Back to the Drawing Board: A Case Study of Refining Ideas on ProjectBoard
Emily Pollock posted on June 20, 2018 |
Part of my Project Board case study: Operation Racoon Removal, with the editing toolbar at the bottom.
Part of my Project Board case study: Operation Racoon Removal, with the editing toolbar at the bottom.

Communicating over the Internet can be hard. Communicating complex ideas over the Internet, especially when they involve a visual or spatial component, is even harder. So, I was incredibly excited to find out about engineering.com's ProjectBoard, an online collaboration resource for STEM minds.

As someone who's frequently had to collaborate on visual design projects over Facebook Messenger (and dealt with the resulting fallout and confusion), the idea of a visually focused collaboration site made my heart soar.

After getting the go-ahead to write an article on ProjectBoard, I decided to start the way most first-time users would: creating my own project to see exactly how it worked, and then determining whether I could use it for future projects.

What Is ProjectBoard?

A selection of current projects on Project Board. Projects span a wide range of topics—from an explanation of a school project to exploration into the possibilities of robotics to idle curiosity on how to have a better gaming experience. The common thread is collaboration.
A selection of current projects on ProjectBoard. Projects span a wide range of topics—from an explanation of a school project to exploration into the possibilities of robotics to idle curiosity on how to have a better gaming experience. The common thread is collaboration and STEM.

ProjectBoard describes itself as "the place for STEM minds to share ideas, take action and solve problems, big and small." The site allows users to put up "projects": ideas that they've thought of, questions that they have, or projects that they're working on. They can set these projects either to private (shared with only a small team) or public (shared with everyone else on the site).

ProjectBoard also calls itself "Google Docs + Whiteboards + Instagram." The "Google Docs" comparison stems from the site's collaborative element. Each project has a chat element on the left for any verbal back-and-forth, and a visually oriented "whiteboard" on the right, where users can post links, photos and diagrams to illustrate their points. 

The site's open-ended mechanics means that there is a fascinating spectrum of projects. These range from hypothetical ("what could we potentially use mechanical exoskeletons for?") to practical ("how can I construct a smart food and water dispenser for my cat?") and from technical ("how to design a gas burner and finned tube heat exchanger for a swimming pool") to informal ("Building the most epic forts in FortNite").

For my first project on the board, I wanted to solve a problem I'm currently dealing with: What can I do to get rid of the raccoons plaguing the roof and fire escape of my apartment?

Operation Raccoon Removal

While some people post on ProjectBoard with a specific project already in mind, in search of fine-tuning, I decided to go on with only a question: What did people on the site think I should do about my raccoon problem?

I wrote in the project's description that I had several restrictions limiting what I could do: I wanted to make sure the method was humane, didn't permanently modify the building (as I'm renting), and still allowed me to use the fire escape. I didn’t give any other direction, as I was curious to see what other Project-Boarders might come up with.

I also wanted to test the capabilities of the whiteboard, so I linked several pictures and sites to get people thinking about possible solutions. Although I wasn't especially sure of what I wanted to do, I'd thought about possibly installing bird spikes on my roof and rails, so I included several pictures and a link to a website that showed how to install bird spikes.

Closeup of the toolbar.
Closeup of the toolbar.

I had some initial difficulty with the typing tool, which I solved by moving to a different browser, and was initially confused between the pan and select tools. But other than that, I found the tools relatively easy to use and self-explanatory. I found the drawing tool particularly fun (especially as someone with a drawing tablet) and would have loved to use it more, if my project had called for it.

Community Feedback

Initially, I was worried that I wouldn't get much attention, as a first-time poster with an open-ended question. But I was surprised by how much helpful feedback I received.

Some users left suggestions directly in the comments section, while some left links on the whiteboard side. Users were split between chemical and mechanical solutions, so I drew up a pros and cons chart for both possibilities (which probably wasn't the intended use for the sticky note tool, but it still worked).

The suggestions that I received on the board directly (not including suggestions from links that people added) were using potent spices to repel the raccoons naturally, using coyote urine to convince the raccoons to move on, and using an automatic motion-sensing sprinkler to spray any raccoons who decided to stop on my porch.

Putting the Plan into Action

The eventual winning suggestion.
The eventual winning suggestion.

When I had a good range of options, I decided to choose one and put it to the test. The suggestion to use a motion-activated sprinkler sounded effective, but ran the risk of watering my downstairs neighbors in addition to the raccoons, along with requiring a lengthy hose that would need to be run up from the ground floor. And, while the idea of using coyote urine as repellent sounded intriguing and effective, it also sounded potentially difficult to source. So, I decided to go with the idea of using spices that raccoons would find unpleasant.

Before looking up exactly how to put out the spices, I looked at the informational links on raccoons that another poster had added to the board. The links said that spices placed dry could be an effective deterrent to raccoons, as long as they were reapplied every time after it rained.

I switched up the spices, using a mixture of garlic powder and black pepper one week, chili pepper flakes the second week, and soap flakes (a suggestion on one of the links) the third week. I sprinkled the spices along the railings, on the sides of the steps going up to the fire escape, and on the closest patch of roof.

After three weeks, I was gratified to see no more raccoon droppings on my doorstep when I woke up in the morning, and hear no ominous rustling sounds at night. In the short term, at least, Operation Raccoon Removal has been a success.

The next step of my project? Seeing if I can turn the spices into an effective spray, so I can mist the parts of the roof that I can’t quite reach by hand!

Conclusion

The fix ended up being much simpler than I had expected: rather than having to find, buy and attach bird spikes, I was able to solve my raccoon problem with supplies I had on hand.

I’d gotten so stuck on the idea of a physical barrier that I probably wouldn’t have thought of the simpler fix if someone hadn’t pointed it out to me. To me, the real benefit of ProjectBoard wasn’t the visual tools or even the knowledge that the other posters had; it was the different perspectives that they offered.

I’ll keep monitoring my current project, but I also want to move onto my next idea for a project board: developing a simple infographic explanation of blockchain for my friends outside of the field!

Do you have your own idea for a project? 

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