Technical plans

By Richard Leyton, parkrun systems engineer
— Thursday 8 August 2013

In the next few weeks and months, we'll be using the parkrun.com news page to let you know more about the technical platform that underpins parkrun, and open up a bit more about the technical things we do, and what we're planning on doing.

parkrun.com is the 'global' parkrun presence. It's managed by UKTT, which is really just the small technical team who work supporting all the technical requirements of the many parkrun teams around the world. Our role is about building a great technical platform to enable parkrun organisations to grow around the world, from Inverness to Wellington, from Camp Bastion to Florida, and everywhere in between.

We haven't historically said a great deal about what we have lined up. That's mostly down to our being a very small team (just five of us), working hard as parkrun grows so rapidly around the world, addressing the varying requirements and needs of event teams and volunteers, country managers, runners, and all the general stuff that goes on.

Over the coming weeks and months, I'll be posting a bit more about what we're up to. To start the ball rolling, I thought I'd start with some details for the many technically minded parkrunners out there to find out more about what we use, how we do it, and what we're planning. We also hope we'll be able to work with some of you along the way.

I see my own parkrun journey in this. I started out as the Event director at Glasgow parkrun, and gradually got more involved over the years. Now I'm helping make some exciting new things happen, I'm hopeful we'll be able to find a way to let the techies engage a bit more with us. But more on that in due course.

Just now though I just wanted to give a very high level overview of what's happening, and what we're looking at doing.

Keeping the lights on

A quick glance at the historical chart shows what we're faced with. Paul's idea all those years ago has grown beyond anybody's wildest imagination. Every month feels like a new record is being set, and the growth is often described as exponential (any mathematicians out there care to advise what it is?)

Coping with that - making sure the systems work, that emails are answered, that problems are fixed has to be our top priority. The people that make local parkruns happen are giving their time freely, because they love the community they're involved with and creating. It's important that we make sure they're able to focus on that, and not battling away with technology.

A good example of this is the support system for our runners and teams, at http://support.parkrun.com. Even though the search helps most find the answer they need, we still get hundreds of enquiries every week that need action. We've averaged just over 300 enquiries per week since switching to it. With each taking perhaps on average 3 minutes each, that's two working days a week. We still manage about 98% satisfaction (Every submitter can rate how they feel we've helped).

Results

Technology is notorious for having a short life cycle, but I think most technologists would be pleased to know that something put together 7 or so years ago was still working well.

That's true of the results processing system. It's now processing 100 times as many results as when it was first let loose on the handful of parkruns that existed at the time.

But we've some hard limits fast approaching. We're reworking the system so that it can hopefully cope with what the future has in stall for us, and get through things much quicker too.

API

Yes, we are working on an API. We'll be announcing details next week of an early-access programme. We're excited about the possibilities this opens up for parkrunners and developers, and the ideas we hope it'll foster.

But please bear with us: We've a lot of things still to do, to settle, and to get right, and won't be able to work with very many approaches in the first few months.

Email

We used to send a few thousand emails a week. We're now closer to 1 million emails a week, what with newsletters, results emails, team emails, staff emails, and everything else besides. Much like results, we're approaching some hard limits, so we're looking to revamp how a lot of that is generated (and giving participants much more control over it at the same time).

...and the rest!

The parkrun websites generate a lot of traffic - we have many millions of page views every month, again so much bigger than we'd imagined (and one of the reasons we did a huge migration earlier this year to WordPress). We're shipping a lot of data, particularly around newsletter time and on Saturdays.

That's just a sampler of some of the things we're up to. We'll be posting much more over the coming weeks and months about the technical goings on, and the things we're working on.

Thanks, and look forward to hearing from you soon,

Richard Leyton
twitter @rleyton
email richard@parkrun.com

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