Print your schematics!

So a lot of you asked for it, and here it is. We’ve added basic print support to the embedded viewer. Printing large images from within your browser is a bit of a haphazard process, depending largely on your printer drivers, which browser you are using, and precisely how big your paper is. So we’ve gone for an approach which gives you the most flexibility.

Simply click the print button (highlighted in the image above), and we’ll popup a new tab containing a full rendering of the schematic as one large image. From here you can either click the Print button we provided which will launch the standard in-browser print dialog. Or you can right click on the image and save it to your PC, from there you can print it using whatever software you prefer.

In our tests we’ve found that large schematics don’t scale down to a single A4 page very well, and browsers do not handle printing large images across multiple pages properly. Therefore if you are printing a large or complicated schematic you may find it easier to print it with your desktop software.

In the future we’ll look into doing tiled ‘poster’ style printing, perhaps with a PDF or some other mechanism to make printing out large schematics a bit easier.

We’ve also released a few improvements this week, we’ve optimised some of the rendering process so you should see more complicated schematics speed up a bit especially when zoomed in. We’ve also fixed a few rendering bugs, and improved our support for KiCAD alternate renderings of some symbols. 

In our next post we’ll be looking for some more responses from our users. We’re reaching a crossroads now with the site where we need to decide exactly what type of site CircuitBee will become in the future. That decision is largely dependent on you. So we’re going to spend a bit of time putting a survey together, so we can ask you the right questions to find out what you think we should do. If you have any suggestions, please get in touch via our twitter, tumblr or you can contact me directly via email ben@circuitbee.com

Better Eagle export and improved search results.

After our last update we thought it time to get a few of the minor wrinkles ironed out before moving onto larger blocks of functionality.

So this week we have a new release of our Eagle2KiCAD export script. We’ve fixed a few issues caused by invalid symbol names, and we’ve also fixed the grid alignment problems. So if you’re an Eagle user we suggest you go grab the new version.

We’ve also added an option to upload a new version of a schematic. This allows users to change their designs as they go without having to upload an entirely new schematic each time. This is the first step on our way to our long term goal of being able to discuss a circuit and see revisions and improvements.

There have also been improvements to our schematic support included in this release. We now support Global Labels, and Busses. Both of these are fairly high level features, but we’ve already had a few of you request support for them so here you are. NOTE: If your schematic uses these features and was already uploaded to CircuitBee then please go to the edit page for your schematic and click the 'Refresh Schematic' link then save to apply.

Finally, we’ve improved the look and feel of the search results on our Google Custom Search implementation. Hopefully this will prove more useful and easier to navigate now.

Search within your Circuits!

We’ve been busy this last week working on our most requested features, the work has progressed well so today we’re releasing a significant update.

You will now notice a little search button in the top right of our circuit viewer:

This new feature lets you search within your circuits, allowing you to quickly find the components being discussed, or to track down that resistor with a specific value. Its also a live search, so as you type you can see the symbols in your circuit being highlighted, hit return and it will zoom the view to show all the results. You can then move between results with the arrow buttons.

As if that wasn’t enough for one update, we’ve also added a bunch of new features to the site.

Tags were a hugely requested feature over the last week, so we’ve added them to the edit page:

These tags have an autocomplete that is sorted by most popular, so please try and use existing tags wherever possible so we get the maximum value out of them. While we haven’t yet enabled tag search we have got clickable lists of tags in our Public Circuits page, and they are available through the view page for each circuit.

Search is of course the focus of this update, but its a major undertaking, and something that is very difficult to do better than Google. So instead of keeping you all waiting, we’ve decided to add Google Custom Search to the site. From the Public Circuits page you can now search the site easily.

We would love to improve the design and functionality in this custom search engine, but sadly many of the improved features like thumbnails within search results are restricted to Google Site Search users only which is a paid for system that we can’t yet afford. This is also why the search page has Google Ads shown within it. We will of course look at improving this search in the future, perhaps implementing our own more specific search system, or (when we can afford it) purchasing a Google Site Search account and heavily customizing it.

Finally, we’ve made some minor improvements to the circuit view, and our library and circuit parsers. This should enable a few more circuits that were having problems with the site. So if you were having issues before, please retry and let us know how you get on.

Next up we’re going to be working on improving the viewer performance, and trying to improve the upload/edit process since we’ve noticed a lot of people having problems getting their circuits uploaded. If you have any suggestions about how you would like the upload/edit process to work please let us know!

Analysis of CircuitBee public release

Well, we did it, we finally let everyone in and began spreading the word about CircuitBee. Its been a very busy week, but things have finally died down now so its time for some reflection on how the release went, what we did well and what went wrong.

First Post

We had a very quiet initial release, we had originally planned to open with a post on Make Magazine but for one reason or another this was delayed. We were impatient, so we asked the kind folks over at Dangerous Prototypes to put us up on their blog. They kindly did so and proceeded to drive over 3,000 visitors our way in one day.

Our impatience actually paid off in this case, the initial feedback we got from the visitors that day enabled us to make some quick changes to the site. We realised we hadn’t added a clear link to our Twitter account, or our blog on the front page of the site! There were also a couple of small issues that needed fixing immediately so after the traffic died down a little we pushed another build.

The power of Make

On Monday the 25th, Make Magazine posted an article from us on their blog. This went down spectacularly well, driving over 15,000 visitors into the site on the first day alone. We could really see the viral effect happening here too, as the article spread to the other major tech sites eventually covering the full gamut of Make, AdaFruit, Slashdot, Engadget and Reddit. All this great publicity meant we achieved a total of over 55,000 hits in our first week of being public.

All these new visitors to the site meant we were receiving a lot of feedback via Twitter, our UserVoice forum, or via email. This kept me tremendously busy for a few days running 18hr workdays trying to stay on top of it and keep in touch with all the people interested in the project. This was exhausting, but so much fun at the same time!

Here’s a quick screenshot of this weeks Google Analytics graph:

Thankfully we hosted all the files for the embedded schematics people uploaded on our Amazon S3 account, this takes a huge load off our webserver, which meant that we didn’t have one minute of downtime through all this!

What a great bunch of people

We have been simply amazed at the quality and quantity of the feedback we’ve received thus far. It appears the vast majority of people that read the blog post, or tried out the site are as excited about the project as we are. We’ve had dozens of ideas posted to our feedback forum, and lots of words of encouragement both on twitter and elsewhere.

We just want to say thank-you to everyone that has cheered us on, and given us feedback on the site.

Money Money Money

We’ve been particularly surprised at the number of you that have encouraged us to monetize the site in some way. We had hoped this might be the case, as in our experience a startup that is making money will be around a lot longer than one that isn’t. But it has been particularly encouraging to see that users also recognise the need for the site to have an income to be sustainable.

We’ve had some good suggestions about how we could achieve this, these include adding affiliate links for purchasing the parts used in circuits, providing a ‘pro’ account with more advanced features, asking companies to pay to run electronic design competitions through the site and getting sponsorship deals with the major parts distributors and schematic design tool developers.

Currently we’re still self funded, and we don’t want to abandon our aim of making this site a great place for hobbyists to upload their work and share their knowledge. We believe that most users will still want a free account to be able to share circuits.

So in the coming months we’ll be looking to create some real value-adds that people might be willing to pay for above the free account. That way we can keep on track with our mission of improving electronics design education and communication for everyone, but won’t have to sacrifice our savings to do it. We’ll also be looking at any other opportunities that might come our way, but rest assured we won’t be pulling your schematics out from under you.

Let us know what features you think are important at the UserVoice forum.

Where to from here?

Next week we’re aiming to clean up a few rough edges here and there, and add some of the quick wins people have requested, such as net highlighting and component search within schematics. Hopefully these won’t be too hard to add, so we’ll have them up soon.

In the larger plan, we’re still putting together a full roadmap which will be the subject of another post. But as you might have gleaned from our postings around the web, we will be aiming to bring Annotations to our schematics in the near future.

We hope you stay with us in the coming months, its going to be an exciting time, and once again thank-you to everyone who made our public release such a success!

Comments and upload drafts

Small update this morning.

We’ve added Disqus comments to the public circuits, this should serve as a stopgap measure while we go on to implement a better more circuit specific comment system. We aim to make it possible to hot link to specific areas of a schematic, and to specific components within them, which should make it easier to discuss a designs problems since people would be able to click on that components you are talking about.

We also noticed that a lot of users were not completing the upload process for one reason or another, we’re not yet sure why. But this did make us realise that you had no way of getting back to a half-complete schematic. So we have added a list of ‘draft’ schematics in your My Circuits section that will allow you to resume or delete your schematic upload.

In the next few weeks and months we’ll be adding some more of the simple features people have requested (downloading original source files, printing, net highlighting), as well as some larger features like Fritzing importing, and hopefully schematic annotations. Watch this space.

Which formats does/will CircuitBee support?

Today Make posted an article from us on their blog. We’ve had a great response thus far, and had many many questions from people. The main thing people seem to be asking is what other formats will we support?

TonyD wrote this question to us through Tumblr:

I use DesignSpark PCB for my schematic and PCB designs, will this format be supported as well?

@adr asked us on Twitter if we’d have Fritzing support:

@circuitbee Just joined up. Would love to see Fritzing support sometime! Or maybe Fritzing can export to KiCad — will investigate.

Others seem to be coming in thick and fast, as well as requests for Gerber/PCB support and lots of other features. If you have an idea for something we should do with CircuitBee please post it through our feedback forum on UserVoice

To answer peoples main question though, we’ll try and support every format we can find a specification for. This is surprisingly difficult however since most schematic design tools seem to use closed formats and won’t give out specifications. Thats why we started with KiCAD support first since it was easy to find the specifications for it.

We do however support EagleCAD right through the use of a ULP export script that converts your schematics to KiCAD format. We also intend to support Fritzing since it has a nice open XML format. Other schematic capture tools will be addressed as we can find the specifications and time to support them.

If anyone out there at DesignSpark, or Eagle or any of the other tools wants to lend a hand by giving us specifications for their file formats, or even writing export scripts for CircuitBee please get in touch and we’ll sort something out so everyone can get involved!

Update today - better zoom and grid control

So we’ve been busy trying to get the word out about CircuitBee. This has been really hard, but we’re slowly making progress and we’ve had some good feedback from people thus far.

A couple of users suggested we needed to do something about the grid which is a little heavy and possibly unnecessary in a viewer. So we’ve added a grid control button which allows you turn on/off the grid in the viewer, with the grid disabled by default.

We’ve also improved zooming when using the mousewheel. Previously the mousewheel adjusted the zoom level of the viewer, this was fine, but a little counter intuitive. People tend to look where the mouse is, so when people zoom in with the mousewheel they intend to keep looking at the same point, just bigger. So we’ve made the mousewheel behave this way from now on, keeping whatever is under the mouse where it is.

We’ve also tweaked a few other things, and prepared the server code so that its ready for running over multiple machines in case we need to scale in the future.

Next up we need to go over our terms and conditions with a fine toothed comb and maybe rewrite them a bit as we’ve had some complaints that they appear a little excessive. We just used the Wordpress CC licensed t&c’s but these are perhaps a little dated and steeped in too much legal double talk so we’ll try and make them friendlier for everyone soon.

A new direction for circuit schematics online

Have you ever designed an electronic schematic then wanted to share it on your blog? Or wanted help improving your circuit on a forum? Ever peered at a tiny/massive image of a circuit on a website and wondered why on earth there wasn’t a better alternative?

We have. Back in 2010 we were working on our first major electronics project, the Illuminatrix, an array of 256 RGB LEDs that were to show animations created by people all over the world at the Burning Man festival. It involved using a lot of technology we’d never used before, so we weren’t quite sure about our circuit designs.

We tried posting on blogs and forums trying to explain our schematic and the problems we were having with it. This proved more difficult than we expected: describing a circuit in words is really hard, so we tried to post an image of our schematic instead, and our schematic project files.

This involved a lot of messing around with capturing JPEGs of the schematic and uploading all the project’s symbol libraries and schematic files. But of course people willing to help didn’t necessarily have the right software, or the JPEG was too small  to read usefully, or too large to post on many of the forums. We thought that there must be a better way to share schematics, to discuss them, and to show them to people while writing about them. It turned out there wasn’t anything out there that would help us do this, so being the ambitious fools that we are we set out to create it.

CircuitBee is like YouTube for your circuit schematics. You upload  your Eagle or KiCAD schematics, we crunch the numbers and create an online embeddable version of your schematic. You can pan and zoom, and mouse over components in your circuits for more details , like this:

We’re still at an early alpha stage right now, so you’ll have to forgive any hiccups we have going forward. But you can get started immediately by visiting http://www.circuitbee.com and signing up for an account. Then simply upload your schematic files, any associated library files, and let our servers do the hard work.Within a few minutes your schematic should be ready to embed on your site or forum.

Eventually we plan to add lots more useful features like downloading original schematic files, searching for components within schematics and adding notes and annotations to your circuits. We want to make it easier for all of us to communicate our circuit design ideas and to help each other improve our designs.

We hope to make CircuitBee into the most useful service for hobby electronics enthusiasts, so we’re going to keep the service free for as long as we can. We’ll need your help to reach our goals though, so please let us know what you think of the site, what needs improving and what else we can do to make learning about electronics and sharing your designs easier than ever before.

We’ve been making steady progress on the testing, many thanks to all the testers who’ve tried out our system and all the people who have given us feedback.

We haven’t yet encountered many bugs in the system which is great, though worrying at the same time. Still, this lull in disasters gave me the time to develop an Eagle to KiCAD export script. This opens up the platform for Eagle users, letting them export their schematics and symbols in one quick easy step.

To demonstrate this we’ve included the Illuminatrix Slave Board schematic for your viewing pleasure. This schematic was originally created in Eagle for the Illuminatrix project, and was in fact one of the driving forces behind the idea for CircuitBee.

We’re spending the next few days getting our new server up and running and then we’ll be opening up the service for everyone to use. Wish us luck!

We’re finally ready to start showing off some of our work, and here it is!

Attached to this post is our first embedded circuit. CircuitBee has taken a bit of a step back from its original grand goals, instead of building a full editor and all that goes with it we’ve taken a simpler approach. Right now you can upload a KiCad schematic to our service and get it embedded in your browser straight away.

Currently we’re in a closed invite only phase while we iron out a few issues and await new servers. But keep an eye on the blog and hopefully we’ll announce a full public release soon.

In the meantime, if you want an invite, drop me a message via the Ask a Question form and I’ll send one out to you!

(Source: circuitbee.com)