Monday, December 8, 2014

Feature Week: Automatic Syncing and Collaboration

The past several weeks have seen significant behind-the-scenes performance upgrades to CalTopo, including mass migration of lines and polygons to a more efficient storage format.  Some of these changes were not without risk, so if anything looks off, please don't hesitate to let me know.

Only time will tell, but it looks like I'm out of the woods on performance work, and that has allowed me to roll out some long-deferred changes.  To celebrate, I'm going to run a series of posts highlighting new features.  The first one is automatic syncing and collaboration.

Without running afoul of trademark law, I've often tried to describe CalTopo as being like "Google Docs for maps".  While not as fully featured as a desktop program, from the beginning it enabled collaborative sharing and editing of maps in a way that simply wasn't possible with software like Nat Geo's now-discontinued Topo!.  However, for performance reasons, true Google Docs style "everyone sees all changes instantly" editing remained locked behind an optional checkbox in the sharing dialog.

No longer.  Starting now, saved CalTopo maps will automatically pick up on changes as they are made by other users.  Unlike Google Docs, there will still be a bit of a delay - from 5 seconds for actively edited maps up to 30 seconds for maps that have not been changed in the last 10 minutes.  After a couple weeks I may be able to dial this down depending on server load.

So how do you start this shared editing?  Time for  a quick refresher.

  1. The map needs to be saved (URL ends with /map?id=ABCD).  If you're working on an unsaved map, click the red Save link at the top of the left bar.
  2. Click Share.
  3. In the permissions dialog that comes up, either give write access to all users who know the map's URL, or set a password and give write access to users who know the password.
  4. Send the map's URL (e.g. http://caltopo.com/map?id=3L6J) to a friend.
  5. If you set a password, they will need to click on the Share link and enter it.

That's it.  Happy collaborative editing.

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