Working on a dream

BLUF • funding • technical

Submitted by Nigel Whitfield, Director, 13 April 2023



The BLUF website and apps are a work in progress. When I took over running the site, we were running what was effectively the second version, which allowed people to see who was online, to perform simple searches, and send an email to other members.

That was extended with a few new features, including improvements to the calendar, and the weekly This Week on BLUF email, but the site still lacked useful features such as user-to-user messaging, and even direct photo uploads.

So, it was re-written as BLUF 3, in the latter part of 2009, which added all those, and much more, including the system of tags that members can use to indicate their interests, and better support for German and French languages. That launched in December of 2009 and with a few tweaks stood us in fairly good stead for a few years.

However, the database behind it was still essentially the same, and with increasing numbers of new features, it was becoming increasingly clear that a more radical overhaul was needed. So, in 2016 the database was redesigned, and the whole site re-written from scratch, launching as BLUF v4 in December of that year. That provided us with support for Spanish too, as well as a responsive design capable of being used on mobile devices.

Where we are now

Since then, we've had more or less annual updates, and the site is presently running v4.5 of the software; since 2016 we've added things like group messaging, private photos, recurring donations, a new inbox and many more features.

Like all web sites that have accrued features over the years, some things have had to be shoehorned in to the existing structure, and we've have to move other things around to make more sense. And some things still hark back to earlier versions. In particular, the BLUF API - the bit of the system that apps talk to - is still based on the same principles as it was when first introduced to BLUF 3, around 2012.

So, it's time for more work and updates. This is the time-consuming side of BLUF for which we use a fair chunk of your donations; while day to day admin is relatively quick (though increasingly time consuming, as we approach 5000 members), coding is a different matter.

To roll out a substantial update of the site, let alone a complete re-write, is pretty much a full time job, and not one that can be done without financial support, albeit at a level considerably below what an outside agency would cost us.

A roadmap

There are certain goals that I want to achieve in the next update. BLUF has to be as secure as possible. It has to be easier to maintain. It needs to support further development of apps - on a typical day, around 60% or more of the members using BLUF are doing so via an app, rather than the website. And there are, of course, plenty of new features that I think might enhance things, and provide members with new ways to connect.

So, I've set out a rough list of things that will be worked on over the coming months - though it's too early yet to give any deadlines.

First, there likely won't be any new features coming to the current version of the website. There will still be updates, because we have to keep abreast of security issues, fix bugs that crop up, and make sure we are using the latest versions of things like payment systems. That means BLUF v4.5 will continue to get maintenance updates while work carries on in parallel on the next version, as will our BLUF Navigator app.

That's going to be BLUF 5. And like version 4 before it, it will be a more or less complete re-write of the BLUF code, to bring it up to modern standards, especially with regard to security.

For the time being, this is the rough outline of what I'll be working on, more or less in this order:

  • A re-implementation of the core of the BLUF software, in a way that will make it easier to extend, and less tied to BLUF as an organisation; this means it will be easier to share with anyone else who runs a club and would like a similar platform.
  • When the core software supports all the functions required by our current apps, the next step will be to implement a new version of the BLUF API, modernising it to make creating apps much simpler.
  • When the new API is ready, we'll create an iPad app, to take advantage of the larger screen, and ensure we can do everything that we need to in apps.
  • New versions of our existing BLUF Navigator and BLUF Calendar apps will then be built, to take advantage of the new API
  • I'll then look at the website itself, and re-implement it based on the new core software

As I say, all of this is going to take months, so the support that you provide via donations is vital. It will ensure that not only can I eat while I do the work, but also that we have appropriate hardware - like a modern iPhone to test the app, rather than the obsolete iPhone 7 that's presently the newest we have.

And, at this stage, there's not a fixed list of features that BLUF 5 will include. If there's something that you think will improve the BLUF experience - a better system of favourites, say, or a more time-line like experience on the Today screen, a different design, navigation ideas, or anything else - please do let me know.

If you're interested in helping out with coding, or reviewing code for flaws, we'll be sharing much of the new BLUF 5 code on our GitHub account, so let me know if you'd like access to that.

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