Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Using N Levels to track hotel wi-fi speeds

During the summer I came across a blog posting by Jeff Jarvis that proposed a tagging convention for reporting hotel wi-fi speeds. The idea is that people would record hotel wi-fi speeds in their blog entries, and then tag these entries so that others could easily search for and find them.

I thought this was a great idea, and also a great example of the type of problem -- capturing a related set of information authored in a distributed fashion -- that N Levels would be well suited to address and potentially provide a richer, more flexible solution than what can be enabled by tagging blog entries.

Now that N Levels is up-and-running, I thought I'd lay out how it could be used for this scenario and hopefully get folks to try it out.

First I defined an object type for a "hotel wifi report". Such an object would be created to record your hotel wi-fi experience including information about the hotel, upload / download speeds, connection type, pricing plan, and any comments you have. You can view the schema definition here. Creating a new hotel wifi report is straightforward - simply enter the information requested (note you will need to have a N Levels account to create a report). To illustrate this, I've created a handful of "fake" reports which you can view here.

Notice that the hotel wifi reports all follow a naming convention which is described in the object type definition. Because all object names in N Levels must be unique, having a convention to name objects of a given type will reduce the chance of naming collisions, as well as provide meaningful information through the object name.

So how would these "hotel wifi report" objects be used? For starters, you could add a widget for one into a blog posting - say one that describes your trip. The widget would look something like:

More interestingly, as folks create more hotel wifi reports, you can use the search functionality of N Levels to find wifi reports that match a specified criteria. Because the information is captured in a structured schema, you can search in a richer way than is possible via a tag-based approach. You could search for all wifi reports for a given hotel. Or you could search for all wifi reports for a given city where the upload and download speeds are greater than a given threshold. To illustrate this, here is a search widget that returns the wifi reports for RandomCity, NY, taken since July 2007, where the download speed is greater than 2000 kbps (see a screenshot of the corresponding search query).

(Note that this widget is dynamic - as new hotels are added which match the search criteria, the widget will display them.)

You may have noticed that the sample hotel wifi reports contain a relationship named "associated hotel (wifi report)". This relationship can point to a "hotel" object that represents the hotel in the wifi report. If the hotel object has already been created, then the user can select it; otherwise they can create a new hotel object and add it to the relationship. The hotel wifi report widget above shows a link to this page which allows someone to manage the relationship. (Ideally someone would pre-populate a complete listing of all hotels worldwide. In the meantime, we'll have to take an organic approach and rely on folks to create hotel objects and ensure the information is accurate.)

Through population of this relationship, it becomes possible to create a richer network of information. Now you can go to a Hotel object and view all of the wifi reports for it, as shown in the sample hotel widget below.

Linking the hotel wifi reports to the associated hotel object adds value, but is not mandatory - as long as the wifi reports contain enough information so people can search by hotel name, location, etc.

In summary, N Levels lets you define and create a rich collection of structured data - the information you capture and what you do with it is up to you. Tracking hotel wifi information is a useful scenario, but also just one of many possible. I'd like to ask people to give this a try - it's pretty simple and hopefully we can build a valuable collection of reports over time.

If you have feedback on the hotel wifi report or hotel schemas, or feedback in general, we'd love to hear it - send mail to nleveler@nlevels.com or post a comment on this blog.

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