Public Lab Research note

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Check out these Activity Grids

by liz with abdul , gretchengehrke , warren |

The sheer number of posts on by contributors from all over the world about 1) how to build tools better, and 2) how to use them for making environmental observations is breathtaking, and at times, boggling. As Public Lab has grown, so much content has been generated that it has become unnecessarily difficult to know what the "latest and greatest" version is, what the next development challenges are, or simply where newcomers should begin.

In the past couple weeks, staff have begun "gardening" on and writing some new web features.

Organizing research areas

People on the spectroscopy and near-infrared lists have been discussing how to better present the overall research areas to make it easier to get involved. For each of those two research areas, we made a new top-level page. See them at spectrometry and multispectral-imaging. On those new pages, we constructed a couple tables -- the main table organizes relevant research notes into a "ladder" of activities others can replicate. There are columns to describe what type of activity it is, the status of its documentation, and how many people have replicated it.


We made a "Request A Guide" button to capture ideas about what people would like to do but don't see listed yet:


We also drafted two other kinds of tables, one to track upgrades (additions, modifications) that people have made to particular tools (for instance, the desktop spectrometer):


...and another to hold questions related to a particular research area (for instance, spectrometry):


Check out this much easier, automated way to organize content into grids:

After creating the first grids manually, WebWorkingGroup quickly created an automated way to make the grids. We created a power tag to add an Activity Grid to your wiki page with just a few characters, like this: [activities:spectrometry]:


This automated Activity Grid fills itself in with all research notes tagged with the key word you used. Consider the keyword "spectrometry": a grid on a wiki page created with the powertag [activities:spectrometry] will pull in all content (notes/questions) tagged with the powertag activity:spectrometry. Check it out on, look at the tables, then click "edit" to see how the tables were generated. The tables have various columns, such as "difficulty" (like easy, moderate, or hard), which can be filled out by adding more tags on the research notes. We're working on a tagging interface to make tagging less mysterious:


Help kick the tires!

These draft "Activity Grids" are ready for you to test drive! How?

  • Browse the activity grids and try out someone's activity. Responding via the button "Post your attempt to replicate this activity" will count your work as a "replication" on both the original note and in the grid.


  • If you've previously posted an activity on, read through it and see what you could add/edit to make it easier for someone else to follow, then tag it so it will appear in the relevant Activity Grid.
  • Want to organize a content on a new (or existing) wiki page? add one or more of these power tags...


...and to pipe content into the grid, go back to your original notes and add the powertag activity:spectrometry. To fill out the columns for each activity, use the tagging interface to add additional powertags or directly type: seeks:replications difficulty:easy time:30m


If you want any assistance, email and we'll help you get it going!

collaboration blog with:warren with:gretchengehrke research-culture activity-grids replication with:abdul


Great overview, Liz! I added some documentation on the basic inline tables features here, which the new activity grid tags build off of:

Also, the guided tagging interface is live now, so all activities now have a prompt for time and difficulty estimates, as shown in Liz's screenshot.

How could we list an activity as a connection or project? Or create a powertag for projects & organizations? We have activity categories. Could we have project categories?

I want to see how we could generate a wiki that could be populated through powertags on organizations and projects listed on, Air Quality Egg, Leptos, or the Appalachian Mountaintop Patrol--with power tags like project:connection, project:organization, etc.

Yes - this could be achieved by using the more basic "inline notes grid" system mentioned on -- so if each resource were described in a research note tagged with, for example, related-organizations (or any other tag you think is appropriate), you could display a listing of all such notes by using the inline tag [notes:related-organizations] in a wiki page. Would that work for the use you're thinking of?

Hi @wward1400 , I love this idea of seeing projects together! As a step toward that, Stevie and Sara are working on making project pages themselves better, check out -- it's got sections for Who's Involved and How to Get Involved, Next Steps, Updates, Activities that are part of this project, Data, Questions, and general resources.

Tagging up a bunch of projects to display them in a grid would be great, but many project pages are wikis which won't show up in the grids. The Geography project on Public Lab didn't quite get completed over the summer, although all the backend work is apparently ready to go -- there's a long term vision that PL would get to a map-based display so we can see what projects are happening where, along with what questions are being asked of where, and what data has been collected where.

Yes, definitely what I was thinking! I'll save adding [notes:related-organizations] for the Barnraising to see who else might be interested in connecting organizations.

And I'm glad @liz mentioned the SoCal Waste Stream mapping article as it was also what I was thinking. I'll add notes:waste to the Waste wiki soon.

And the Geography of Public Lab project sounds amazing. Is there space for first time code contributions to get involved?

Hi, Will -- sorry for the slow response, a lot happened (not least the Barnraising).

Yes, there IS an onramp for first time code contributors! We're actually in the midst of a big program in that direction. You can read a bit here:

A bunch of these entry points are available here: and I'd be happy to work with you!

If you're alternatively or also interested in joining in another capacity, we need more than coders:

I'm so glad you asked!

Hi, Jeff @warren-- I wish I could've made it to the Barnraising--a lot happened for me, too.

I'll start going through the Software Outreach & first timers resources. I can commit 5-15 min a week as a reviewer and first timer.

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