We started that effort by putting up a forum back in the early 2000's, and then in 2006 added a gallery to allow folks to upload pictures of their systems. A lot has changed in the last 5 years in regards to sharing information/social networking, and I’d like to think that the Solar Showcase reflects those changes.
Fundamentally, your Showcase is built around your renewable energy system(s). When you create a system, you give it a name, a description of what it is, and perhaps some tags/keywords to allow folks to more easily find it. Then you can virtually build it by adding all the components that make up your system.
Now you can start showing off your system. You can upload photos and videos of your system, and even write blog posts detailing your RE journey. When you do any of these, you can associate each system component that is in the photo, video or blog post. Soon, your pictures/videos will also come up on that product page, so anyone looking at that product can see the great work you’ve done! (This feature should come out in the next month)
Each of your systems have a unique URL you can give to folks, so they can easily see everything you’ve done. Or, if you want to hand out a link to your profile/a summary of all that you’ve done (systems, photos, videos, blog posts, reviews, etc.. ), you have your own personal URL. By default, it is something somewhat long and has an ugly, long number in it.
However, since we want this to be something you can easily share, you can get your own, custom URL in the form of: http://www.altestore.com/share/<yourNameHere>/ much like our very own Amy Beaudet has: http://www.altestore.com/share/solarthermalqueen/ . Just go to your Showcase Home, on the left hand side to request your own custom URL!
Now, sharing stuff easily is great, but what really creates a good community is discussion and we’ve tried to make that as easy as possible. Right at the bottom of every system/photo/video/blog post is a comment box. Folks can respond right away with their thoughts. If you want to reply to a specific comment made, just hover over the comment in question, and on the right side a ‘Reply’ icon should pop up. In longer comment threads it can be more difficult to know which comment is being replied to. So in a reply we show the first few lines of the original comment, and if you hover over those lines, the whole original comment will pop up!
When someone comments on any of your systems/photos/videos/blog posts, you will be notified instantly via email. If you don’t like that, you can change how often you get notified to daily, weekly or never, in your settings.
We’ve imported all the gallery photos over to the Solar Showcase, so we already have some great people sharing their systems. If you want to stay up on someone's latest activity, you can easily click on the ‘Follow’ link on the left of nearly every page. Then, in your Showcase Home there will be a “Following” tab that will be a stream of all the activity of the folks you are following!
While we are still on your Showcase Home page, you’ll also see a “Notifications” tab, which lists all of your latest notifications. Just one more way to stay on top of what people are saying about your renewable energy system(s).
Whew! OK, I think that just about covers all the features of the Solar Showcase. This has been a labor of love for nearly 2 years, and we’d love any feedback/thoughts on what we can do to make this better for you. :)