Jump to content
Martijn Meerts

Model train database

Recommended Posts

Martijn Meerts

For a long time now I've been considering setting up a global, online database for model trains. The general idea is to allow people to log in and keep track of their personal collection, but also to allow non-registered people to browse through the database for info.

 

There would be 1 main database with all the prototype and general model info in it (length, weight and power of prototype, brand, product number, manual sheets, etc of the models), and then each user can have a personal database where they can add additional info, such as maintenance info, where the model was purchased, price etc..

 

When a user tries to add a train that's not in the database, he/she will be asked to add a new entry in the database for that train. That way, the database continuously grows when more people start using it. Train info can be updated by the users as well.

 

Other features would include RSS feeds of personal databases, exporting to xls, csv etc, exporting to JMRI/DecoderPro. In the long run I also want to add iPhone/Android apps, possibly integration with computer control software and things like youtube integration (so you can upload youtube video's via the site directly instead of having to go to youtube first). I also really want to get feedback from users for additional features, and then implement the good ones. Another feature that came up while talking privately about the project, is model info integration with the JNS Wiki, which is of course an option as well. It should also be multi-lingual, and I'll likely add both English and Dutch while developing the site. Considering I'll be programming everything from scratch rather than use some existing system, there should be a lot of flexibility.

 

 

I've talked about it with a couple of people on the forum already, and a while ago I tried making a start. However, I initially wanted to build the entire site in Flash (or Flex more specifically), but it quickly got too complicated for users.

 

This time around, I'm sticking to XHTML, CSS and probably JQuery/JQuery UI (and other JQuery plugins). I've registered a domain for it already, and a VPS as well. I'll be using Ruby on Rails (I want to learn it, and I figured it'd fit nicely with a model train project ;)) for all the non-visual programming. I'm also experimenting with backup solutions using the Amazon S3 service.

 

 

The problem though, is that I'm a bit stuck if it comes to creating a simple, elegant, easy to use design. I just seem to have approximately no inspiration at all. And since I really want to involve the users of the site, I figured, why not start asking for ideas now ;) I did come up with a really simple yet (in my opinion rather elegant) logo. I'm also tempted to use mainly light, desaturated colours, bordering on grey for the interface, so that especially the pictures pop out. My logo attempt can be seen at http://www.locowerks.net/, which will also be the main url.

 

 

So, anyone (possibly someone with some experience in online collection software) have any good ideas for either features or design? Any help would be greatly appreciated :)

 

 

(Of course, once the service goes live, it'll be free to use, and I'll keep it free to use for the foreseeable future. I won't be adding any banners or anything like that either. Should the costs start escalating, I might add one of those paypal donation things, but that's all far in the future ;))

Share this post


Link to post
David

I assume you have been to spook's encylopedia, but if not it should give you some ideas. It is a commonly used reference for North American N scalers.

 

http://www.visi.com/~spookshow/loco/

 

One idea would be to have entries for each prototype/model (a single prototype can have several model entries) like in the above, and then an option for logged in users to click "I own this" (there could also be a seperate screen for mass entry/maintanence of all your own "I own this" entries) along with an optional section to enter comments, attach pictures and assign a rating to several categories - like some of the review/feedback systems. This ownership information (with the option for users to be anonymous, i.e. the stats they add are shown, but there account is not shown) would then be usuable to show aggregate information, such as average rating.

 

If any of this sounds good I could expand it into a more detailed description.

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

The idea is that each prototype gets an entry, and linked to that prototype will be all available models. Ratings and reviews are of course also a feature that will have to be added ;)

 

There will also be various ways of adding an item to your collection. 1 being an auto-complete search field, another one being, like you mentioned, an "I own this/add to my collection" option for each model.

 

 

It'd be great to hear more detailed ideas though, because I really want to make the thing useful, usable and especially enjoyable by everyone :)

Share this post


Link to post
David

Some questions to consider are what kind of information people will want to find (why will they visit) and what level of participation you want from the masses.

 

To go back to the N scale encylopedia, each entry typically has:

  • Information about when and how the model came on the market, with comments on availability for older models
  • Occasional information on the prototype if it's an odd one
  • An "expert" opinion from spookshow on the models detail, construction and performance (this is what most people are coming for)
  • A final rating
  • An excerpt from ModelRailRoader or some other magazine review

 

It's then possible to search models by manufacturer, year and prototype among other things.


For us there may be some changes to what we expect, for example:

 

More technical information about the model: Coupler type, DCC, minimum radius, optional parts, case/packaging

More information about the prototype: Prototypical formations (and which ones the model can form), years in service, operators, lines and paint schemes

 

Being able to search by many of these parameters would also be useful - for example "Find trains operated by JR Hokkaido". A neat one would be "find trains that operated in 2-4 car formations".


How information gets entered would be another difference.

 

With spook you have a single "expert", which is also part of the draw for those who are trying to navigate that large variance in quality of American N scale. We could try and preserve some of that by keeping information clearly seperated, i.e. quantitative information like prototype information and model data could be done Wiki style with a single entry, while comments on actual performance, build qualitity and model detail would be left to individual reviews. Some means of identifying good reviews, and good reviewers would be useful to help identify expert reviews (then again there may not be enough reviews to warrent this). Review quality could be measured both with a "was this helpful" and by allowing specific users to be marked as "experts" - this might also give them some kind of moderation power, or be one and the same.

Share this post


Link to post
KenS

It's an interesting idea, and I like the logo, although to me "locowerks" sounds more like a manufacturer or a detail-parts supplier than a database/open-source site.

 

In terms of structure I think you need two main things:

1) a simple method for someone to find "their" model in the database when adding a new train, and

2) a good way to display both a whole roster and details on an individual loco

 

For (1), a search function that can match on multiple optional fields (i.e., I know it's a two-car DMU with green as one of the colors, what known models match that?).  But a visual index (small thumbnail pictures you can sort by manufacturer, train type, operating company, etc) would also be important.  There are plenty of existing web conventions for how those kinds of things look and work, so I don't think you need anything particularly new or different just because the subject matter is trains.

 

For (2), I'd want to see a single-train display page that looks like an entry in a train-spotters guide: photo with name above a stats box, followed by perhaps operator info and a free-form text section.  It should be possible to easily link to that page from another site (for those people who don't run their own website but want to link to their collection in a forum signature, for example). But it should also be possible to generate HTML that could be incorporated into someone elses site (maybe with a "data by locowerks" logo with a link to the main site).

 

Similarly for the "whole roster" version of (2), a list of trains with thumbnails that link to the single-entry page seems like the way to go for me, although you could offer versions of that with greater or lesser levels of detail and even the option to omit the detail page.  As with the single-train page both hosted and external versions could be supported.

Share this post


Link to post
David

Question:

 

Is this only for Japanese specific trains, or are you trying to make this for all model trains? (all scales?)

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

Thanks for the input so far, it's good to hear what people want to see in such a project, and how they would solve certain things. It's definitely going to make things easier on me ;)

 

So, keep all the comments and ideas coming ;)

 

 

 

It's an interesting idea, and I like the logo, although to me "locowerks" sounds more like a manufacturer or a detail-parts supplier than a database/open-source site.

 

I went with locowerks mainly because it's fairly short and easy to remember (or at least, so I hope). There's also a bit of a link to loco works/loco workshop. I tried coming up with something more database-ish or more catchy, but it all sounded like some bad b-movie title ;)

 

 

 

Question:

 

Is this only for Japanese specific trains, or are you trying to make this for all model trains? (all scales?)

 

It's meant for all model trains and all scales, although I expect initially the majority of the content will be Japanese trains.

Share this post


Link to post
cteno4

Martijn,

 

Glad to see this is progressing!

 

I would suggest you might want to think of this in a modular format and then work on a adding a module at a time. that way you get can get the core going asap with as little work as possible then keep adding modules in the future as you hae time. seen too many projects like this get part way and because they are doing too many things it gets gummed up and stalled and then never completed, especially volunteer projects!

 

i think you have the idea right of having a record of the basic models as being the core here. then these can be grouped by prototype. these could be searched by sets of field criteria or also have a set of static list pages that give a more catalog view for those that just like to parouse that way.

 

a review module could be added later. while its nice to have an single or very defined set of authorities do the reviewing to try and keep things consistent, but im not sure if you can realistically achieve that. probably best to just do a simple comment reviews by anyone who wants to add their 2 cents to the model, akin to amazon and the like. while you end up getting the range of responses with these at least the user can sort of average things out and see if there are consistent gripes or likes or certain gotchas that are only found by someone doing something like you are and an authority might not find.

 

another module could be DCC installation, again letting folks post their experiences and tips. same with repairs or couplers, etc.

 

a photo gallery module would be nice for folks to post picts of each model, could end up with a very nice variety of shots. i find that the more photos HS posts of a model the more likely i am to buy it and i think they know this as they have been posting more detailed shots of cars and sets lately!

 

prototype info could also be a future module to add. the issue with this one is that it would take a lot of work to gather and validate the content to go here. its really starting to get into a different ballpark of train stuff and away from the basics of the model train data base, but would be nice to grow out eventually, but is something that i think could sink you if you attempt it in the 1.0 version.

 

i think you have a great and accomplishable goal of the basic list of the japanese model trains available and the basic info on them and then let folks build their own stock lists and then export those out so they could have an inventory list for insurance, their own fiddling, etc! many of us have various versions of this, but it would be a whole lot better to have the simple catalog online to check off what you have and create that basic data set for your inventory than all of us rolling our own all the time! its wonderful to do this with the scotts stamp catalog!

 

keep us posted, glad to help if i can.

 

cheers

 

jeff

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Tecchan

Seems like a good idea!

You should consider, not only the rolling stock, but also the tracks!

 

You should also check the site www.ravelry.com

 

It's a knitting datables website and my girlfriend (who knits) showed it to me. As a graphic & web designer, I was really impressed on the power of this website! It's huge, there is Moreau than 200'000 (!!) members and you can really find anything you want!

It could be a good inspiration for you!!

 

One last thing: forget flash for building such a site, flash sucks! ;-)

Share this post


Link to post
ShinCanadaSen

Hi Martijn,

 

This sounds like a great Idea ! I would agree with Cteno4 in that once you have the Big Picture figured out your best bet is to divide it up in to development and Implementation phases so that you are not overwhelmed by the whole thing. I am currently just about to roll out the first phase of a web application for my work developed in ASP.net and MSSQL and if we had not developed into phases I'm pretty sure that we would never complete it.

 

I also agree with kumo that you should stay away from flash and other propriatary display formats as they may not work on (or work well) on all platforms (especially mobile devices).

 

Some thing like this would be a great boon to the hobby especialy if there is some prototype info attached to the model info as there is sometimes some difficulty in finding any information, especialy in english.

 

Also a thought, is this site going to be localized in any languages other than english?

 

If there is anything I can do to help, I would be interested, even though I am new to Japanese trains and Web Development.

Share this post


Link to post
westfalen

This sounds like a good idea but I agree with the person who suggested keeping it simple to start with and adding features as it grows.

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

I would suggest you might want to think of this in a modular format and then work on a adding a module at a time. that way you get can get the core going asap with as little work as possible then keep adding modules in the future as you hae time. seen too many projects like this get part way and because they are doing too many things it gets gummed up and stalled and then never completed, especially volunteer projects!

 

Ruby on Rails is pretty modular in itself. It's all very object oriented and uses MVC. It really looks like a nice language/framework to work with. The core project does need to have various things in place without using modules though, because the glue code between project and module would turn into spaghetti quick ;)

 

 

 

Seems like a good idea!

You should consider, not only the rolling stock, but also the tracks!

 

You should also check the site www.ravelry.com

 

It's a knitting datables website and my girlfriend (who knits) showed it to me. As a graphic & web designer, I was really impressed on the power of this website! It's huge, there is Moreau than 200'000 (!!) members and you can really find anything you want!

It could be a good inspiration for you!!

 

One last thing: forget flash for building such a site, flash sucks! ;-)

 

The rolling stock is the main thing, but I've also been thinking about adding tracks and things like faller/vollmer/tomytec buildings etc, but that's for the future.

 

I'll definitely check out that site, sounds like it could be useful to get some inspiration and to see how they've implemented things.

 

As for Flash, it's possible to create great stuff in Flash if done well. Unfortunately, 99% of the so-called Flash "Developers" haven't a clue about coding and optimizing, so most sites just turn out to be crap. With HTML5 coming up, I do believe Flash has had it's days ;)

 

 

 

This sounds like a great Idea ! I would agree with Cteno4 in that once you have the Big Picture figured out your best bet is to divide it up in to development and Implementation phases so that you are not overwhelmed by the whole thing. I am currently just about to roll out the first phase of a web application for my work developed in ASP.net and MSSQL and if we had not developed into phases I'm pretty sure that we would never complete it.

 

Some thing like this would be a great boon to the hobby especialy if there is some prototype info attached to the model info as there is sometimes some difficulty in finding any information, especialy in english.

 

Also a thought, is this site going to be localized in any languages other than english?

 

If there is anything I can do to help, I would be interested, even though I am new to Japanese trains and Web Development.

 

I've started several projects which have never been finished simply because I wanted to implement everything right away. The problem is, you end up with tons of code and when you try to debug it, you really don't know where to go anymore. The whole thing also gets too big too fast. So yeah, I'm definitely going to work on the core functionality that's really required (browsing the database, registering and logging in as user, managing your personal database, some admin tools etc.) and continue form there. The idea is really to see what people who use the database want to see added, and then work on implementing that, so eventually, it'll become more and more userfriendly.

 

The site will also be developed with multi-language in mind. Initially there'll be english only, but while working on it I'll start adding a dutch version as well, to get a system for internationalization in place. From there I can add an admin tool that either creates a list of all text that needs translation, or allow a translator to work directly with the admin tool to translate things.

 

Also, those new to webdevelopment/webdesign often have fresh views on things, so of course your help would be very welcome. I've been doing webpages for both work and hobby for so long (some 17-18 years I guess) I often just have no idea what's a good idea anymore. I've also hopped from 1 technology to another, never specializing in 1 thing ;)

 

 

 

This sounds like a good idea but I agree with the person who suggested keeping it simple to start with and adding features as it grows.

 

It's definitely best to start with a basic system. There's no point implementing tons of features that end up never being used because they're either just not interesting, or badly implemented. It's also a long term project, not something I want to finish quick, get online, and then never work on again :)

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

Well, I think I may have a usable design idea in my head, did lots of sketching and quick photoshopping to check various idea, all of which were bad =) It's quite difficult coming up with something that both looks good, is easy to use, and easily expandable once new feature start getting implemented :)

 

In the meantime, I've started playing around a bit more seriously with the framework and language I'll be using. It's been a long time since I actually had any fun in making a webpage, but this Ruby on Rails stuff is quite refreshing. It'll be a while before I'm comfortable with it, but the framework is really well thought out, and makes it real easy to separate code from design, and make everything modular.

 

 

What I've also been thinking of, something to possibly add for the future, is a buy/sell section, possibly using an auction type system. The advantage compared to stuff like ebay and yahoo auctions and the like, is that you have lots of information about the models at your fingertips. It could even be possible to link for sale items directly to a model, so that when you search for DD51 for example, that you get a lit of items for sale right in the detail view. Definitely not something of high priority considering everyones used to other auction sites, but it could be interesting nevertheless.

Share this post


Link to post
CaptOblivious

Design, as you well know, is not my forte, although I love it. I've got nothing good for you, but why don't you post some of your discarded designs, sans commentary, and see if we as a group vcould collaboratively improve on them?

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

The discarded designs are already gone. I tend to not keep designs I don't like hanging around :)

 

I'll make some new sketches soon of what I have in mind now, they'll be fairly quick and rough, but should give an idea.

 

 

Edit: here's a rough sketch of what I had in mind. The idea is that the menu on the left will remain visible, so it won't scroll along with the rest of the page.

locowerks_gui-v1_sketch.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

Updated the sketch slightly, added some placeholder text to see how it would look. I'm not too happy with it, feels like there's just too much text on-screen...

locowerks_gui-v1_sketch2.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
CaptOblivious

I think it feels great: The amount of text makes it appear nice and weighty, but it's not overbearing. Plus, the text-heavy area is well-contained: It doesn't hinder navigation.

 

That said, what I think is missing is some kind of breadcrumb system so that users can navigate at more fine-grained levels than the present menu options present. Perhaps a nested hierarchy of menus, laid out like the ones you have, but with each level in the hierarchy a new column to the right of the level above it? Does that even make sense? Perhaps I should draw it out later…

Share this post


Link to post
Mudkip Orange

This is pretty sweet.

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

I think it feels great: The amount of text makes it appear nice and weighty, but it's not overbearing. Plus, the text-heavy area is well-contained: It doesn't hinder navigation.

 

That said, what I think is missing is some kind of breadcrumb system so that users can navigate at more fine-grained levels than the present menu options present. Perhaps a nested hierarchy of menus, laid out like the ones you have, but with each level in the hierarchy a new column to the right of the level above it? Does that even make sense? Perhaps I should draw it out later…

 

There are supposed to be submenu's, I have some ideas how to implement them, just haven't sketched them out yet. (I'm thinking the info text could fade out, and the submenu with a slightly darker background color could slide in, something along those lines.) Obviously there's a submenu when you've logged in with links to your collection/smart lists/preference/whatever else needs to be there. Also, the "explore" option (needs a fitting name I guess) will get a submenu with things like rolling stock, accessories, spare parts (?) etc.

 

A traditional breadcrumb bar could be added on top of the "info sheet" as well.

Share this post


Link to post
cteno4

Martijn,

 

great start, clean and nice. you can always come back and change the frame if you have your fields and data structure worked out well to begin with. i usually find with this sort of thing i work better getting something that is ok for the look and feel side and stressing more about getting the field/data structure right the first time. then once i have things working and playing with data in the interface i can then refine the nav, controls, and graphics to synch up then. unfortunately i dont have the talent to do great graphics in general and less so to do good graphics really fast! other graphic cohorts usually come in then and clean up my mess!

 

really feeling nice.

 

now that i have the ipad im really starting to think about doing a fast db for my stuff with bento to make due for now. i have crap for an inventory and would be screwed if the house burned down! i really need to at least take 20 minutes and take a bunch of digital pictures and put them off site. also end up spending time all the time seeing if i have this or that when it pops up cheap on ebay!

 

keep it going! great work!

 

cheers

 

jeff

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

Martijn,

 

great start, clean and nice. you can always come back and change the frame if you have your fields and data structure worked out well to begin with. i usually find with this sort of thing i work better getting something that is ok for the look and feel side and stressing more about getting the field/data structure right the first time. then once i have things working and playing with data in the interface i can then refine the nav, controls, and graphics to synch up then. unfortunately i dont have the talent to do great graphics in general and less so to do good graphics really fast! other graphic cohorts usually come in then and clean up my mess!

 

really feeling nice.

 

now that i have the ipad im really starting to think about doing a fast db for my stuff with bento to make due for now. i have crap for an inventory and would be screwed if the house burned down! i really need to at least take 20 minutes and take a bunch of digital pictures and put them off site. also end up spending time all the time seeing if i have this or that when it pops up cheap on ebay!

 

keep it going! great work!

 

cheers

 

jeff

 

Yeah, one of the things I'm really stressing with this project, is to keep the UI code as much separated from the rest as possible, to make it as easy as possible to change the UI without having to rewrite half the back-end. Another advantage is that multiple UI's will be possible (in the long run ;))

 

I really do need some sort of reasonable looking UI to work with though, otherwise I tend to loose interest in a project rather quick. It's the designer bit in me that refuses to work with standard "programmer design" :)

 

 

I haven't tried Bento for the iPad yet, but for the iPhone I didn't like it much. The UI is non-standard and slow, and inputting stuff takes you through too many steps. I went the way of buying Numbers for the iPad and adding my trains there for now. I don't have any pictures in the spreadsheet though, mainly because I don't have any pictures of most trains :)

 

One thing I'd like to do for locowerks right form the start, is to add the ability to import various file formats (probably just csv and xml at first, since most programs can export to that), so that people who already have a database or spreadsheet can just upload a file and get all their data into locowerks. From there they can link up their models to prototypes and get the full functionality.

Share this post


Link to post
KenS

In terms of your sketch, one thing the might make the text less "weighty", would  be to put the description below the specs and model list, as it's probably going to be a bigger chunk of text.  You could also consider making the three parts "click to show" fields.  With just the photo and a one or two sentence summary and a couple of icons or whatever as placeholders for the others, the page appearance would be simpler.

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

A bit more fiddling done... Added some slight gradients in the menu, also added a slight drop shadow on the main menu item text. Added a first sketch of a submenu idea (really needs some adjusting ;)). Added a breadcrumb bar at the top (needs to be adjusted, right now it's a 100% copy of the bar used in Transmit =))

 

Also changed the text around. The new idea is to show the basic description of the train, and then a tab bar to switch between the various screens. Below the tabbed content could be a footer bar. I'm considering using small icons for the menu options and tabs, but I'm really not sure. It might clutter things up too much. Although, the home icon in the breadcrumbs bar looks quite nice =)

 

Overall, I think it's an improvement. The large image, being the main focus, makes it easy for people to quickly recognize the train. And with the description being immediately available, people should be able to figure out whether the train is interesting enough to click through the tabs.

 

Not entirely sure about the colors. While I really like the grey and red, I've been using it for JR-Chiisai as well....

locowerks_gui-v1_sketch3.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
KenS

That looks good.  The tabbed data is a nice solution to the "clutter" problem, and I like the colors.  The white/gray in particular makes me think "book", which is a good motif for a database like this. The red could be any dark color (blue and green), I don't see a lot to chose from there (i.e., one color seems much the same as another to me), but then I'm not a graphic designer.

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

The general feeling I was trying to achieve was that of an info brochure/pamphlet type of thing. I guess it worked partially considering you see it as a book =)

Share this post


Link to post

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...