How VeloNews Built their Cycling Race Ticker

VeloNews Ticker
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Earlier today I spoke to Jeff Henderson from One Million Revolutions who developed the VeloNews Ticker that's being used for the first time at the 2006 Tour de Georgia cycling race.

VeloNews has provided running commentary on each stage of many international cycling races for several years. That commentary was presented on a static web page that contained an HTML meta tag that instructed visitors' web browsers to refresh (reload the same page) every few minutes. That periodic client refresh directive was the extent of the interactivity of their previous live system.

When VeloNews editors saw the gorgeous Tour Tracker that Adobe sponsored for the 2006 Tour of California, they decided that they needed a more sophisticated live results page to retain their share of the Internet audience for major cycling races. That's when they spoke to Jeff.

Henderson, who is also the Interactive Editor of Inside Triathlon Magazine (a sister publication to VeloNews), pulled the VeloNews Ticker together in the weekend before the Tour de Georgia began. The core features of the VeloNews Ticker are:

  • Stage Results and Current General Classification Standings
  • Live Race Commentary
  • Live Course Map, implemented using the Google Maps API
  • Stage Elevation Profile
  • Latest Photos

The Live Race Commentary pane is pretty similar to the commentary that was previously provided by VeloNews. The rest of the features of the ticker are new.

Read on for Jeff's comments on how reorganization of VeloNews' on-line databases helped facilitate the implementation of the ticker, information on how the photo stream and race commentary are created during the stage, little known features of the Ticker, and prospects for future use.

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The VeloNews Ticker worked pretty well during Stage 1 on Tuesday, but has been aggresively tweaked as the race has gone on so that the features work better.

Jeff said that many of the new features of the VeloNews Ticker were made possible because of improvements to VeloNews' backend databases. For instance, the "Latest Photos" are pulled out of a database that photographers like Casey Gibson can upload photos to during the race. Gibson carries a satellite phone with him during stages so that he can upload before he arrives at the media center which is co-located with the finish line.

The Live Race Commentary is updated about every five miles during road stages by a VeloNews correspondent travelling in the race caravan. That correspondent is also providing updates via satellite phone.

The Ticker is not currently using a GPS to continuously update the state of the stage map. That's a feature that VeloNews hopes to add for future races.

One of the more interesting features of the Ticker is that you can review previous stages of the Tour de Georgia by choosing from the drop-down list labeled "View other stages" near the top of the page. Jeff hopes that visitors will use that feature to review the results of stages that they didn't follow live. He also hopes that the ticker will become a sought-after promotional tool for other cycling events in North America.

One of the obstacles to using the VeloNews Ticker as it's currently designed for European races is the limited availability of street-level maps. Neither Google nor Yahoo! currently have the same level of interactivity in their European mapping solutions. For instance, Google only rolled out Google Maps for the portion of Italy where the Turin Olympics took place. Jeff hopes that one of these two major forces in the on-line map market roll out a solution for France in time for the 2006 Tour de France.