Simplify searching and contacting local services
In addition to restaurants, Yelp lets users search for local services such as plumbers and electricians. However, users are discouraged from contacting a local service online because it involves writing a long email. It is also inconvenient for local services to request the same information from different users over and over as they omit it in the initial contact information. Searching for a local service should be more selective than searching for a restaurant, since bad plumbing is much worse than a bad meal.
Yelp wanted to introduce a short series of questions to automatically search for local services and connect them to users. This project is dubbed Describe Your Project. A variation of the feature was released in the Android app, but did not include searching assistance. For my intern project at Yelp, I helped to build the desktop web page for the feature and created a unified backend for both the web and Android versions.
My task was to support new features in the web page not yet in the Android application, such as searching and branching paths for more questions. The interface also had to support larger desktop screens, so the Android design needed to be adapted to larger sizes.
Due to the branching paths, downloading questions must balance between two extremes, which had their own tradeoffs. One option was to download all possible questions in the entire database at the start and loaded from memory. The other option was to download one question at a time when a user answers. Downloading everything means a higher initial payload, and many questions will never be used. Individual downloads means an annoying loading spinner is shown each time the user answers, disrupting their flow.
Due to Yelp’s microservice architecture, a custom Python package was needed to share code between the web and Android versions. Our Python backend needed to adapt to support both the mobile API (running on Python 2) and the desktop web backend (running on Python 3).
In order to display questions efficiently and effectively, complex business logic was accounted for. Each question includes answers which can affect the questions shown later on. My team considered factors such as which questions to display, how the earlier responses could change results, and what requests to send to the server. Redux was used to hold a tree structure from the server, where nodes were added in place. The tree was flattened into an array to represent the questions displayed. React iterated through the questions and displayed the correct components for various question types. Many team members were not familiar with React, so I helped mentor the team on best practices.
Since the questions changed infrequently, they were stored in a JSON file on the server. Code to load the files was encapsulated in a Python package compatible with both Python 2 and 3, then deployed to the mobile API and desktop backend services. All of the separated boilerplate and implementation details for loading the questions data were transformed into a clean developer interface. Now, improvements to the question loading logic is easy to update across the board.
I successfully built the Describe your Project with React, Redux, Python and TypeScript, making it easy-to-use for users and scalable for future developers. The features help users find and contact local services without having to research terminology or write a long letter. This leads to convenience and efficiency in tense situations such as a broken pipe spilling water.
The new feature has since grown to replace the original contact form for connecting with local services. Since I left Yelp, the scope of the project scaled tremendously. The team doubled and the package was expanded from a small Python package to a full microservice! More question logic and more branching paths were added. With improved React knowledge, the Local Services team can apply React best practices to their entire code base, giving them the opportunity to increase performance across the board.
The new Describe your Project feature shows Yelp’s commitment to helping users connect with local businesses, even outside of food.