A platform for crowdsourced environment monitoring.
Research and Discovery
Full-stack Web Development
ABOUT THE CLIENT
Chronolog is a platform that powers ongoing timelapses to record environmental change. Each timelapse is generated from crowdsourced photos. Chronolog is used by over 100 organizations worldwide, including National Parks, wildlife refuges, universities, and museums.
More than 20,000 people have contributed photos to hundreds of timelapses, in turn creating hundreds of thousands of impressions across the internet. Each impression presents an opportunity for visitors to visualize human impacts on the natural world.
Chronolog was founded by Jake Rose and Lifelike Labs co-founder Ky Wildermuth. Over the last few years, Lifelike Labs has worked as a team to design and develop the photo processing engine, the map-based interface for viewing the timelapses, and a portal for Chronolog owners to manage their timelapses.
Chronolog is an excellent example of our philosophy in action: launching something very small very quickly is better than designing the “perfect” product in isolation. We’re not the first ones to believe this, of course. But for some reason it’s always so hard to do in practice.
The trick is knowing what single problem you’re solving or question you’re answering, and building the minimum required to solve it.
For Chronolog, that question was how might we leverage citizen science to monitor the environment on behalf of parks who are resource constrained to do so themselves? To answer it, Chronolog started with a 3D-printed bracket, an instruction sign, and Google Drive. That’s it.
That simple solution proved that park-goers would, in fact, submit photos. The team also learned that parks care primarily about engaging visitors. Conservationists do valuable work that is difficult to express because of the slow progress of nature, so they find Chronolog helpful for documenting and sharing their work with a larger audience.
Every feature and improvement since then has been driven by real customer and end-user feedback:
To the simple MVP, we connected an email service to make submitting photos easier than uploading to a Google Drive.
Then we built a custom database to store the photos in a more private setting.
Then we added automatic photo processing to protect against bad actors and to help with alignment of the timelapses.
Then we designed and built a publicly-accessible interactive map for anyone to explore Chronologs around the world.
Then we designed and built an admin portal for parks to take control of their Chronolog pages.
Then we designed a marketing site to educate potential customers.
This user-driven approach enabled their small team to have a big impact by working on the right things for their customers and end-users.
An important part of making prototypes is thinking through what happens if it works. That’s why we use tools that lots of developers know and love. While there are cool specialized tools that could be fun to use, if they’re not popular it will be harder to find developers to update it in the future. We also consider what will scale with user growth. We landed on React, GraphQL, Amplify and Vercel.
So we started investigating. Did we really want to drop all visitors directly into the full-page map, or would it be better for them to see some explainer content first? In either case, how could we intuitively connect the map to the marketing website? Do we want Chronolog to feel like an open map tool, or like a company that happens to have a map?
To answer these questions, we were led by two guiding beliefs:
Jakob’s Law states that since users spend 99% of their time on sites that aren’t yours, you should follow existing patterns as much as possible so there’s little to re-learn.
Show don’t tell. Describing how an app will work is difficult and often leads to misunderstanding. It’s much easier to discuss, compare, and decide when looking at sketches or flow maps.
We identified, annotated, and analyzed other map-based tools to learn how they balance explainer info and the map. This made it easy to sketch out how those ideas would apply Chronolog. After a discussion in which we all “put on the user’s hat”, we decided to send visitors to a marketing site that dynamically pulls in content from the map.
We call this process “finding a paradigm.” Paradigms are helpful because they guide the project’s design from a strategy level and enable us to go on to make tactical decisions.
We love learning about climate tech and helping founders.