale.

Keen to know more? Join one of our regular Friday webinars for the full tour.

Image: Martin Pettitt (CC by/2.0)

How councils get extra benefits, at no extra cost

We’re always making improvements to FixMyStreet. And the great thing is that, as a council that’s installed FixMyStreet Pro as your fault-reporting system, you get all those improvements for free.

With most SAAS providers, there’s no real incentive to keep refining a product once it’s sold — but FixMyStreet is a bit different. The same software that underpins FixMyStreet Pro also drives our nationwide site for the UK, FixMyStreet.com, and a number of FixMyStreet sites run by other groups across the world. When we make an improvement to the codebase, that’s rolled out so that everyone can benefit from it.

The latest updates can always be seen on the FixMyStreet Platform blog, where, as you’ll see, some recent additions include the potential to update reports by text rather than email, and some performance updates as well as bug fixes.

Because FixMyStreet is in a continual state of development, we are always happy to hear from councils about the features they’d like to see. Just let your account manager know, or, if you’re familiar with the site GitHub, you can raise a ticket directly on the public FixMyStreet repo.

And when we make announcements on the blog, if you see anything you’d like to carry across to your own installation, drop us a line and we can discuss how best to make it happen.


Image: Štefan Štefančík (Unsplash)

Better-looking emails for FixMyStreet

If you’ve used FixMyStreet recently — either to make a report, or as a member of a council who receives the reports — you might have noticed that the site’s automated emails are looking a lot more swish.

Where previously those emails were plain text, we’ve now upgraded to HTML, with all the design possibilities that this implies.

It’s all part of the improvements ushered in by FixMyStreet Version 2.0, which we listed, in full, in our recent blog post. If you’d like a little more technical detail about some of the thought and solutions that went into this switch to HTML, Matthew has obliged with in a blog post over on FixMyStreet.org.

Still got questions? Join one of our regular Friday webinars and let’s hear them.

Something in the middle: how Bristol connects

This year, Bristol Council did something unusual and admirable. As far as we’re aware, they’re the first UK council to have taken such a step.

Working with mySociety on custom Open311 ‘middleware’ while adopting FixMyStreet as their fault-reporting system, they now enjoy full flexibility, no matter what the future holds.

Thanks to this open approach, Bristol will extract more value from their existing systems and lower operating costs. With integrated, open solutions, and the raised quality of report formatting that Open311 brings, everyone will benefit.

Improving flexibility

Councils are increasingly understanding the value of flexibility when it comes to service providers.

Contracts that lock them into a single provider for many years mean that, often, there’s no opportunity to benefit when technology advances, and disproportionate costs can be charged for implementing the slightest changes.

This desire for flexibility was a strong factor in Bristol City Council’s decision to adopt FixMyStreet for Councils — and that opened the door for a conversation about Open311.

We’ve always advocated integration via Open311, to the extent that we offer free hook-up with FixMyStreet to any councils who support it.

Because Open311 is an open standard, it supports the entire landscape of providers like FixMyStreet. Right now, Bristol can accept street fault reports not just from us, but from a full range of services — in other words, any site or app that cares to connect with them can do so. No-one knows what the future will hold: if a game-changing system emerges in the future, it makes sense that you’d be able to accept its reports.

All well and good: but when Bristol City Council implemented FixMyStreet as their fault-reporting system, the concept was taken a little bit further. With our collaboration, Bristol created their own Open311 ‘middleware’, sitting between the two systems and talking to both.

Via this method, their existing CMS, Confirm, can hook up to reports coming through from FixMyStreet. That all works smoothly — but, just as importantly, if Bristol ever decide to replace their CRM provider, they’ll be able to do so with no knock-on effect to FixMyStreet reports. And if they ever decide to replace FixMyStreet with a different provider, or indeed to accept reports from a range of providers, they can do that too.

Bristol found us via the GCloud procurement system, and are the first metropolitan unitary authority to install FixMyStreet.

Future plans

Bristol launched its FixMyStreet service to the public in the summer of 2016.

This autumn, they added asset-based reporting, meaning that known council properties such as streetlights, grit bins and gullies are all marked on FixMyStreet’s maps. Residents can pinpoint and report the location of faults with these assets far more accurately as a result.

There’ll be a phased rollout across departments, starting with Highways and moving across departments as Bristol extend their own middleware. We’ll be watching with great interest.

Interested to learn more? Join one of our regular Friday webinars.



Image: Adam Heath (CC by-sa/2.0)

FixMyStreet version 2.0

The FixMyStreet codebase is used all over the world by people running versions of the site for their own country or jurisdiction. This week, we’re proud to announce the release of FixMyStreet version 2.0.

This version contains a wide array of new features that benefit FixMyStreet sites’ users, administrators, and the officials who receive reports. They include elements that the UK FixMyStreet was the first to trial, such as nicer-looking HTML emails for users and authorities, the ability to filter reports by multiple states and categories, a new admin user system with graduated permissions, and various bugfixes and development improvements.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts over on fixmystreet.org/blog/, examining the changes in detail. If you run a FixMyStreet site, or you’re just interested in coding and technical issues, you may find them of interest. Meanwhile, here’s the broad overview.

Image by Romana Klee

New front-end feature

HTML email

There is now the option for all emails sent by FixMyStreet to be HTML formatted where previously they were plain text only. This includes confirmation and questionnaire emails to the user, and report emails to the public body. These emails include any image added to the report, plus a small static map of the problem’s location.

State/category filtering and sorting of list pages

When viewing a list of reports, you can now filter and sort them in pretty much any way you choose, including sorting by most- or least-recently updated, newest or oldest, or most commented. You can also select multiple categories or states (e.g. “fixed”).

 Pretty area highlighting on body pages

The highlighting of areas on a body page has been inverted, so that the unimportant parts of the map are shaded and you can interact more easily with reports on the page.

Users can now update their own email address

This was a frequent request from users and we’re glad to report that they can now do it themselves on their account page.

Performance improvements

When looking at reports from a list page, the other report pins stay visible so that it is easier to switch between them. The report itself is being pulled in behind the scenes, meaning the whole page does not need to reload. The map no longer extends underneath the sidebar and header, which makes things easier, and a scroll wheel can now zoom the map in and out.

Making privacy options clearer

The reporting form has been separated into public and private sections, to make it clearer which parts of what you provide will be made visible on the site.

Showing the relevant recipient

If you live in an area where there’s more than one body, the category you pick normally dictates which body we send your report to. Now, when you select the category we update the name of the body given at the top of the report page, if we know that the report will be sent there.

 

New admin user system

Admin users can now use the same log-in right across the site – whether they’re making a report like a standard user, or logging in to make edits and moderate the site.

In the past, the distinction between admin and other users was black and white. As an admin user, you had access to every part of the site, but users can now be given individual permissions for various layers of access. These include:

  • Proxy users This layer grants the ability to create a report or update on behalf of a body, or as another user. We envisage this being useful in a body’s contact centre, where they receive a report over a phone and enter it into FixMyStreet as that user;
  • Report editors Giving the power to edit a report’s category, state, or location. If the admin user changes the category, and that change means that a different body is now responsible for the report, it will be re-sent;
  • List makers, who can compile their own shortlist of reports they wish to go and inspect. This may be useful for a contractor or team who wishes to compile the day’s tasks;
  • Quick responders These users have access to response templates, allowing them to edit and publish templated updates;
  • Prioritisers These users may set different priorities on reports;
  • Trusted users A simple reputation system, which e.g. potentially lets reports from trusted users be actioned more quickly.

The admin report edit form has also been greatly improved, including a map to update a report’s location (and re-sending the report if the body changes), and much tidier layout.

Bugfixes and development changes

Bugfixes include updating the top-level domain (TLD) list for email validation, hiding authorities which don’t exist any more on the all reports page, and fixing the previously-broken photo preview display after form submission. We have dropped support for Internet Explorer 6.

If you’re a re-user of the codebase, there are a number of changes that will hopefully help you out. See the extended version of this blog post on fixmystreet.org for more details.

If you have any questions, please do get in touch.

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FixMyStreet Pro is the street & environment reporting service that integrates with any council system.

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