The Toronto Poetry Map - A New Pattern for Our Digital Projects

April 9, 2015 | Alan H.

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We launched the Toronto Poetry Map at the start of April to mark National Poetry Month, and I've been  pleased by both the media interest and the social media traffic. I had a strong personal interest in this project as a reader of Canadian poetry, so it was a particular pleasure to serve as the technical lead - I don't normally get to combine my academic background in literature with my career as a librarian and software developer.



The poetry map originated in a collaboration between the library and the city's fourth Poet Laureate, George Elliott Clarke. I think it provides a unique way to explore Toronto through poems associated with the city’s neighbourhoods, intersections and landmarks.

The map in a technical sense represents a very new way of working for us - it's our first released project using Ruby on Rails, a web development framework that will no doubt be familiar to some of our more technically-oriented readers. Rails let us turn around a great experience in record time and promoted an iterative, collaborative working style that I favour for web application development.

It's also:

  • our first released application built from the beginning for mobile layout
  • our first cloud-deployed application (on DigitalOcean if you're curious)

At heart, the decision to use a new approach was made due to content requirements and a need to be able to easily add new poems and features in the future. The poetry map data model is surprisingly complex and multi-dimensional - a location can have multiple poems associated with it, or a poem can mention multiple locations, and we needed to be able to model those relationships in the underlying data in order to deliver the desired experience.

Longer term, I'm hoping to reuse some of the approaches and technologies to rapidly build similar applications - maybe even open source the code so others can build their own maps for their own places.

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