Liz Eden is the Erasmus and Student Funding Officer in Student Fees and Funding at the University of Oxford. Her husband Terence is a civil servant. Together they built OpenBenches.org as a way to record and celebrate the existence of memorial benches across the world. They live in Oxford and started the project by taking photos of some of the memorial benches around their local area. The site features an interactive map so users can see existing records, and an interface to upload photos of new benches. Anyone can contribute to the site using a smart phone or other camera which can take geo-tagged photos. Simply take the photo, upload it to the site, and type in the inscription. All the code is available as open source at github.com/edent/openbenches so users can also contribute ideas for improvements to the site. OpenBenches.org is entirely free to use and there are no adverts. This is an open culture project and is intended to be free. To date the site has over 4,100 records from all over the world.
Terence is an experienced developer and business analyst, and Liz is an experienced project administrator. Together they decided to use their skills to create something fun and meaningful that can be shared with other people. OpenBenches.org is a labour of love for both of them and they run the project in their spare time.
Showing the world what you can build.
Liz and Terence launched the site as a rough alpha product in July 2017. It quickly gathered attention on social media, and Liz and Terence were interviewed by BBC radio later that month. By putting the project on GitHub, they have welcomed contributions from other users around the world with ideas for fixing bugs and suggesting new features to include.
1) Build on the work of others. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.
2) Listen to your users. Work to understand their needs.
3) You’re probably going to fail. That’s OK. Learn from it.
Using skills and knowledge to build something to be shared with other people.
The inspiration for OpenBenches.org came most directly from OpenPlaques.org. Liz and Terence are also inspired by the Open Data movement and the principles of Open Source.
What are the best ways to overcome the specific challenges of a rapidly growing data set?
No one cares about your project as much as you do. If you want to tell people about it, you must be shamelessly self-promoting.
We have used Open Data sets provided by Bath Council.
Good – there are *lots* of benches.
Bad – local council doesn’t realise the power of Open Data. They need to release more datasets.
Look at Open Source projects on GitHub. See what has succeeded – but it is just as important to see what has failed. You have to understand the mistakes other people have made.
Be sure to choose a name which is unique on the web, Twitter, and any other social platforms you wish to use.
EnSpire Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
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