Tube Sign – Service Information image generation service

Part of a series of posts to cover some small projects that I did whilst not being able to work. They cover things from the role of familiar strangers on the internet and anti-social networks, through to meteorological hacks, funny memes to twitter bots. This post is about a funny meme image generation service.

Sometimes I surf the internet for funny pictures. Although the ones with cats I have a healthy distrust for – there was one class of amusing image which caught my eye. Those funny or inspirational London Underground passenger informations signs. I was seeing these every week and thought… “I could do that”. So I did, created tubesign.herokuapp.com and a few other people found it funny. At one point there was about 50 people visiting at any one time and when I put the statistics on there was 13,000 views on the second day with an image being created one every second. At time of writing it has had over 50,000 views.

from http://weknowmemes.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/apple-maps-london-tube-sign.jpg

An actual real life TfL service information Sign! from http://weknowmemes.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/apple-maps-london-tube-sign.jpg

How I did it.

First of all I looked into fonts – I wanted to get a good handwriting font which would look as if someone had used a marker on a white board. Google fonts delivered, and I chose Reenie Beany.

It uses Sinatra, Ruby and Rmagick and is hosted on the Heroku platform – even at it’s busiest it was able to cope on the free tier. It doesnt use any database. It caches requests for images though.

I use a bit of random number generation to change the angle the text is written at, and change the indent a bit.

The code for Tube Sign is on github  but give it a go firsttubesign.herokuapp.com

Viral & coverage

I posted this on facebook and my friends gave it a go, with some hilarious images being created, and then it spread to twitter, where more and more people found it. Then blogs, mainly London based blogs found it.

first image used – the source for this I could not found, and so the use of this image was discontinued

Someone said that the original image was someone’s copyright, so I changed it to a CC-By-SA image by Flickr user Lrosa, which also meant that all images created were under the same licence.

Creative Commons by Share Alike, Attribution image which is the image being used on the application. Image from Flickr, Lrosa, http://www.flickr.com/photos/lrosa/1138285047/

The main media outlets that covered it were: BBC America, ITV, The Londonist, The Atlantic Cities, The Guardian, The Next Web and the B3ta.com newsletter (very proud of that one).

There was about 50 people visiting at any one time and when I put the statistics on there was 13,000 views on the second day with an image being created one every second. At time of writing it has had over 50,000 views. Now the traffic is in the hundreds, with number of people visiting right now enough to be counted on one hand.

Future

  • Live preview
  • Better font rendering – defocus
  • Add range of images for different places (Bombay signs, Leeds Metro signs etc)
  • Store images, allow voting, create gallery

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