Build your own search engine

19 Aug 2008 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags yahoo api rails

I recently used Yahoo!‘s BOSS search API to build — a tiny Rails app that searches our public-facing web sites. It’s tied into our 404 pages which makes it easy for people to find things when they’re lost.

So how would you like to build your own search engine? The BOSS API searches Yahoo!‘s index without any restrictions. This means you can freely search Yahoo!’s index with minimal hassle. The BOSS API is also incredibly simple to use.

To get started, you need to sign up and get a BOSS ID. Visit the BOSS page, then click “Build an Application.” I selected Browser Based Authentication in the sign-up form.

Once you’ve got your appid using the API is easy. Simply send requests to the service like this:{query}?appid=xyz[&param1=val1&param2=val2

… and you’ll get back nicely formatted XML.

To use our example Ruby on Rails code to build your own site, ensure you’ve got the following gems installed:

  1. open-uri
  2. will_paginate
  3. hpricot

Then download our Rails BOSS example:

Next, unzip our example code and open config/environment.rb. Enter your BOSS ID at the bottom of the file. You should then be able to run script/server and try out the app.

To customise the way the search works, take a look at app/models/search.rb and scroll down to line 53 — this is where the search request is generated. Notice how I’ve supplied “” as part of the query: this makes Yahoo! search Helicoid’s sites.

If you create anything interesting with this please let us know via the comments!

Tiktrac upgraded: client edit page, new look, API changes

06 Aug 2008 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags tiktrac

I just finished deploying our latest Tiktrac changes. If you’re a developer, please pay attention to the last section of this post.

Client edit page

The client edit page now makes it easy to see which sheets have been archived. It also allows you to archive all sheets quickly — look for the form that says “Archive this client” to use the feature.

Home page redesign

Tiktrac’s home page now looks more professional, and should help you find any information relating to the product that you need. This mirrors the look and feel we’ve been using on our Helicoid support sites and blogs.

XML RPC API dropped

The one major change with this version of Tiktrac is there’s no XML RPC API. We looked at the logs, and no one has used the XML RPC API for a year. Everyone has built software using our REST API instead. It took us around 200 lines of code to support XML RPC, so we’re removing it to focus on other features. Also, as a developer, I prefer working with the REST API.

However, if you have special requirements relating to APIs and integration, please contact us and we’ll try to accommodate you.

Helicoid rebooted

17 Jul 2008 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags design announcements helicoid

After a long process sourcing inspiration and pouring ideas into my sketchbook, I finally finished deploying updates to all of our public-facing websites and support sites. We wanted to improve the customer experience beyond our web apps, so if you’re looking for support resources or information relating to our company and services it’ll be much easier. This means,,, and our blogs have all been redesigned! (phew!)

The new designs work in modern browsers and even IE6. I also tested it on the PlayStation 3, and it looks great on big TVs!

I’ve also released, which lets you search Helicoid’s content. This is linked to from our error pages, so if something has been moved or deleted you should be able to search for it.

Support resources

14 Jul 2008 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags announcements support

We’ve recently pooled out support resources into one place, with the launch of our support page available here:

This contains details on all the ways you can get in touch with us, including:

We’ll be evolving our support site over time as we roll out new services in the near future. Note that we’re available for chat and on the phone during office hours (GMT), weekdays.

Loom out now

12 Jul 2008 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags loom announcements

Loom, our issue tracker, is now out for beta testing. It’s an evolution of Bugtagger, which we’ve been using internally for 2 years but never released publicly.

Features include:

  • Simple, extensible design: everyone from programmers to plumbers should be able to use it
  • Public forms: so if you market a product or service you can collect support requests without requiring users to have accounts on Loom
  • Email integration and messages: customers can send email messages to issues
  • Attachments: Attach files to issues
  • Search, tags, project organisation, RSS, mobile phone support: All the usual features you’d expect form us!
  • XML REST API: We’re planning on using Loom to collect support requests via our contact form, what will you use the API for?

Loom Beta accounts are free and pretty much unrestricted. Price plans on launch will be similar to Tiktrac (cheap monthly subscriptions.) We’ll also be making a special announcement about our pricing structure when Loom goes live.

Tiktrac integration is coming, we’re still working on the technical aspects of making this as seamless as possible. At the same time we’re creating centralised authentication, which means your Loom and Tiktrac login will be the same. In fact, your login for all Helicoid applications will be the same. Centralised auth deployment will start with Helipad, and you’ll be notified about email/password clashes so you won’t get locked out of an app.

Incredible kinetic sculpture

08 Jul 2008 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags sculpture art inspiration

This amazing kinetic sculpture was created by ART+COM for BMW in Munich. It’s mechanical and uses metal balls to create shapes in 3D. Here’s a youtube video of it in action.

Coming soon: Loom

25 Jun 2008 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags loom announcements

Korg DS-10: A synth for your DS

22 Jun 2008 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags nintendo games music audio

The Korg DS-10 is an incredible piece of software: it’s a sequencer and synth based on the Korg MS-10, allowing you to make music on your Nintendo DS.

There’s excellent coverage of it in this week’s 1up show, including interviews and jam sessions with the developers.

Helipad API changes

14 Jun 2008 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags helipad

Helipad’s API has been updated to improve the way it handles tags. The changes are backwards compatible so old code should still work. Read more in the Helipad API guide

Incidentally, we recently received a few questions about Helipad in our support chat room.

Q: If two people are collaborating on a document, there is no change tracking, right?

There’s currently no change tracking. Ebiwrite, a similar product produced by us, includes this and we may port it to Helipad in the future.

Q: Is there any way to get RSS or email updates?

If we do decide to implement change tracking in the future we’d add this, at the moment you’re probably better served by using the API.

We’re in our support chat room UK office hours (check the time in GMT). We sometimes hang out there after hours as well, so if you wait around you might find us. I’m there (the developer of Helicoid’s apps), and Kev is too (who looks after servers.)

Incredible Radiohead remix video

11 Jun 2008 | By Alex Young | Comments | Tags inspiration music video

Big Ideas: Don’t get any is an incredible remix of Radiohead’s Nude, using a collection of old hardware bent and twisted to reproduce the original. Featuring a ZX Spectrum and harddisk speaker!