Special Report - February 1, 2017
2/1/2017 7:54:01 PM
Swimmers who use the site regularly will notice a significant change to its layout and functionality. Those who have being using the site for a long time will recognize that we've rolled back the database interface (the page layout, etc., but not the underlying database, itself) to the look and feel we had back in October, 2015.
Why did we go back to an older, in some ways less user-friendly site layout?
For the last three years, we've worked with two different outfits to try to make the site as spiffy and up-to-date as possible. Unfortunately, neither was able to deliver the site we think this could be.
The first took programming shortcuts that froze some data that should have been dynamic, and added features that were annoying and user-unfriendly.
We immediately found a replacement for that programmer, but it took from November, 2015, to March, 2016, for them to get their new site up. While that new site's map-based interface was pretty cool, the list search wasn't acceptable and almost none of the administrative tools we use to add, edit, and delete listings worked properly. We (and they) spent untold hours (and an incredible amount of my money!) working on fixes of the administrative tools, without ever getting past the map-based pool search interface. We had no list search and the site statistics were flat-out wrong. When listings started disappearing from the maps, we had enough. Somewhere between 10% and 20% of the listings just disappeared from the maps, without rhyme or reason - and, if a listing wasn't on the map, there was no way for you to find out about it.
In mid-December, 2016, we got in touch with the programmer who did the original programming for the asp.net/SQL server site that first went online in 2012 and begged her to come back and put the site back to together, to where it was before we tried to get cool. She agreed and on February 1, 2017, the old site returned.
There are a number of changes we'd like to make with this site, many of which are already in progress, but we're going to go slow this time and either do it right or not do it at all.
Site Status @ February 1, 2017:
As of February 1, 2017, the database had 22,239 facilities listed in 178 countries and 12,441 cities around the world. In total, those facilities had 24,166 full-size, year-round pools (as we define those terms in our FAQ). We have a backlog of 189 listings, mostly in France and Spain, that we're adding to the site as quickly as we can (adding a listing is a slog). And we've come across a site for a California health club chain that's likely to add about 50 new listings there, though it will be a while before we can get all the potential new listings logged, called, and the ones that make the cut added to the database.
End of Month Report for May, 2016
6/1/2016 10:56:27 AM
End of Month Report for May, 2016
It's been six months since we made a "What's New" posting. After a year of touting how great the October, 2015, site update was going to be - only to find it a real disaster; then four or five months promising to get things right, only to have one part of the site working properly with the rest working poorly or not at all when we posted a "fix" in March, we're pretty well finished with promises. We're getting things done as fast and as well as we can, but our programmers march to the tune of a different drummer and we can't seem to get them to look at the site's deficiencies (and fix them) with as much urgency as we feel is needed.
In any case, in early March, right around the site's 20th anniversary on line, we finally did get our map based interface working. At the same time, however, the list search, site statistics, and virtually all the user Add and Edit features were not working. The good news is that new map-based search is incredibly spiffy; so good that it almost makes up for the bad. We have the programmers working on the necessary fixes to the other parts of the site and hope that they'll all be fixed within the foreseeable future. (No date promises though, we're done promising things that we can't personally deliver on...)
The Map-based Search Tool
We've had a few people complain that they find the map-based interface difficult to use, so we'll give a quick tutorial here. It's really so easy and intuitive that we didn't think that an explanation would be necessary - but apparently it is, so here goes:
- Using either the small sized map on the site's home page or the larger map on the page that comes up when you click on the text "Search by Map" half-way down the home page, find the Search Box in the upper left corner of the map.
- After deciding where you want to search, place your cursor (or finger, if using a touch-screen device) and start typing the name of the city and state or country where you want to be able to find a pool. Instead of a city/state, you might also use a three character airport code, the name of a hotel, a full street address, or a postal code and country, the search is incredibly flexible.
- As you type your entry in the Search Box, you'll notice that a list of possible matches starts to self-populate, something like a drop-down list, beneath the search box. As you type, the list of possible matches will change refining the list to conform more exactly to what you are typing.
- When you see the location you're interested in on the drop-down list, move your cursor down to select that choice and hit "Enter" on your keyboard.
- Within a second or two, a map showing the selected location will appear. In the new map, a standard Google Map point icon, red with a small black dot in the center, will appear at the location that Google determined is the center of the location you chose. If there are Swimmers Guide listings within the radius that Google defaulted to, you will see one or more red, yellow, or green centered pinpoint markers. These reflect the approximate locations of all the Swimmers Guide listings in that area. If there are no pinpoint markers on the map, try using the "-" minus sign tool in the lower left corner of the map to zoom-out. Sooner or later, you'll probably come up with a listing - if there is one, within a variable radius that can extend as far as 100 miles. (Google decides the radius covered and we haven't figured out why some maps cover more territory than others.)
Green dots indicate that the pool at that location is open to the general public.
Red dots indicate that the pool is not open to the general public.
Yellow dots indicate either that we don't know whether the pool is open to the public or the situation is not as simple as can be answered "Yes" or "No", e.g., because the pool operates on a year-round basis but is open to the public only in summer or because the pool's hours are so limited that, while it may technically be considered open to the public, the restrictions are too limiting in our judgment.
Note that hotel swimming pools will usually (but not always) be represented by a red or yellow dot as we know many of them are for registered guests only or we don't know the hotel's non-guest admission policy.
Some of the dots also have text within them to give you a heads-up as to the pool's length: Pools that are 50 meters, 25 meters, or 25 yards, i.e., "standard" length pools, will have "50m", "25m", or "25y" designations within the colored center. Pools of other, different sizes will not have any characters within their dots' colored centers.
Although you can zoom out on a map to see a larger area and may find additional listings within the larger area, the map is not fully dynamic. That is, the radius of the area covered on a single map choice result is limited at the time you fill out the Search Box. Changing the center of the map will not cause new listings to be added to the map reflecting a revised center point.
Also, at this time, the accuracy of the placement of the dots is, in some cases, limited to two decimal places in digital GPS latitude and longitude. That gives the maps an "error factor" of a kilometer in some locations, so the maps are good for an idea of the relative locations of the pools shown, but not the exact locations. (We're working on fixing this to bring the GPS latitudes and longitudes to at least four digits of accuracy [11 meters], but there are trade-offs in display speed as the accuracy of the mapping increases that have to be considered.) The "Targeted Google Map Links" within the listings are carried to as many as eight digits of accuracy, so they're "spot on", but in the Map search mode, locations are not so precise.
Clicking on a dot (other than the Google map center dot) will bring up a small box with the pool's name, address, length, and public access status. Clicking on the x at the upper right corner of the box will close it.
For more information about the listing, click on the hypertext "Read More" and a new tab will appear with the full, standard, Swimmers Guide detail listing data. Since each listing pops up in its own browser tab, you can go back to the map from your search to check out other listings without closing the previous Read More listing tabs and without having to do a new search.
Why do we think this new search tool is so great? That's simple: After typing a very few characters, you can see every listing in the city or town, plus potentially every listing in every city or town in a s much as a 100 mile (160 kilometer) radius. In places such as Los Angeles County, California, where there are dozens of communities that merit counting as a city or town in our list search and which, therefore, would require dozens of searches to find them all, one map covers the entire county, plus some listings in several adjacent counties. Searching on Copenhagen, Denmark, will reveal a map covering several Danish counties as well as some listings in Norway, Sweden, and Germany!
What Else is New?
Since our last "What's New" entry we've added nearly 1,000 listings, easily breaking the 21,000 mark and approaching 22,000 listings. And we celebrated our 20th anniversary online back in March.
As of May 31, 2016, the site has 21,621 listings covering 43,488 full-size, year-round pools in 12,074 cities and towns in 175 countries.
End of Month Report for January, 2016
2/1/2016 11:42:56 AM
The Mess Persists
It's taking forever for our new programmers to finalize the new site that will replace the failed update of October, 2015. Every target date is met with a new reason why we have to wait a little longer. What was supposed to take eight or ten weeks has no gone on for sixteen and a half weeks, with no light shining at the end of the tunnel.
We get truncated "Edits", emails from people who couldn't make the Edit and Add features of the site work, and we know that we're missing out on a lot of great input from those of you who give up in frustration. It is infuriating for everyone and sorely embarrassing for us. If we were charging for the service, we'd be handing out refunds!
What We've Been Working On in the Meantime:
We're already into the second year of the second, complete site review that began in November, 2014. Since then, we've reviewed more than 5,300 listings and, during the course of the review of those listings, we've added more than 850, new listings. And we've probably deleted 300 or more old listings for pools that we found had closed since our last review.
In December, the site hit the 21,000 listing mark; we're now at 21,129 listings in 175 countries, having added pools in Algeria and Ascension Island over the last couple of months.
We recently changed our home telephone service to the Ooma VOIP service (http://www.ooma.com/). As a part of their changeover promotional offer, we have free international calling to 60 countries until early March. And we've been burning up the lines calling to pools in English-speaking countries to pick up the vital statistics that are so hard to come by via email.
End of Month Report for November, 2015
12/2/2015 10:54:04 AM
Oy vey! What a mess!
The much touted and long awaited site update that went online at the end of October turned out to be much less than we had hoped for. Several critically important features of the site simply did not perform up to expectations. Here are the things you should know:
- The Map Search tool does not pick-up recently added listings - and we've done about 300 of them since the new site went online.
- The Map Search tool includes listings that have been deleted from the database. (Although the Map Search tool is not working properly, it is still a good, first-pass tool to find a pool. Most of what we have been working on over the last couple of months has been in England and the northeastern United States, so those areas are where the most new listings may not be included. Use the "legacy" List Search tool to check for additions in the area you'll be visiting.)
- Where membership or multiple-visit pass information has been included in the database for a facility, that information is not being displayed on the facility's listing page.
- Where membership or multiple-visit pass information has been included in the database for a facility, that information is not being displayed on the facility's listing page.
- Club and Team classifications (Masters, Youth, Water Polo, etc.) is not being displayed next to the Team Name on the listing page.
- All Clubs' and Teams' names have been formatted in the listings as if they were hypertext links to the clubs' or teams' websites, whether they actually link to their sites or not. (Where there is no link to a club site, clicking on the club's name just brings up another tab or page with the listing information, duplicating the page you just clicked on.)
- The "Add A Pool" tool requires an entry for the pool's email address, even though most pools don't have them, and does not communicate the contents of some of your entries to us - most importantly, the pool description.
- Most of the other "Add" and "Edit" tools on listing pages do not work properly. Some refuse to accept "Captcha" codes that are typed into the box exactly as displayed, thus preventing you from actually submitting the information. Some accept your entries, but fail to record those entries anywhere that we can access them.
- With the exception of only the number of listings and number of pools, the "Site Statistics" section is completely inaccurate.
We have engaged another firm to reprogram the website and expect that these errors will be corrected within a few weeks' time. In the meantime, however, if you have information to tell us about a listing, please use the mailto link at the bottom of the facility's listing page, so we can get your correction, comment, or review into the listing by way of an administrative "backdoor" to the database.
When we bring the new website up, we will move it from the Network Solutions server to a new server maintained by the programmers, thus eliminating finger-pointing about whose hardware or software is causing the site to function slowly or shut-down entirely.
What We've Been Working On:
While we have sat, seethed, and scrambled to get the site back into the shape it should be in, there has been a benefit: The reduced amount of communication from the user base (i.e., you), has given us time to work on finding new listings.
After realizing, somewhat belatedly, that we've never received a lead about an LA Fitness chain owned facility that did not turn into a listing, we started mining their well organized, if information challenged, website. Thus far, we've added nearly 200 of their clubs to the database and we don't think we're even half-way through. It's a bit of a slow process, we have to call each club to find out its pool's length, number of lanes, water temperature, and day-pass fee. But, with the exception of a few clubs with pools whose employees couldn't provide the information, every one of the clubs we've called whose page includes "indoor pool" has a pool that qualifies for listing.
As we've gone through the list and spoken with club personnel, it has become apparent to us that the average American does not know the difference between a meter and a yard. Where there has been confusion, we've listed the pools in yard-long measurements. Where there was no confusion, we used the length in yards or meters, as told to us by the club staff. Some of the pools listed as being 25-yards long may turn out to be 25-meters long and vice versa. Some may not be either - but that's where you come in. If you know that one of our listings is wrong, tell us. We'll fix the error, send you a polite "thank you", and never bother you again.
The only site statistics that we're comfortable with are the total number of listings and total number of pools. During the month of November, 2015, we added 269 new listings and ended the month with 20,694 facility listings and a total of 22,515 qualifying pools. We feel reasonably confident that we'll hit the 21,000 listing mark well before the site's 20th anniversary online, in March.
A Final Word:
In most of the world, December marks the end of one year and the start of a new one, as well as religious holidays for the Judeo-Christian cultures. We take this opportunity to wish all the good people who use this site a Very Happy Holiday Season (Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus, or whatever else you may be celebrating) and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!
End of Month Report for October, 2015
11/3/2015 4:12:00 PM
As promised, albeit a bit late, we finally went live with the third major update to the website on October 22!
Before we get into what's new with the site, we need to be upfront with you. The site is running much slower on the Network Solutions server than it did on our programmer's itty-bitty web hosting service, and there are some features in the new site that are not working at all as intended - especially the "Add" and "Edit" tools on the pool listing pages.
Additionally the "Site Stats" section appears to have some anomalies, so we're going to skip our usual monthly statistical recap this month.
The reason this report wasn't posted on a more timely basis is because we didn't have access to the tool that allows us to post it until November 3.
In short, this has been a much bumpier conversion than we had hoped to have and there are a lot of issues to work on - which we are doing.
With that all said, now we can get into letting you know what's new:
A New Home Page:
The "Home Page" has been redesigned to show three expanding and collapsing tabs, one each for the three ways to search the Swimmers Guide database: A Map Search; a List Search; and a Google Free-Text Search.
The New, Improved Map Search:
The site has been engineered to feature the Map Search feature, which we've finally taken out of "Beta". When you go to the Swimmers Guide home page, you'll see a map of the world with a Location box and Search button above it. (If you don't see a map, hit your refresh button until you do.) As you begin typing a location into the Location box, Google Maps will begin to auto-fill the field with possible choices that it recognizes. The more you type, the narrower the selection of locations and the more likely that the place you're looking for will show-up in the list, ready to receive your click. Click on the best choice or continue to type out an address and then click on the "Search" button.
After you hit the Search button, the map of the world will be replaced by a map centered on the location that Google understood to be the one you wanted. Be careful, if your choice is imprecise, Google may bring up a map centered on an entirely different location from the one you were looking for. For example, in looking for pools near the Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina, USA, we typed-in its airport code "RDU" and the map that came up was centered on the Radhamohanpur Railway Station in Radhamohanpur, West Bengal, India! If we had selected the first choice presented by Google, it would have taken us to the airport we were looking for in Morrisville, North Carolina.
Borders Don't Mean Anything, Anymore:
With the new Map Search tool, artificial, political boundaries no longer limit the range of a search. If you're center your search in Manhattan, New York, you'll see options in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island. More importantly, you'll be able to see options in Yonkers, Brooklyn, and Queens that may be better suited to your preferences and schedule. You couldn't get that information with a List Search, but you can with a Map Search.
Narrowing Down Your Search:
Once you've gotten to the desired location, the location itself will be marked with a Swimmers Guide-logo map-point and, if Swimmers Guide has any listings within a roughly 30 mile radius they will appear as red or blue filled map-points. Red points indicate that the pool at that location is a 50 meter pool; blue map-points are for pools that are not 50 meters long.
Depending on the area selected, the pools' map-points may overlap. Paris, France and London, England, for example, have so many listings that some pools' points are nearly covered by others' points. To zoom in and out on a map, use the small "+" and "-" tools in the lower right corner. A + will zoom the map in, showing a smaller area and separating the dots. A - will zoom the map out, causing the map to show a larger area and potentially causing map points to overlap. Sometimes, zooming out may reveal more pools than the first map view, i.e., pools that fall outside the original map's radius. But beware, the map is not fully interactive. If you move the map center too far away from its first location, it will show more map, but not more pools, even though there may well be pools in the new area.
For example, when you select London, United Kingdom as your location, and you move the map to show areas to the west of London, there are no pools shown in Reading. But, if you change the selected location from London, United Kingdom, to Reading, United Kingdom, the new map will show an ample selection of pools in that city and several others within the new map's radius.
One very important note: Although we have more than 20,000 listings, they tend to be located in relatively populous areas. If you search for a pool in a small town or village, there may be no pools at all within the resultant map's radius. For twenty years, we've striven to avoid ever presenting you with a page that says "No listings were found that meet the search criteria." and, although the map search site will never say it, a map that shows no red or blue points is telling you just that.
OK, you've pulled up a nice map with all sorts of red and blue dots on it, now what? If you click on a dot, a small window will pop up showing the pool's name, address, the length of the main pool at the facility, an indication as to whether the pool is open to the public (Public Access: Yes/No/?) and the words "Click here to see details." Follow the instructions to see the full, detailed listing page for that facility.
What the Map Search Doesn't Do:
In the List Search, when you select a city or town that has more than one listing, we present a table of all the pools in that community showing their neighborhood or district, the length of each facility's main pool, the pools' postal codes, whether the pools are accessible to the general public, whether any of the pools have arrangements with local hotels, and the types of aquatic sports clubs (Masters clubs, youth swim teams, triathlon clubs, etc.) that train at the facility
Fortunately, the map presentation itself, conveys just about all the critical location information you should need, but the public access information, hotel and sports club information is not available on the map, at first glance. We're working on getting that information to you through the Map Search facility, but that's not ready, yet.
Map Search to List Search Interoperability:
If, on reading the details of a particular listing, you decide you'd like to check out other pools in the area, you can either click on the "Return to Map" text in the upper left side of the page, immediately above the words "The Basics" to go back to the map you were last looking at, or you can use the "breadcrumbs" to go to the List Search section, the "Legacy" view of the Swimmers Guide website. When you're in the List Search section of the site, the Map Search section collapses to show the List Search section expanded. This section works in exactly the same way as the original, nearly twenty-year old, classic, "Swimmers Guide" drill-down search did. Note, however, that once you move from the Map Search tool to the List Search tool, to get back to do a Map search, you have to go to the Home Page, select the Map Search section, and begin a new search. We're planning to fix that in a future update but, for now, it's just something we'll have to live with.
What else have we done?
All of the pages in the List Search section have been redesigned to be simpler, clearer, easier to read, more consistent in typeface and presentation, and to deemphasize the advertising.
We've also added "Captcha" codes in the Add and Edit parts of the site. This is a security feature that we hope you won't find too irritating, but we need to protect the integrity of the database.
End of Month Report for September, 2015
10/1/2015 8:30:06 AM
We had hoped to be able to close-out the month of September by introducing the new website. Unfortunately, some minor problems put us a bit behind. Still, we expect the introduction of the new site to happen within a few days, not weeks, and we're psyched:
The Map Search feature is not to be believed - it is beyond user friendly and intuitive.
The List Search that we've been featuring for the last 19 years has gotten faster and cooler. The "Pools in #City# is better organized. The pool listing details page is simply cleaner. And, for the first time, we have a trail of "breadcrumbs" that will make navigation easier.
The new site was designed to work much better than the old one on a tablet or smart phone, too, so those of you who have suffered through the old site's clunky display on a cell phone should find it a lot friendlier.
It's coming soon...
Although we didn't take any time off for vacations or trips in September, time spent reviewing and recommending changes to various versions of the new site took up a lot of time. Still, we managed to add 64 new listings while removing only 10, and added another 330 clubs and teams along with 310 new club and team website links. We have fewer than 100 listings (of more than 1,800) to review in England, after which we will turn to the next group of states in the United States.
Since we started working on England early June, we have sent just under 3,300 emails and received over 4,900. All of the emails sent weren't inquiries to English pool operators, but easily 90% of them were - and that figure doesn't include the number of forms we've filled out on sites that require that sort of communication in lieu of email. We've added water temperatures to about half of the listings there and checked their website links, telephone numbers, prices, etc.
On the whole, our review and email efforts have been well-rewarded, although we do wish that someone would pass a law that people who put their email addresses and have "contact us" forms on their websites be required to have a live person send a real reply, instead of those form replies that say "we'll get back to you" - and then they never do.
Site Statistics as of September 30, 2015:
As of the end of September, the site had 20,318 listings with 22,134 qualifying pools in 173 countries and 11,516 cities and towns. Of the 20,318 listings, 19,161 (94.3%) included links to the pools' own, official websites and 20,151 listings (99.2%) had GPS points and Google Maps links. There were 49,571 external links on the site in total, or 29,420 content-based links (all links excluding Google Map links). We included contact information for 10,937 swimming, diving, and other pool-based sports clubs, 93.5% of which include links to the clubs' own websites.
End of Month Report for August, 2015
9/1/2015 11:51:32 AM
After taking a long weekend at the beginning of the month, we took a full week off for a vacation trip to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia for six days in the middle of the month...
As expected, we ran across some "bumps in the road" in the programming of our new site layout and functionality, but the worst appear to have been overcome and the new site is looking really spiffy. Here's a "teaser":
Instead of opening the home page on the drill-down menu, we're going to open the site with three choices: the map-based interface; the drill-down interface; and the Google site search interface.
Note that the map-based interface is mentioned first, because, when all the programming is done, that's going to be the best way to search the site. If you know where you're going (or where you are) and Google Maps recognizes the name of the location you type into the search box, this interface will deliver a map centered on your selected location that pinpoints every listing within a radius of ten or fifteen miles. City, county, province, state, and national boundaries are irrelevant in this search method, so you need only know where you want the map to be centered to be able to find the listed pools there and in neighboring communities - even if you've never heard of those communities - within the map's radius.
The second choice will be the menu interface we've been using for the last three or four years, which was based on a very similar setup that goes back to 1996, but it will be faster and cleaner than what we have now.
The final choice, the Google site search, has been on the home page for a long time, but, until now, it hasn't been promoted very well. If you're good at creating finely-tuned Google searches, this will help you when you're looking for a specific location or pool feature. "Newbie" searchers may find this method unhelpful, but if you know how to narrow your search sufficiently, it'll come in very handy.
The listing detail pages have also been redesigned to look better, with fewer variations of type size and a generally cleaner view.
We're psyched by what we've seen, so far, and after we work out a few more bugs and put it online, we think you'll like it, too.
During August, long weekends and vacations in the mountains notwithstanding, we added 66 new facilities and deleted 14, for a net increase of 52 listings to 20,264.
Site Statistics as of August 31, 2015:
As of the end of August, the site had 20,264 listings with 22,080 qualifying pools in 173 countries and 11,503 cities and towns. Of the 20,264 listings, 19,131 (94.4%) included links to the pools' own, official websites and 20,097 listings (99.2%) had GPS points and Google Maps links. There were 49,177 external links on the site in total, or 29,080 content-based links (all links excluding Google Map links). We included contact information for 10,637 swimming, diving, and other pool-based sports clubs, 93.5% of which include links to the clubs' own websites.