Public Lab Wiki documentation

community development

3 | 98 | | #11292


Here's a brief history of community infrastructure (online & off), and some notable milestones.


  • April 19, 2021 100th Weekly Code Community Check-In!
  • March: finetune subscription features like adding digests, and turning off email notifications for moderators
  • February: new "color by tag community" on tags page
  • January - February: Continue migrating testing infrastructure off Travis CI and onto Github Actions


  • Fall: Begin migrating testing infrastructure off TravisCI in advance of its closing date December 31, 2020
  • Summertime migrations to Google Cloud by Sebastian begins saving us money
  • May: MapKnitter Cloud Exporter launches
  • January: end of 5+ years of in-kind donations of hosting from Rackspace
  • January: @emash joins the team as Full stack developer (through June 2020)
  • @warren changes role to Lead Code Coordinator


  • Internationalization of website - Now supports 11 languages
  • Finalized support / new UI for anonymous map creation in MapKnitter
  • 5+ years of major in-kind donation from Rackspace comes to an end
  • overall, 27 people paid in some capacity in the Coding Community
  • Home-made Disaster Kit card game by Emilio
  • Blurred Location launches!
  • Switch to Google Search for Nonprofits
  • multi-person realtime editing in MapKnitter
  • Reply by Tweet!
  • Browser notifications added to the Public Lab website
  • July 1-3 First ever Teacher Training on community science in the classroom #education #GulfCoast
  • Tuesday June 26 - first Newcomers OpenCall starting 15 minutes before the main OpenCall
  • Tuesday June 4 - first "Code Open Call", the start of a new weekly video meeting dedicated to software contributors and mentors
  • Weekly check-ins among the software contributor community began rotating through other repos, not just plots2. (issue 5034)
  • tags graph visualization prototyped by @bsugar in 2017 went live on /tags (github)


  • RailsGirls improve Search
  • GDPR compliance
  • Emoji reactions added to website
  • first Crisis Convening held in Newark with community disaster responders from Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Puerto Rico, coastal NY and NJ
  • tag display on content moves up into the righthand sidebar
  • moved the lefthand sidebar to the right
  • @sagarpreet adds "map of maps" to
  • completely refactored based on
  • complete 3 year evaluation study, big update to /evaluation
  • first video trolling incident prompts improved moderation processes
  • security update reveals approximately ~40,000 real account holders on (out of more than a million total accounts)
  • Embedded a Trello boards into certain pages (/Barnraising, /evaluation), to make tasks more visible visible
  • Privacy-aware "add your location" feature on profile pages powers the map at the top of /people
  • @souravirus rewrites activity graphs to be interactive
  • improved /questions to have a tag search
  • Added tag search and sorting functions to /tags page
  • Removed sidebars on major pages like /questions, /tags


  • added ability to display profile pictures for all Contributors to the "Community Toolbox" project, and created ours:
  • last Annual Barnraising at LUMCON, shift to all "Regional Barnraisings" to focus on local issues (note) (november)
  • two of our Google groups (the main list, and later, that Barnraising list) were flagged as spam. Even though both were re-instated after less than a week, we realize that GoogleGroups is an unstaffed, declining platform and redouble our efforts to move entirely into website subscriptions
  • created community playlist on our YouTube channel, and enough people subscribed so that we could get custom URL (june)
  • Fourth Regional Barnraising: Appalachia, held in Morganton, West Virginia
  • first chatbot created to be a friendly, supportive voice in the chatroom (june)
  • connected IRC, Riot, Gitter, and the non-profit Slack Channel #irc so that everyone can chat in the same place
  • "first-timers-only" culture is re-iterated inside each Summer of Code project, students experience new contributors joining their projects
  • non-profit program staff adjustments: @bronwen joins as Open Hardware Community Manager (formerly Kits Manager), @gilbert joins as Advocacy Manager (new position). Margie joins as Director of Partnerships. Long term staff @mathew and @becki phase out.


  • Benjamin Sugar created the first tag cloud of all content on (september)
  • reached 10,000 contributors on, 10,000 subscribers to the mailing lists
  • began use of Gitter chatroom (november)
  • gradually transitioned from organizers-only calls (starting in summer by changing one call per month to be open to the public; holding last call in September) towards OpenCalls (October 11)
  • standard template for first-timers-only issues & encouragement of others to post issues in that way note (october)
  • Third Regional Barnraising: Los Angeles, held in Val Verde, California (july)
  • Code of Conduct published (july)
  • Webjack Project by Richard
  • New Search API introduced in website by Ujitha
  • Internationalization of website - Translation in German by Jitesh
  • "Streaks" (june)
  • hashtagging implemented by Ananyo
  • dashboard 2.0 launched
  • modularization in codebases with implications for copyleft licensing
  • plan for user testing developed with @weatherpattern & @ann, and connected to org-wide evaluation "quantitative snapshot"
  • outreach to developers via public presentations & use of new github tags "help-wanted" "first-timers-only" yields new contributors
  • Moderation improvements April 2016: basic guidelines posted at /moderation, all first time posters now moderated, moderators group expanded to mailing lists and website
  • first "first-timers-only" issue created in Public Lab March 16, 2016: 329, followed by 309. First Timers Only culture came to us through SpinachCon2016, Gregor Martynus of Hoodie, BostonJS, and Name Your Contributors project by Richard Littauer, see note.
  • 4th top level language group created: China, via WeChat (january)


  • Code of Conduct written for Annual Barnraising 2015
  • by the end of 2015, there are 67 organizers from 11 countries
  • publiclaboratory list surpasses 4000 members
  • regional "umbrella" mailing list created for northwest; becomes the first regional list that is bigger than the list for the name-brand city (Vancounver) it encompasses
  • SpectralWorkbench 2.0, including a Procedures System by Sreyanth
  • Public Lab's 5th Anniversary (read about it in GrassrootsMappingForum #7))
  • illustrated guide to joining the Public Lab community by Molly Danielsson
  • Second Regional Barnraising: Midwest, held in Chicago, Illinois
  • first ever Organizers Survey. Key topics: decision-making among organizers, active/inactive status.
  • Organizers Welcome pack becomes a physical mailing, including printed Handbook and Event Packs (also new for 2015)
  • Public Lab Fellows Program created in program areas Open Air, Open Land, Open Water
  • MapKnitter2.0 launches
  • WhereWeBreathe project on indoor formaldehyde monitoring and mitigation
  • The blog is rebooted, reviving a type of narrative writing that had been somewhat lost since the shift from to
  • Early versions of "Lending Library" based out of Portland leverages the shipping experience of our kits program and our non-profit access to discount USPS Library Mail rates for moving more expensive tools or calibration equipment around the community. Existing chapter-based tool exchanges continue as usual. Two Open Hours dedicated to this topic.
  • the Public Lab non-profit organizes its programs into initiative areas -- Open Air, Open Water, Open Land and Civic Kits -- in order to enable cohesive community collaboration across hardware, software, expertise, and locale.
  • plots-nyc (also NJ!) becomes first local mailing list to top 200 members.


  • by end of 2014, there are 62 organizers from 8 countries
  • PublicLabTV launched at Barnraising 2014
  • First Regional Barnraising: Northeast, held in Plymouth, Massachusetts
  • organizers handbook (including undersigning of statements, and nomination of new organizers by sending one's own filled-in profile)
  • "New organizer welcome & orientation" email is standardized
  • Organizers Summit (event type piloted in June during regional barnraising, full event held in November at Annual Barnraising)
  • first federal grant
  • paper research notes, notepads
  • community cards: "welcome to Public Lab" messaging printed on brown cardstock
  • "Ask a Question / Answer a Question" tagging system see all questions
  • new, simplified front page on
  • ability to award a barnstar & have it displayed on awardee's profile page via dropdown menu on research notes
  • subscribe to tag (RSS)
  • lists popular tags on the site
  • shows a year of activity at a glance
  • select the language of a research note or wiki page with power tag
  • co-authorship of research notes via powertag
  • images supported in research note comments
  • in-line wiki editing
  • callouts on via @username send email notifications
  • OpenHour / live call events is first community wide audio/visual channel
  • barnstar brainstorming
  • Event template and RSVP feature on research notes
  • international edition of Grassroots Mapping Forum features XXX countries/regions
  • chat room (IRC) integrated into all pages
  • regional "umbrella" mailing lists created for northeast, midwest
  • third top-level language specific list is created, Public Lab Portugues
  • plots-spectroscopy list reaches 1000 members, surpassing grassrootsmapping as the largest tool-specific list
  • publiclaboratory list reaches 3000 members


  • ability to comment on research notes
  • ability to write one research note in response to another
  • ability to "like" research notes, and "follow" them to receive email updates
  • tabbed wiki pages
  • "toolshed raising" event type
  • lists created for software developers, education, and writing
  • Mapknitter Club / Cartography Collective
  • Start a chapter page created
  • Guide to starting new projects
  • PDF print stylesheets for wiki and research note pages
  • research note templates
  • Sign-up page integrated anti-spam questionnaire "Turing Test"
  • launched, replicating all features + adding user dashboard, profile pages, and supporting international characters (UTF-8)
  • OpenID used across all sites to authenticate against one's account
  • plots-infrared list launches, along with plots-airquality and plots-waterquality
  • publiclaboratory list reaches 1500 members
  • so #wintercamp happened
  • creation of community repo



  • barnraising event type
  • Grassroots Mapping Forum (print publication for offline data distribution)
  • launches, pioneering the "research note" and creating the wiki knowledge base (January 2011)
  • publiclaboratory list
  • laboratoriopublico list (Spanish)


  • BP Oil spill -- short story at the top of this page