Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Plot Hound - Website Upgrade

It has been a busy month for the Plot Hound team at SilviaTerra.   After launching a major Plot Hound Android app upgrade in the middle of September, we immediately turned our attention to improving the website side of the Plot Hound experience.  Many Plot Hound users had written to us with suggestions and we've listened.  We're happy to announce the following upgrades:

Better Home Page
The Plot Hound website home page now has a searchable, sortable list of all of your stands.  You can filter by cruiser and inventory status (inventoried, pending inventory, never inventoried).  If you select a single stand, you'll see a map of it in the right-hand panel.  Hover over the cruises in that panel to display the plots.

Bigger Maps
One of the top feature requests was for larger maps.  We've gone through all of the pages on the website and expanded the map area to give you a better view of your stands.

Handle Multiple Stands at Once
Sometimes, you have to upload multiple stands at once or create a lot of cruises at the same time.  We do too - and the old one-stand-at-a-time interface wasn't cutting it.  We've redesigned the website so that you can upload, order inventory for, and delete multiple stands at the same time.

Support for Internet Explorer
We've always used the Firefox and Google Chrome browsers to use our website.  After the redesign, we started hearing reports that some people were having trouble using the site.  We investigated and it turned out that the site was not displaying properly in Internet Explorer.  We've fixed the issues and now everything should be running smoothly!

Coming soon
We've got a lot of exciting improvements in the pipeline.  Stay tuned for:

  • Basic cruise reports
  • Random plot placement (instead of a grid)
  • and last, but not least... an iPhone version of Plot Hound!  We're not quite sure when this will be available to the public (because of the Apple app review process), but we'll certainly let you know.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please email us at mobile@silviaterra.com.  We'd love to hear from you.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Plot Hound 2.0 Launch

SilviaTerra is excited to announce the official launch of Plot Hound 2.0!  You can download Plot Hound for free at the Android Market.  It's been quite a journey for us and we're proud to be able to share our work with the forestry community.

The Backstory
Back in the summer of 2009, we founded SilviaTerra with a vision of a future where foresters had easy access to all the information they needed to make superior decisions about forest management.  Our flagship product, Timber Scout, is a remote-sensing forest inventory solution that grew out of co-founder Zack Parisa's research in Dr. Chad Oliver's lab at the Yale School of Forestry.  Timber Scout allows forest managers to quickly get the high-quality information they need to best manage their lands, but we do require a limited amount of ground data to calibrate our satellite image analysis.

As a forestry technology company, we knew there had to be a better way than recording paper-and-pencil measurements in the field and then typing them up that night.  We needed a simple, fast, and affordable way to electronically collect field data.  To our dismay, the field data collection software out on the market was clunky, old-fashioned, and required expensive dedicated hardware.

Zack and I had just gotten new Android smartphones and they seemed like a perfect solution.

  • No need to buy any extra hardware
  • The phone had an accurate GPS (5-meter error) and compass
  • The 3G/wireless internet connection allowed us to upload/download maps and plot data
  • Automatic over-the-air software updates
  • Good battery life
  • Rugged enough (especially after a protective case and cover) to survive drops and falls out in the field.
The only problem was that there wasn't any cruising software for our Android smartphones!

I had done mobile development before, so I buckled down in the summer of 2010 and pumped out the first iteration of Plot Hound for Android devices.  Originally, we just intended to use Plot Hound internally at SilviaTerra.  Zack started using Plot Hound for our Timber Scout field data collection.  As he used Plot Hound out in the field, he would frequently call me with suggestions for better ways to structure the app.  That night, I would modify the Plot Hound program to fit Zack's (demanding!) specifications, push the changes out to the Android Market, and Zack's phone would be updated with the new Plot Hound version by the time he woke up in the morning.  Plot Hound was quickly evolving into a lean, mean, cruising machine.

And then a funny thing happened.  I checked the download numbers on the Android Market and Plot Hound had hundreds of downloads!  Although we had originally built Plot Hound for internal use, it seemed like we had really identified a common pain point.  More and more people kept downloading Plot Hound and we started to get requests for extra features, an iPhone version, and more.

Plot Hound 1.0 was a good start, but if Plot Hound was going to keep up with demand, we needed to fundamentally change some things.  Plot Hound 2.0 is a total rewrite that keeps all the same functionality, but gives us a much better platform for moving forward.

How Can Plot Hound Be Free?
We want to establish SilviaTerra as the leader in high-tech solutions for the forestry industry. Instead of launching an expensive and annoying marketing campaign, we decided to build a great product and give it away for free to spread the word about our company. We charge a small fee for fancy reports (coming soon - volume calculations, pretty PDFs, etc.) and other advanced features, but downloading your normal cruise data is totally free.

Another important reason why we can give Plot Hound away for free is that we also anonymize the data collected with Plot Hound and use it to improve Timber Scout, our remote-sensing forest inventory solution.  This allows us to expand Timber Scout coverage across the US quickly and efficiently to provide our customers with high quality, low cost forest inventory information.  No one else sees your data and we never share your plot information with anyone outside the company.

Plot Hound 2.0 brings several improvements, including:

  • Better navigation
  • See the stand bounds on the map
  • Add multiple trees at a time (helpful on pine plantations!)

Coming Soon
We're always working hard to improve Plot Hound.  If you select the "Allow automatic updating" option when you download Plot Hound, you'll get the newest changes automatically.

These are our latest plans:

  • Better report downloads
    • Statistical summary
    • Height estimates
    • Volume estimates
  • Faster "All Species" loading
  • Satellite images displayed on the plot map
We thrive on customer feedback, so if you have any thoughts, please send us an email at mobile@silviaterra.com

Check out Steve Wilent's review of Plot Hound (Version 1) in the September edition of the Forestry Source.