Mardi Gras season is in full swing. In the last few years, two local television stations have created "parade tracker" smartphone apps to help Mardi Gras revelers identify in real time where they can catch up with the front of a parade.
Clint Durrett is WDSU-TV's Digital Media Manager. He oversees digital products for the station, including apps, the website and social media. He says the station’s parade tracker was created in 2009 as a Twitter account and web-based map. A year later it became an app, with the help of local developers Calliope Digital.
“The first question many people have on the parade route, is, 'Where is it?” Durrett says. “Especially after it starts rolling, there are a lot of factors that come into play — if a float breaks down, or if there’s any kind of delay, there are a lot of questions for people on the route. But primarily they’re wondering, ‘Where is the parade? Did I miss it? Am I going to make it in time?'"
Durrett says the digital team at WDSU started looking for ways to answer those questions. As mobile phones became more of an everyday tool, they decided to make an app. The downloadable "Parade Tracker" was created the following year.
Users can check information for more than 50 parades in the New Orleans area, including route details, dates and roll times.
“When the parade starts rolling, we have our trackers in place, and they update the app from their vehicle by sending data about their coordinates back to the app itself,” Durrett says. “There are other features, too. We have a new section with news stories related to carnival season, slide shows, videos, weather forecasts, and traffic, so people can find out where the heaviest congestion is if they’re trying to leave."
Durrett says the WDSU parade tracker initially used GPS technology, until they realized that the massive crowds at parades overwhelmed cell towers, making it difficult to update the app with accurate information. “We found that sending little bits of data along the route was an easier way,” he says. “Now, it's kind of like sending a text message, so a smaller bit of data can get through without a lot of cell tower issues.”
Durrett says coordinating the parade tracker is one of his most time-consuming projects of the year.
“We have to go to the NOPD for the parade routes, find roll times and dates, and one of the trickiest things about Mardi Gras — which makes it more stressful — is sometimes the route will change or the date will change or the parade gets rained out. So its a very big focus to make sure the correct information is there for the user so they have a great carnival experience."
Even so, Durrett calls the parade tracker a “labor of love."