If you're here for the first time, you might want to start at the bottom.
How very disappointing...
23rd October 2010
In the post today was a request from a veterinary practice in Oxford. They want to be removed from our alert system. Of course, I'll remove them, but the message this sends out loud and clear is that they're not interested in helping people. They don't care that potentially they could be handling or putting to sleep pets that owners are desperately trying to find. I guess they must be so busy that there's just no time for even a nurse or receptionist to glance over the emails that we send just to check that they don't have them out the back in a cage.
In my opinion, if you operate a veterinary practice your duty of care should compel you to engage with the massive problem of lost and found animals.
Some vets are brilliant and consider it part of the job of safeguarding the welfare of animals. Some obviously see it as a burden. Some of the more forward thinking ones who engage with Animal Finders experience greater footfall into the practice, an uplift in microchipping sales and improved public perception for their caring approach.
I'll not name the veterinary practice here, but if you poke about you'll find it.
Posted by Nick @12:48
The tip of the iceberg?
20th October 2010
I'm worried. I've been doing some analysis on the Animal Finders database to see what's been going on since we started. I'll share some statistics with you:
- Since we started we handled nearly 700 reports of lost and found animals in Oxfordshire
- Currently there are 31 unsolved reports of lost or stolen dogs in the county
- We have 100 stray cats that have been found and not claimed by their owners
- We've had 33 cats reported as killed on the road that were not claimed by their owners
On one hand I'm happy that we've been involved and tried to help so many people and lost pets in Oxfordshire. On the other hand I'm concerned because I know that we've only scratched the surface. There are still a large amount of veterinary practices who have no idea we exist. There are vets who don't work with us because (brace yourself) they don't have the internet at the practice. I know I'm an internet junkie, but how the hell can you operate a business in the modern world without being connected to internet?!! It amazes me. What amazes me more are the vets that ask us to fax a photograph of a missing pet. If you've ever received a faxed photo then you'll know how ridiculous it is! There's just no way you could identify an animal from a fax.
Anyhow, enough ranting. I do think that we've seen just the tip of the iceberg here in Oxfordshire. I think we could expect 10 times more reports once we get full saturation into Oxfordshire's pet owning and pet care world.
Oh, and if you're wondering, we're still dominated by missing cat reports:
And if you're wondering how Charlie and Bugsy have settled into Witney - they're doing just fine terrorising birds and old ladies that pass within 50 yards of the house. You wouldn't think it to look a them, but these two have become highly trained attack cats. The little one took out a pigeon mid-flight the other day. Where did I go wrong!?
Posted by Nick @11:10
Could you do (part of) my job?
1st July 2010
So, the news is I'm leaving Bicester and moving to Witney. I've got to move as the house I've been renting for nearly 3 years has been sold. I've just bought my own place in Witney and will be leaving Bicester within the next 3 weeks.
As regular visitors to the site will know, I sometimes take it upon myself to collect deceased animals (mostly cats) from the side of the road. I do this for one reason. If cats are left by the side of the road they either get taken away by the road cleaners and sent to landfill(!) or they become a free meal for a fox. Either way, somebody somewhere is missing their pet. I do the best I can to identify these poor cats and trace their owners.
Now, this was never really the plan when I built Animal Finders, after all, this is supposed to be a web based service. But, there is an obvious need and so I do the best I can. Of course, once I move to Witney, I'll do the same there, but I need somebody or some people to take over this part of my role in Bicester.
If you think you're in a position to do this, please get it touch. Here's a run down of some of the requirements:
- You must live locally so you can get to report locations fairly quickly
- You must have your own transportation
- You'll need some bin liners, a container with an air-tight lid and some gloves
- You'll need to be able to deal with some fairly harrowing roadside scenes involving peoples pets
- You'll need a digital camera or a fairly good quality camera on your mobile phone
Here's the process which I usually follow when an incident is called in:
- Drive to the location and stop somewhere where it is safe to do so
- Photograph the animal where it is lying (or move it to a safe location first if necessary)
- Try to identify the sex of the animal
- Search close by for a collar that may have come off
- Scan the animal to see if it's microchipped
- Place the animal in a bin liner then transport to Bicester Vets
- Bicester Vets double check to see if the animal is chipped
- If no chip is found, log a full report on the Animal Finders website.
I can't offer you any payment for this role - it is entirely voluntary and you'd also have to bear the cost of expenses (fuel etc) yourself, but if you think you'd like to get involved and make a difference to people, this might be for you.
Also, if you have some moderate computer skills that enable you to crop sections out of photos, that would be very handy. I usually am unable to put a complete photo of a deceased cat on the website as it could be very distressing for its owners. The idea is that we convey the colours and markings just enough so people can get an idea (see examples below).
I haven't really worked out the logistics of this yet and right now I only have one microchip scanner, but please get in touch if you think you could help. We'll work out how to manage it as we go.
Posted by Nick @09:16
You can't win them all!
17th May 2010
A little while ago we were shortlisted for the Community Initiative Award at the 2010 Bicester Business Awards. For some strange reason (don't go there - it's a sore point!) we didn't win. I'd written a speech and everything.
The winners from all categories were announced at a black tie Gala Dinner held at the Bicester Hotel, Golf and Spa. It was a great (boozy) evening but I did struggle to get out of bed the next day!
Each one of the finalists also had a short film made about them which was shown on the night. Here's ours:
I guess it's true what they say about TV adding a few pounds. I'm sure I'm not quite so chubby in real life?!
By the way, the little cat we visit in the video is Jack (see his original report here), who turned up at the vets after a few days with a very bad injury. He had to have his leg amputated. In the video, its the day after the op and you can see the bandage covering the wound. Poor little thing.
I'm not blogging much right now as you can see. All of my efforts are going into Animal Finders v.2. Coming soon...
Posted by Nick @12:30
Super, mashing, great!
29th January 2010
I was recently alerted by Google Alerts to Animal Finders being mentioned on www.webuser.co.uk. Apparently we were mentioned in a piece featuring a handful of great map mashups. Of course, I went out and bought the magazine. It's a nice little piece and I'm flattered to be sharing the same page space and the totally excellent and super viral UKSnow! Click the image for the full page.
Posted by Nick @17:45
A fishy tale
25th January 2010
I haven't really had much time to keep this blog updated recently - the new build of Animal Finders is well underway and it's taking up a huge amount of my time. It's actually a really good time to be doing this, as it seems to be very quiet on the lost pet front. We've not been running for a whole year yet, so I don't know what the quiet seasons will be, but I'm getting an idea.
I can confirm that when we launch the new site, we'll be offering our service across the entire country.This means we'll really be able to leverage the great relationships with our industry friends and partners that have welcomed us since we launched in April.
We can't wait.
Before I go, I just wanted to show you what Charlie dragged in through the cat flap last night. I was amazed / horrified...and yes, it was fresh!
Posted by Nick @10:03
All quiet on the Oxon front
7th December 2009
It's quiet. It's very quiet. Lost pet reports are few and far between at the moment. This is, of course a good thing. The drop in reports coincided with the turn in the weather. I guess the cats of Oxfordshire are mostly sleeping in the warm, just like my two - on my fleece, on the spare chair, by the radiator in the office:
Kitten no.1 (black) and Kitten no. 2 (black & white)
It may be quiet in terms of reports, but there's plenty going on here at Animal Towers. A couple of weeks ago we had a great weekend alongside our friends Petlog, Dog Theft Action and Vets Get Scanning at the Discover Dogs show. We were lucky enough to be presented with a microchip scanner by Dog Theft Action which was kindly donated by Rosemayre Barry from Pet-Detect . This scanner will be extremely useful in our work and means that we can check animals for chips without having to bother the local vets! Here's a photo of the presentation:
Left to right:
Neil Ewart (Chairman, Dog Theft Action), Rosemayre Barry (Pet-Detect), Your truly, Anita Tabrett (Petlog)
We are very grateful to Celia Walsom from Petlog who kindly arranged for us to have a stand at the show, and for getting us moderately intoxicated on the Saturday night! Over the weekend it was also great to meet up with some people I only know from the Twittersphere, namely: @marcthevet, @petstreeteditor, @thedogreporter and @seelpod. If you're on Twitter, be sure to follow these people.
Since returning from Discover Dogs, I've been spending a great deal of time with flip charts and (magic) whiteboards doing more planning for the next version of the Animal Finders website. There is so much that I have learned since the website launched about what the website really needs to be able to do. All this is being worked into the new structure. I'm also going to be focussing very heavily on search engine optimisation. It's just not possible to use traditional advertising for Animal Finders - there is simply NO budget for it. I know that I made some mistakes early on with local advertising and I don't plan to repeat them! Currently the three main sources of people that join up are as follows:
|Word of mouth||18%|
I want to get the percentage much higher for Search Engines. I'm not going to tell you what the remaining percentages are made up from. I'm keeping that to myself!
More stuff to come soon - which will me much more interesting than this post!
Posted by Nick @13:54
Just a quickie
17th November 2009
Lots to say about the Discover Dogs Show but that will have to wait until there's more time. Just wanted to put this up in case you didn't get a chance to tune in to Louisa Hannan's show on Thursday 12th November.
Posted by Nick @12:47
I am unique. I am a 'Petective'. Hmmm.
9th November 2009
OK, OK you lot. Calm down. There are only so many 'Ace Ventura' jokes I can take!
I'm unique because it appears that a new word has been created to describe me by The People Newspaper. Click on the image below to see a copy of the article.
I have to say, I really didn't expect to get ANY national press coverage while we're still in the local beta test phase. I can now say "I was in the paper with Cheryl Cole". Well, she was on the front page and I was on page 37, but let's not split hairs.
Time is tight - it's just a few days until Discover Dogs and the stand graphics havn't yet arrived. I'm not panicing...yet!
Posted by Nick @18:36
Press, radio and chicken puns
30th October 2009
Note to self - 'cracking jokes on the radio when the presenter isn't expecting it, should be avoided if at all possible'.
I feel safe in blogging about this as the show has now long been removed from the BBC iPlayer! Last week I was back on BBC Oxford with Louisa Hannan talking about a few reports here on the Animal Finders' web site. Louisa mentioned a report about a lost chicken and I decided it would be amusing to reel off just about every chicken pun in my (rather poor) repertoire. If it had been a TV show, you would have seen the tumbleweeds rolling across the set as the wind whistled by. It's very unsettling when you lay down your very best poultry jokes when you can't hear anyone laughing at them - not even the show host! We live and learn.
This week saw a nice article in the Oxford Mail written by their crime reporter Matt Wilkinson. Thanks Matt, it's generated a load of interest and traffic to the website. It's also been picked up by The Sunday People who plan to run an article on the 8th November. I didn't think I'd be getting any national press while we're still such a localised service!
Preparations are going well for Discover Dogs - the stand graphics are booked, the leaflets have been designed, the new embroidered clothing has been ordered and the furniture purchased.
This year, we've been very kindly sponsored at Discover Dogs by Petlog who have donated a stand to us. We've got stand no. 4 which is pretty close to the entrance, so if I don't get you on the way in, I'll get you on the way out.
Posted by Nick @15:33
I love Magic Whiteboard!
16th October 2009
OK, so this is off-topic but who cares? It's my blog and I'll write about whatever I choose. Today, I choose to write about Magic Whiteboard.
You may have seen Magic Whiteboard being pitched on Dragons Den. The usually wise Peter Jones seemed to be blinded by the opportunity to go one up on Theo for a creative "I'm out" and in the process passed up a fantastic investment!
For those of you that have no idea what I'm talking about - then it's simple. Magic Whiteboard is a whiteboard on a roll. 25 A1 sized sheets of whiteboard to be exact. What's great about it is that it's static, so it sticks to any hard, flat surface (I tried fixing it to my stomach but for some odd reason it wouldn't work!). So, since purchasing my first roll of Magic Whiteboard I've turned almost every wall in the office into a place to scribble, plan, play hangman and generally brain-dump. Because it's static, you can also just place things on it - as you can see in the photo below:
All the posters are simply placed onto the Magic Whiteboard sheets (already on the walls) and just stick! I love it! Also in this photo you can see my essential equipment for existance - PC, Macbook, iPhone and a big cup-o-cha!
Everyone should have a roll of this stuff - so head over to www.magicwhiteboard.co.uk and order something. Next for me is Magic Blackout - I'm gonna sleep like Dracula in his coffin with this stuff in place!
Oh, and in case you're wondering - no, I'm not on the payroll, but feel free to tell them I sent you - I might get me a free roll or two...
On the Animal Finders front, we're busy preparing for Discover Dogs at Earls Court next month. We'd love to see you there!
Posted by Nick @00:44
30th September 2009
I thought I'd chuck my views in to the pot about the compulsory microchipping issue that found its way into the media over the past couple of days - after all, I do have some experience in this area!
So the background to this is that both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are proposing that microchipping will be made compulsory for dogs. Some newspapers are reporting that the proposed system will involve the owner's details being stored on the chip itself. Currently microchips simply store a globally unique RFID number. This number is then used to lookup the owner's contact details on a microchip database such as the one operated by our friends at Petlog.
Of course, I think this is a good idea, but I think it needs some proper consideration. Firstly, the big issue I can see is the fact that this proposal is just for dogs. What about cats? Just have a look at the chart below to see just how many reports we get for lost cats.
We know for a fact that very few cats reported to us are microchipped. Cats Protection and the RSPCA are over-run with cats who's owners can't be traced. So why not include cats in the compulsory microchipping proposal? I've never understood why the law treats cats and dogs differently. The bottom line is that if you can't find a pet's owner, it needs to be rehomed or it will eventually be put to sleep. Not acceptable.
Also, I think that storing the owner's contact details on a chip in inherently dangerous. Right now the microchips used for pets are 'read only'. If new read/write chips are used you can bet that within a very short space of time there will be a hacker somewhere that will work out how to alter the information on the chip. If the chip proves ownership of a pet, and the information can be altered - it will be Christmas time for dog thieves in the UK. All they'll need to do is steal a dog and alter the ownership details. There would be no way to prove that they didn't own it.
I'm sure that far more intelligent people than me are taking all of this into consideration, but I hope that the politicans actually consult with people like us and other people on the front line of lost and found before forcing a bill through parliament that doesn't actually help.
I shall step down from the soap box...for now.
Posted by Nick @14:38
email@example.com usually works
1st September 2009
I had to mention this.
I've been researching pet insurance recently. I now have two feline companions here at Animal Towers and I've been looking for a deal on lifetime pet insurance that isn't going to break the bank.
The Post Office offer pet insurance along with many other brand names that you wouldn't expect such as M&S, Argos, Asda and Homebase.
I noticed on the Post Office insurance policy that one of the additional benefits is:
"12 months FREE Petback Protect membership to Missing Pets Bureau"
Now, I know for a fact that the Missing Pets Bureau went out of business before I launched Animal Finders in April this year. One of my neighbours is one of thousands of people who paid over £100 for lifetime membership to the MPB, which of course is now completely worthless.
So, how is it that the Post Office is still offering this as part of their insurance package? Do they know something we don't or have they simply got no idea that the MPU went bust? I think it may be the latter - and that's pretty poor.
My next thought was, "OK, so how do I inform the Post Office about this?". I'll never get through the call centre if I call the number and if I submit a message through the website it'll just get routed to the wrong department (by the way - the same can't be said for OUR contact form!).
I thought I'd try to get right to the top, so last night I took a guess at the email address format for Royal Mail employees. Then I composed an email to the Chief Executive - Adam Crozier, telling him about all the issue and that he should really do something about it.
To my amazement I had a reply from him in my inbox this morning! Holy crap! A response from the Chief Exec of Royal Mail! Admittedly, it wasn't much of a response - he is passing it on to Alan Cook (Managing Director of Royal Mail) to 'look in to it'. But nevertheless, he actually replied. I really didn't expect that.
So often these days we get routed from department to department and fobbed off by Customer Services that we give up on whatever it was that compelled us to pick up the phone. It's good to know that sometimes you can cut through the crap and get to the person at the top without too much bother.
I might fire off an email now and see if he fancies a round of golf. I'd quite like it if the Post Office was offering Animal Finders memberships with their insurance policies.
Posted by Nick @14:53
26th August 2009
Sorry - it's been a while.
Since my last entry I've been a busy boy. Some of you may have heard my first ever radio interview with Louisa Hannan on BBC Radio Oxford on Friday 21st August. It didn't go too badly although I think I went on a bit and didn't manage to get all my points across that I had planned. I have to say I was a little unprepared for live radio and for the first couple of minutes I struggled to get my mouth to operate in a sensible fashion. How embarrassing. I haven't dared to listen back to it, but I'll probably post a copy of it online soon enough for you all to hear, should you so desire. It looks like we might be organising a regular slot on Lou's show for me to highlight specific and interesting cases that we've got going on. That will be great!
I also met again with Celia Walsom at Petlog and I can confirm that Animal Finders will be exhibiting at the Discover Dogs Show in Earls Court on the 14th and 15th November 2009. Petlog (owned by The Kennel Club) are very kindly subsiding the cost of a stand for us and we'll be alongside Dog Theft Action and Vets Get Scanning. If you're planning to attend, please come along and say hello!
In time for Discover Dogs we plan to extend the coverage of Animal Finders to the whole of the Thames Valley. At the same time I shall be implementing some new features and a new charging model. Don't worry, there will always be a free service for people to use here on Animal Finders to report their lost pets - but I'll be re-organising a few things to give people a way to spend money with us if they really want to!
I'm chasing a bug right now in the approvals system which is preventing the reports from being Tweeted automatically. It's one of those "now you see it - now you don't" kind of bugs that bug the hell out me.
The take-away menu is calling me...I must answer right away...
Posted by Nick @ 21:03
We really need your help
30th July 2009
You may have already seen our campaign to "Catch Charlie's Killer". It's made it into the local papers this week, so we're hoping for a good response from people. Please tell anyone who will listen about poor Charlie's plight. What happened to him was absolutely appalling and we're disgusted that people are doing this. See the full story by clicking the panel below:
Posted by Nick @ 16:05
New member of the Animal Finders team
16th July 2009
A little while ago somebody rescued a little black kitten from inside a drain pipe and took it to Bicester Vets. They reported it on the site in an effort to locate his owner. Here's the report: http://bicester.animalfinders.co.uk/lostandfound/view-details.asp?reportID=68
That was about a month ago. It actually appeared that this little fella might be a feral kitten - he didn't seem used to human contact at all and just hid in dark corners and hissed!
Anyway, Georgie heard about him and went all gooey so we decided that we would look after him - "just until we find his owner". Here he is now.
He's a very helpful member of the team. He's especially good at climbing up my leg and on to the desk where he likes to stretch out on the computer keyboard. He's also very good a catching the computer mouse - even if my hand is on top. I have plenty of kitten sized puncture wounds on my right hand!
Productivity is down but morale is up - hoorah!
Posted by Nick @ 12:04
The summer season has begun!
15th July 2009
We kicked off our summer season of events at the weekend with the Bicester Town Carnival which was thankfully not washed out by the forecasted rain. In fact, we mostly got sunburned!
The Carnival was the first event I've ever done for any thing and I was completely amazed at the amount of time it took to get organised for it. I think I burned almost 2 weeks of working time getting everything sorted. It was always going to take more effort of course for the first one. Now I have all the gear, the next one should be much easier.
We managed to sign up a good number of new people on to the Local Pet Watch scheme and we spread the word and the brand into the community just that little bit further.
We've got more planned in this part of the county in the next few weeks. We'll be at the RSPCA Fun Day at Blackberry Farm on the 26th July and at the Bicester and Finmere Show on the 1st August. Please come along and say hello! To find us, just look out for tent looking something like this:
Hope to see you over the next couple of weeks!
Posted by Nick @ 16:09
Back to school
23rd June 2009
It's been a while since I completed my education and I have to say I was not suited to academia. I scraped through a degree in Music Industry Management - letting myself down totally with a dissertation that wasn't even good enough to line a litter tray!
So, when an email dropped into my inbox a couple of weeks ago (unsolicited email I might add - Doug, if you're reading this!) advertising Doug Richard's School For Startups, I nearly sent it to 'Deleted Items' right away. Then, I remembered Doug Richard was one of the Dragons from the early series of BBC2's Dragons' Den - one of my favourite shows on TV!
I clicked on the link in the message which took me to Doug's website, where it did its very best to tell me how I just had to come along to Doug's next seminar, and the one after that, and the one after that...you get the picture.
Anyway, I went. Twice. And it was really great! I even had the opportunity to stand up on stage with Doug in the auditorium of the British Library and discuss Animal Finders. I took questions from the audience all about the world of lost and found pets and was tested quite hard on my knowledge of the business and the market. I think I did pretty well, and I now know what I don't know, that I should know - if you know what I mean...! You know?
I'm now permitted to call myself a 'Gradute of Doug Richard's School For Startups', and I get a nice little badge to show you folks and for you to click on:
If you're interested in entreprenurial stuff have a look at this short clip of Doug on the BBC's website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8105160.stm
Doug rocks - he's seriously sharp (as you'd expect), witty and has a rather good handshake. Shame he's a Cambridge boy - maybe one day I'll show him how to punt properly.
Posted by Nick @ 16:34
We have a new friend
11th June 2009
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Katherine Morris from the RSPCA Oxfordshire. She's the lost and found co-ordinator and also bangs the drum rather well promoting microchipping for pets.
Anyhow, Katherine and I have been talking about how Animal Finders and the RSPCA can work together to help the plight of lost pets and their owners and we've got lots of ideas and plans. The first idea has now come to fruition and you can see it in action on the RSPCA Oxfordshire website - http://www.rspcaoxfordshire.org.uk/lost-a-found.html. What we've created is a direct feed from our lost and found database to the RSPCA website. It shows all of the current lost and found pet reports for Oxfordshire. I'm very pleased to be providing this information to the RSPCA - it's another great route for us to get the information out into the community, which means more happy endings.
Posted by Nick @16:36
We're county-wide at last!
7th June 2009
Having said in my previous post that it was doubtful that we'd get any more sites rolled out before the next development phase - I've since changed my mind. I need to draw a line under the system as it stands for now and it just made sense to add in the remaining towns for Oxfordshire.
I managed to fight my way through frustration, impatience and mind-numbing data entry this weekend and we now have all 20 target towns on line!
I really wanted to get this done as I'm about to start warming up the press machine again and I think that I can get much more coverage in the local and regional media if we're serving the whole county.
Over the past few days we've had two great successes - two lost cats reunited with their owners and all because of Animal Finders getting the information about the cats out in to the community. I'm really very pleased about this - it's what I set the site up for in the first place!
We're finding that the Animal Finders name is spreading - which is great. I even had somebody recommend the site to me who didn't know that I was the site's creator! That was extremely satisfying!
Posted by Nick @ 19:21
Back to life...and reuniting pets!
31st May 2009
I'm back from Crete - which was great, although I've put on over half a stone in 2 weeks! My metabolism got pretty used to sparse and erratic eating patterns during the two months I was building Animal Finders. The All Inclusive holiday meant three meals a day and enough booze to sink a ship, so you can imagine the result!
I would like to say a BIG thank you to my friend who looked after the site and fielded all the phone calls in my absence. You know who you are!
I met a couple of lovely stray dogs that I would have taken home if at all possible. They both had a wonderful nature and would have made great pets. Sadly, there are too many stray dogs and feral cats in Greece and their outlook isn't good. I can imagine that many of them meet their end on the crazy Greek roads.
The feral cats in our hotel were a bit better off. The hotel manager told us that they now stock cat food in the hotel shop at the request of the hotel guests. Out of season, the cats are fed by the hotel staff. Still, their healthcare is a real issue. I must have seen at least 3 cats around the hotel with only one eye.
I was recently told about a charity that's trying to help feral cats in Greece. Please have a look at The Greek Cat Welfare Society website.
Anyway, in between eating, drinking, relaxing, sunbathing and sightseeing, I did find some time to turn my mind to solving some of the structural issues with Animal Finders. I now have a plan. This plan requires a serious re-write of the site so it's doubtful I'll launch any more sites in Oxfordshire until this is completed.
June promises to be an interesting month - I have a few important meetings with other organisations to explore how we can work together. This is great - I think that there needs to be more collaboration and sharing in the lost and found pet sector. I've been discovering that there is a great deal of politics in this industry and I don't like it.
Never fear - I shall fix it.
Posted by Nick @ 09:33
Two unhappy endings in Bicester
10th May 2009
We've had a bad couple of days. Both Nelson and Harvey - 2 cats on our missing register, were found having been killed on the roads. My thoughts are with both Ian and Renata. I know exactly how you feel - I have lost 2 cats this way. One of them was my cat Cooper, who was the reason I built Animal Finders in the first place.
I know it will be a sad time for Nelson and Harvey's owners right now, but I'm sure they will agree that it is best to know what happened. You can get closure and begin the grieving process. Sometimes, not knowing can be much worse.
I've created a new section called ILM. It stands for 'In Loving Memory' and you can see Nelson and Harvey's reports in there or simply click the images below. The reports are closed, but you can still leave comments if you wish.
Rest in peace little friends.
Posted by Nick @ 20:35
Beta test update and a plea
9th May 2009
It's been just over a month since I launched the Animal Finders public beta test and I think it's been a fantastic success! We've helped people find lost cats and lost dogs and even helped to trap a runaway cat who refused to come home! You may have noticed that I've also managed to get a total of 7 sites live for Oxfordshire. We've established great links with local vets, groomers, rescue organisations and the police. We're set to build the best lost and found service there is on the Internet.
But, in order to do that I have a rather large mountain to climb. I've gathered so much data and insight into how people have used the service and how they would like to be able to use the service. Now I need to make some very significant alterations to the site and it's underlying structure. It's going to take a little time to do this.
In a couple of days I'm taking a two week holiday (the first for about 5 years!) so I'm sure I'll have thought through all the challenges I face for the re-build.
Before I go I'll be making some more adjustments to the site to ensure it runs smoothly while I'm away. Don't worry, I'm handing the baton on to capable hands for report approvals and other matters for the duration of my holiday.
There are exciting developments in the pipeline that I'd love to tell you about but I don't want to let the proverbial cat loose just yet!
Finally, I would just like to request all pet owners to do two things if they haven't already:
- Get your pet microchippped! It's not expensive and could be the only way to identify you as it's owner. Contact your local vet or the RSPCA to get this done.
- Take a photo of your pet - just in case it goes missing. Right now. Grab the camera and take a photo. No excuses. You won't be able to do it once it's gone missing! Reports with photos are far more effective and will generate a far greater response.
That's it, plea over. I'm off to find a suitable outfit for the beach.
Posted by Nick @ 17:34
This is why we beta test
28th April 2009
I can admit when I've got something wrong, and I think I have actually got something wrong. It's all down to semantics and the 'Volunteer Network'.
I'm really pleased with the early uptake from people who have signed up - and I thank you all for doing so. I must admit that I was expecting more people to sign up - and they haven't, so the conclusion is - something's not quite right.
I'm not actually asking people to volunteer in the classic sense, but I think that's the message that I'm putting across when I say 'Volunteers required'. The assumption is that I want you to give up some of your valuable time for free to help me. Not so.
The Volunteer Network is simply a distribution list that I use when a pet goes missing. if you live nearby, you'll get an email or a text to tell you about it. I'm not asking you to go out hunting for it (but it would be great if you could!). I'd just like you to be aware of it so should you see the animal in question - you could report it to us or better still, take it in and look after it until the owner can get there.
It's simply not possible to explain all that in a snappy fashion, and web users are tricky creatures, so I've decided to drop the label 'Volunteer Network' and replace it with 'Local Pet Watch'. Here's the shiny new logo to go with it:
I think it gives a much more instant understanding of what it's all about. I'll be integrating this into the site over the next week or so. I'm also going to spend a little more time on a dedicated page for this, to explain it in more detail.
So, this is indeed why we beta test. It's not just a technical work-out- it's about trying to understand what people do and don't want on a site like this.
We'll see how we get on.
Posted by Nick @ 23.52
Three more sites now online
28th April 2009
Just a quick post to highlight that we've now got a total of four sites online. We've now got coverage for Bicester, Banbury, Chipping Norton and Wallingford. Please check out the sites and please encourage anyone you know living in those areas to join up!
It's been slow going - I'm having trouble keeping things moving forward as I try to clear the backlog of work for my clients. Speaking of which... it's time to crack on.
Posted by Nick @ 16.15
We're twittering on and on and on and on...
20th April 2009
Ok, so it's been a while - but I've been busy! Traffic is picking up on the site as word is spreading in the local community about us. I've also managed to boost traffic surprisingly via Facebook and Twitter. Yes - you heard me - I said Twitter. I have indeed become a Twitterer (or twit, some might say) for the sake of the site. You can follow our Tweets here www.twitter.com/animalfinders. If you have no idea what Twitter is and need an explanation - don't ask me. I just don't get it, but many, many people do - so it can't be that silly...can it?
Here's a little dev update:
- Widget. Bug fix - it now no longer appears empty sometimes. But now only two items appear - sometimes. Grrr. Still more to be done there!
- PDF poster creation. Bug fix - reference number not showing and removed repetition of collar sentence.
- Another nav bar improvment - fancy tabs with gradient colours - much easier on the eye.
- Misc other stuff too dull to mention.
Oh, also - I'm almost ready to roll out for the rest of Oxfordshire. The next site will be Chipping Norton - I'm in the process of talking to relevant organisations in that area to get them on the Alert Network. Won't be long.
I spent most of the weekend working on intensifying the RSI in my right wrist. I did this by plotting about 1400 square miles of Oxfordshire on the map (defining the catchment areas for all the towns). I must say - I'm not looking forward to the prospect of doing that for the whole of the UK. Anyone fancy helping out? You need to have:
- The ablility to read a map
- The ability to look at a map on screen and a map printed out on paper at the same time marking the postcode borders shown on the printed map with mouse clicks on the on-screen map (I know - a picture tells a thousand words - look below)
- The ability to control feelings of deep boredom, frustration and misery over prolonged periods of time
- The ability to mimic animal behaviour with a self imposed task / reward training policy - 1 completed town = 1 biscuit. 5 towns = 1 cup to tea.
Please send all applications on the back of a blank cheque. Many thanks - you're lovely.
Unlucky for some
10th April 2009
Turn to page 13 of the Bicester Advertiser and you'll see almost half a page dedicated to Animal Finders. Many thanks to Samantha McGregor for putting the story together for us. I know that Jason and I aren't quite as nice to look at as Liz Hurley (who's on the front page), but if you can tear yourself away - have a look.
On another note - here's an quick development update:
- Nav bar improved with tabbed styles and seleted tab now displayed when viewing content
- Bug fix. The Google map on the Step 1 of the registration caused an error if you placed the cursor inside the catchment area dragged the map and were using Internet Explorer. That was a tricky one to spot!
- Unresolved - the widget doesn't always load. I've narrowed the problem down - it's to do with the caching of data, but haven't worked out the fix for it yet.
- New section - Advice
- New section - About Us
Posted by Nick @ 10:22
A popular topic?
9th April 2009
Just a quick note before bed. It looks like we'll be getting our first pieces of press coverage this week. We've surfaced on couple of Newsquest Media Group websites - Bicester Advertiser and This Is Oxfordshire. We've even made it to the top of the 'Most Read' box on the Bicester Advertiser website! This is great news and I'm really pleased. I'm hoping to see similar coverage in the print version of the Bicester Advertiser tomorrow. This is exactly what we need to spread the word about what we're trying to do here.
I'd also like to say a quick 'thank-you' to Carol (the owner of Tom who had a night away from home last week). Carol has very kindly been distributing Animal Finders leaflets in and around her neighbourhood. Many thanks Carol - you've been a great help!
Time for bed now.
Posted by Nick @ 01:20
I had no idea...
8th April 2009
..that letterboxes were such dangerous places. I took an hour out yesterday afternoon to push some leaflets through doors. I only did about 100 or so and by the time I'd finished the back of my hand had been scraped and bruised and was red raw! I'd almost lost my fingers to a rather over-protective dog too that took a dislike to his letterbox being tampered with!
It's been a fairly slow start to the site so far - a few glitches in the press exposure plan have caused me no end of frustration. Maybe I'm just being impatient, but I want everyone to know about this right now!
I'm now working on the roll out plan for the rest of Oxfordshire, but I'm planning to add another town into the beta test. If you've got a preference as to which town gets the Animal Finders treatment next, please let me know.
Got to sign off now - heading over to the RSPCA at Blackberry Farm to discuss what we're trying to do.
Posted by Nick @ 09:08
Is it my imagination...
3rd April 2009
..or has somebody not done their job properly?!
If you look back to the beginning of this blog you'll see that my milestone for the launch of this site is the 4th of April. It actually went live a couple of days before. To promote the launch of the site I had carefully timed a leaflet insert into today's edition of the Bicester Review. To do this I had to design the artwork, get the flyers printed, sort the flyers into batches of 250, complete the booking form for the insertion into the newspaper, deliver the flyers to the office in Aylesbury before a certain date and pay the money. Oh yeah - and make sure the site was all ready to go. All done. All dusted.
Not that I'm a control freak (yeah right!), but the one thing that I'm not in control of and what happens? It doesn't get done! Somebody, somewhere has screwed up.
As soon as I knew there was a problem, I got on the phone to the Leaflet Sales Co-ordinator. Voicemail. Twice.
I've checked about half a dozen copies and I don't see any of my leaflets. If you've seen one - can you please let me know?
I'm off the the pub to drown my sorrows.
Posted by Nick @ 19:52
Google gripes, widget woes and a no show
2nd April 2009
Having grabbed a few hours sleep in the afternoon, I settled back at my desk yesterday evening to discover that none of the maps were working on the site! What a great start.
The maps were working before I hit the sack and the code hadn't been touched, so it was a small comfort to know that it wasn't anything I had done. After a quick bout of Googling I discovered that half the world (of web developers with Google Map integrations that is) were all experiencing the same issue. We've all been using the most up to date version of the Maps implementation code to get the most up to date features. I think somebody at Google HQ spilt their coffee on it yesterday afternoon.
Of course, who's fault it is - is irrelevant. The net result is that visitors were unable to see the location maps - which is bad. Luckily, I was able to apply a quick workaround and all the maps are now running pretty smoothly. I have noticed that sometimes they are a little sluggish to load, which is frustrating. Once I'm generating some revenue I can remedy that by switching from the free Google Maps service to the paid-for service. They ensure faster load times for the people that pay, but it's out of my price range right now. The first price tier is about £8000 per year!
I've got my first annoying bug. Sometimes the widget loads, and sometimes it doesn't. I hate bugs like that - very hard to fix. Apologies if you're using the widget and it's playing up. I'm on it though.
The Bicester Advertiser came out today and I was expecting to see their piece on Animal Finders - but it was a no-show. I'm a bit disappointed but I'm hoping it's just been shunted to next week rather than pulled completely.
The Bicester Review flyer inserts are in tomorrow, so we'll see if the traffic starts to pick up tomorrow evening.
Until next time
Posted by Nick @ 21:37
No really...I mean it!
1st April 2009
OK, it may be April Fool's Day but this is no prank! The site it live. I've just switched over the domain redirects. It's up, it's alive, it's breathing, it's working and I'm chuffed to bits! I've still got loads to do to get everything in place but this moment is a real milestone for me. OK, I might be getting a bit emotional because it's gone 3am and it's doubtful I'll get to bed tonight - but I mean it - I'm so pleased.
I've completely lost track of the time and effort that's gone into this site so far - but at a guess I think I've compressed 4 months work into about 8 weeks. I think this is probably the most complex site I've ever developed. I've had some challenging projects in the past, but this one takes the biscuit! Hopefully, you won't even notice the complexities - if I've made it easy enough to use...
We've got just one report to kick-off with and that's Noggin. He was stolen from a farm just outside of our catchment area so you may not see him on the default map views but zoom out and you'll see him. He's only a pup at about 4 months old. Let's hope we can make a difference here with our first report and get him home!
Right, time to put the kettle on ready for another caffeine shot...
Posted by Nick @ 03:31
Eleventh hour changes!
31st March 2009
The past few of days have been hectic. I had a bug list which spanned two sides of A4 yesterday. Today its still 2 sides and I've fixed most of them!
One of the problems I've had to overcome is my lack of common sense. Sally Fowler, the Practice Manager at Bicester Vets pointed out that while the auto-created posters are good - they are lacking any location information. I hadn't even put the town on there! Idiot.
Because I'm automating as many of the processes as possible, I wanted a standard way for people to log the location of their lost animal. We're already logging the latitude and longitude, but that doesn't mean much to most people when you see it printed out on a poster.
To cut a long story short - I spent over a day trying to retro-fit a reverse geocoder onto the Google Maps implementation. You click the map and it tells you the nearest street address. It works really well, but it meant dismantling about a dozen different scripts that we're previously working and tested. But, it's one step back and two forward - it's a pretty hot feature!
Once this build is over - I really need to get out more. Geek-dom is creeping ever closer.
I decided to remove the catchment area restriction for the duration of the beta test. You can register regardless of where you live. I'll move people to the correct site for their location once we've got more sites up.
I'm quietly opening the site tomorrow - a day or so ahead of the press coverage and the leaflet drop. There are still some major functions that I havn't built yet. I guess its going to be a very long night...
Posted by Nick @ 19:13
Ready for your close up?
26th March 2009
Yikes - it's photo time. I'm not a fan of the photo shoot - it has to be said. The Bicester Advertiser have asked for a photo of me and Jason Williams from Bicester Vets. I guess I must have got the tone right afterall on the press release. This is great news. The Bicester Advertiser has a readership of over 15,000 so it'll be great exposure for the site. Here's myself, Scooby and Jason Williams from Bicester Vets.
Yesterday I had an email from DC Jackie Murdock at the Force Intelligence Bureau with the Thames Valley Police. I called her and we had a really productive conversation about how Animal Finders could fit into the the wider issue of tackling dog theft in the area. I'm meeting with her tomorrow to get her angle on things and hopefully get some official advice for people when they suspect their dog has been stolen.
Just 9 days to launch, which actually means I have to have it ready in about 5 days. The Bicester Advertiser is released on the Thursday (the 2nd), The Bicester Review on the Friday (the 4th), so I really need to get some live data on the system before then!
It's safe to say I'm in a bit of a panic now...
Posted by Nick @ 23:21
25th March 2009
Yep - it's official - I'm feeling the pressure now as the launch date shuffles ever closer. My time is split between trying to promote the website ready for launch and getting the website ready for the launch. It's a bit tricky as I can't even give sneak previews to the press yet as there is still so much to do! Cash-flow is taking a real hit too due to the amount of time (or lack of it) I've been devoting to client work.
I need to leave this blog entry alone now and crack on.
Posted by Nick @ 10:47
Admin, admin, admin!
20th March 2009
Today's been pretty busy with admin work. I've not done any site development today and there's only 15 days 'til launch. I was up at 5.00am - I needed to get some client work out of the door early. I'm not often up at 5.00am and my body wasn't too happy about it - I promptly fell down the stairs (only about 6) on my way to put the kettle on. Ouch! No serious damage though, just some nasty bruises.
The 0800 number contracts are all signed and I've got what I think is a great number for a bargain price - 0800 999 2343. I got the number from Windsor Telecom who have been very helpful and friendly. Their service isn't the cheapest, but the features are really good and worth paying the extra each month. This number will be the main number for people to ring with any information about any of the missing animals. It's a freephone number, so it won't cost the caller if they call from a landline.
The leaflet inserts are all booked and paid for with the Bicester Review. They'll be inserted into the newspaper for delivery on Friday 3rd April. I'm curious to see what impact this will have on the web site traffic. In the back of my mind I'm wondering if people will even see the leaflet or just throw it out with the paper. Time will tell I guess!
I also sent out the first Animal Finders press release to the Bicester Review and the Bicester Advertiser. I'm not sure whether I've got the timing right - ideally I'd like to see a story in the papers just before the site goes live on April 4th. It's the first press release I've ever written so I'm hoping I got the tone and content right. Again, time will tell.
Posted by Nick @ 22:17
17th March 2009
Most of yesterday was spent counting. The leaflets arrived from the printers for the newspaper inserts. The terms and conditions for the Bicester Review state that I have to supply the leaflets to them in bundles of 250. So - I've just counted 8000 leaflets and split them into exact bundles of 250. It was possibly one of the most mind-numbing tasks I've undertaken for quite a while. Launching a website is all glamour! I can't take all the credit though - Georgie came over to help and helped me through the first 5000.
I'm really pleased with these leaflets - they've got the cute kitten on the front and I think the branding looks really strong. If you need good quality, low-cost leaflets talk to Adam at the Thame branch of printing.com - really helpful and a great service. This is what 8000 leaflets looks like when they're in bundles of 250.
For such a mammoth task - I thought it was going to look more impressive on camera!
On the development front it's been a tricky couple of days. I've had to squeeze in some client work to keep the cash-flow going and it's been hard to re-focus away from Animal Finders.
I discovered that Kim, who works on reception at the office, is involved with Greyhounds4U who find homes for retired racing Greyhounds. They do fantastic work and are entirely self-funded. The two things I learnt from Kim were:
- A Greyhound doesn't need any where near as much daily exercise at you might think
- Greyhounds can co-habit with cats
Maybe you could give one a home? Check out the Greyhounds4U website for more information about rehoming ex-racing Greyhounds.
Kim offered some suggestions for the Animal Finders site that would make their lives easier - which is great. I'm going to build in the things she's suggested. I welcome all comments and suggestions for increasing the site's functionality - please get in touch.
Posted by Nick @ 20:24
There ain't no stopping us now...
15th March 2009
Well, here I go with my first blog post. I thought I'd take a break from programming for a few minutes - it's late on Sunday night and it's been another 7 long days of development on this site. I've never really written a blog before but I thought I should start now. I feel like I've started on a journey with this site and I want to document it.
I remember a conversation I had with Jason Williams from Bicester Vets a couple of years ago. He asked me how long I thought it would take to build this site. "I could have it built in a week if I took the time off", I confidently replied. Oh how wrong I was!
In fact, I've just logged my 400th hour of development and there's still plenty more to do. I'd been thinking about building this site for ages. Every now and again I'd get a break in the deluge of work in my day job and I'd put a little more thought into how best to approach the tasks; or I'd surf the web to see what the competition was doing. I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but some time in early February the timing was right and I found myself working on Animal Finders full time. It's been non-stop ever since and I know I'm neglecting my clients. I hope I've still got some left once I've completed this!
It's been tough and I've had some very steep learning curves over the past few weeks. Some nights (or mornings) I'd get to bed with my brain in overdrive trying to solve various technical or programming challenges. If you've ever tried to use Pythagoras theory to calculate how many registered users you have located within a certain radius of specific latitude and longitude co-ordinates without performing a calculation on every record in the database - you'll know what I mean! If you're doing it having failed GCSE Maths at school like me - I welcome you to my world of pain.
Oh, and If you're interested - eventually I chucked out Pythagoras in favour of the Haversine formula - it's more accurate over shorter distances.
I'm one of these people that needs a deadline to work towards to get things done - it's one of my weaknesses, but at least I'm aware of it! So, I set myself a deadline and set the wheels in motion. I'm going to get this site live for National Pet Month 2009 - it starts on the 4th April. I've booked leaflet inserts to go into the Bicester Review on the 3rd of April. That's 8000 leaflets posted through the front doors of the good people of Bicester. That should give it a kick-start.
I'd better be ready!
Posted by Nick @ 00:51
24 January 2013
04 January 2013
07 November 2012
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