Lessons From TryContra

February 15th, 2023
contra, tech, trycontra
As I wrote yesterday, I recently brought my little contra dance search tool up to date. I realized I've been running it for ten years now, which seems like a good time to look back over the experience for lessons.

When I built it in 2013 I wrote:

Experienced dancers know how to use ContraDanceLinks.com, Dance Gypsy, and the DanceDB to find places they can go contra dancing, but those sites are too complex and confusing for me to want to give to a new dancer.

Here's what those dance-community focused sites looked like:

And here's what I built:

Almost the same as it is today:

I wanted to build something easy to use and was willing to give up pretty much everything else, and I think I succeeded at that. You put in your location, get a list of nearby dances, and click through to their sites for more information.

There were several other choices I made, primarily out of laziness:

  • The site is completely static: HTML, CSS, JS. The searching happens in your browser, since it only takes a few kB to store all the contra dances in the country.

  • No dependencies: vanilla JS using browser APIs only. Not even minified.

  • It's just a directory. I don't host pages for dances.

  • No accounts. If you want to update the listing for your dance you can email me.

  • Minimal information. Just a link, city, weekday, approximate frequency, and whether it's gender-free. No "1st and 3rd Sundays", pricing, addresses, hours, performers, etc. More details would mean more information to collect, but more importantly it would mean more information to go stale.

In retrospect I feel like these decisions turned out well: the site requires very little upkeep. I can leave it alone for years and it will keep chugging along, and every so often I get an email with a correction and make a small change to a text file.

(This has also given me a lot of experience at reading contra dance websites. I wrote advice for people making these sites in 2013, which I think is mostly still good, but at this point I'd also add specifying covid details and whether your dance is gender free.)

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