Making a Splash: The Story of a Toilet Map Migration

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The Great British Public Toilet Map is an open source, community driven project dedicated to helping people find toilets across the UK, with around 14,000 loos recorded and counting. In 2021 we took on the challenge of migrating the project from a SPA React app written in JavaScript to NextJS and Typescript. Together we'll discover why we decided it was time to migrate, the myriad technical challenges we faced along the way, how this work benefits our users, and the many exciting plans we have for the future.

Oliver Barnwell
Oliver Barnwell
24 min
24 Oct, 2022

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Video Summary and Transcription

The Talk discusses the migration of the Toilet Map Project from Create React app to Next.js, with plans to take it international. The project aims to address the inadequate public toilet provision in the UK. It includes publicly accessible toilets, community access schemes, and user contributions. The migration to Next.js offers benefits like server-side rendering and root prefetching. The Talk also covers the migration to TypeScript, improvements in loading speed and caching, dynamic pages, API migration, geohashing, marker clustering, chunk loading, accessibility overlay, and future plans for expansion and user contributions.

Available in Español

1. Introduction to the Toilet Map Project

Short description:

Hello, my name is Oliver, and I'm here today to tell you about a migration from Create React app to Next.js. The project in hand is the toilet map. It was previously known as the Great British Public Toilet Map. But we have plans to take it international. I'll cover why it's important that we're doing this work. Here's the logo and the URL. The state of public toilet provision in the UK is not great. We've lost over 10% of the public toilets in the UK in eight years. As a project, we're trying to sort the situation out.

Hello, my name is Oliver, and I'm here today to tell you about an interesting story that's taken place over the last year or so, probably a little bit more. And it involves a migration from Create React app to Next.js.

The project in hand is the toilet map. It was previously known as the Great British Public Toilet Map. But we have plans in the future to maybe take it international. So it's quite an exciting project. I've been involved with it for I think around two years total in varying degrees of involvement. But over the last year, like I said, this has been quite a concentrated project to get this project fully modernised.

So I'm going to tell you a story, essentially why we did it. We're going to look at some of the interesting highlights from that journey. And I'll also cover for a brief moment why it's important that we're doing this work. So without further ado, let's dive straight in.

So here's the logo and the URL, if you fancy visiting. And this is what it looked like in the first iteration. So this would have been around 2010, 2012, way before my first involvement in the project. And it was built, I think, using jQuery, pretty antiquated tech by today's standards, but it was already doing its job. And I think it only covered London boroughs. But very quickly, these things came along, and it was ordered to mobile. So we started to have more responsive layouts. And in its latest iteration, it's a bit like this. So we really put effort into making it responsive and easy for people to use, especially when they're on the go.

What is the state of public toilet provision in the United Kingdom right now? Unfortunately, it's not great. The person who founded the projects, Gayle Ramster, she's a senior research associate at the RCA, is quite critical of the state of public toilets in the UK, it's not a great situation. And from that quote, you can probably tell, for a fairly large portion of people, this is quite a big deal. Just before I was putting these slides together, I was browsing the web for some other quotes around this. This one particularly stood out to me, that's in eight years, we've lost over 10% of the public toilets in the UK, which is a pretty big deal. This is covered on various news outlets. And it really, well, while it is covered, there could probably be a lot more work put into helping this situation. And as a project, that's what we're really trying to do. We're trying to sort the situation out in as best way as we can, given that we don't actually help to maintain toilets in the UK.

2. Public Toilets and Data Integration

Short description:

There are publicly accessible toilets provided by various businesses that we include in the map. We also have community access schemes where businesses can register. The data set consists of 14,000 active locations, with user contributions being the main source of expansion. During lockdown, we merged with Lucations UK and faced challenges in integrating their data. The migration to Next.js offered features like server-side rendering and root prefetching.

Yeah, this is what they look like. It's a pretty bad situation. Fortunately, there's another type of toilet that I haven't mentioned yet, known as publicly accessible toilets. These are provided by all kinds of businesses. And these are what we look to include in the map. So it's not just public toilets. It's toilets from a range of businesses and anyone can contribute.

On top of that, we also have community access schemes. So these businesses, they can sign up through schemes run by local councils to register so that the people who really need toilet can look on several data sets, but also on our map, where we've taken this data and plotted it. So you can easily find out where you can go locally.

So what does this data look like? We've got about 14,000 loopholes which have been marked as active and over time we've seen around 2,000 of these removed or updated. The open data for this in part is provided by the government and various other sources over the years. But user contributions, especially in the fairly recent past have been the main way that we've expanded our data set. People contribute by going to this page on the website and we have a nice little dialogue there where you can enter all the information around the toilet. We also have this explorer tool so you can check out the data set, see what's been updated recently, and go back to the very start. So you can see back in 2014 when this was first put together.

Briefly during lockdown, there was an amazing effort by an organisation called Lucations UK to do a pretty similar thing to what we do. So they got really active, gained a lot of traction on social media and loads of people contributed. It was an amazing effort and after about I think about a year of activity, they decided that they would merge with us. So we've been given their data and we've got a really interesting technical challenge on our hands to take their data and integrate it with what we have on the project. It's definitely not simple because some of these locations could contain duplicates, some of them aren't very accurate. It's an interesting set of problems.

So let's get on to the migration itself. What did it look like from a technical perspective? Well, as I mentioned, the project was a Create React app. So very client-side, JavaScript-heavy, no server-side rendering. And myself and Rupert, my collaborator on the project, took a look at what was available back in 2021 in terms of frameworks that we could move to and next stood out. The features really speak for themselves and as listed here, the ones that really stood out to us were around the server-side rendering and the ability to support root prefetching was especially interesting because we've got loads of markers on a map, it'd be great to be able to prefetch some of these markers with a framework like this. So, yeah, we started around here. So we thought, okay, trend's starting to go up, that's probably quite a good thing, let's give it a go. This is what we went from.

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