While there are many advantages to running an internet business, one big disadvantage is that there is no visual cues of how the business is doing -- there are no customers walking in and out of the doors, there aren't any items being shipped, and there are no point of sale transactions. The only real measurements of success that we can track are website visits, conversions, and engagement. To monitor our metrics, we tend to rely on free tools such as Google Analytics. Though these tools are great, but they lack the "real time" data that is necessary to make quick and important decisions at a fast-paced startup. That's why I took it upon myself to create real-time monitoring screens at the office. They've become like the "eye-of-Sauron" for the company's success.
This is how we built our real-time analytics system and how you can do it too.
First things first; lets setup our hardware.
To do this you'll need seven things:
- Big Full HD TV
- Raspberry Pi
- Wi-Fi dongle
- SD card
- HDMI cable
- Short USB to Micro USB cable
- TV stand (optional)
The idea is simple: hook the Raspberry Pi to your TV, then when the TV turns on, it will power the Raspberry Pi through its USB port. The Raspberry then will open a browser automatically and show your dashboard, whatever it is. It sounds more complicated than it really is. Lets take it step-by-step.
I suggest buying a big one! Amazon offers great affordable Full HD LED TVs. My advice is to buy something that has no Smart TV features and is as big as possible. I think the minimum size should be 42", but 50" would be better since you need to see the numbers from a long distance.
The one illustrated above is a 50" TCL that goes for $500. However, we've had success with the LG 42LN5200.
The Raspberry + Everything else!
My advice is to buy a Raspberry Pi bundle. It will be cheaper and arrive in a single box. You wont get all kinds of small packages that you can easily misplace.
The bundle comes with:
- A 4 GB card as a drive
- Power supply which you don't need.
- Wi Fi dongle
- Usb Cable
- HDMI cable
- The Raspberry Pi
- Case for the Pi
Raspberry Pi Bundle: http://www.amazon.com/Raspberry-Complete-Starter-Kit-Model/dp/B00GGM0Y66/
Hook everything up:
- Encase the Raspberry Pi
- Insert the wifi dongle into a USB port. Also you'll need to borrow a keyboard + mouse. The latter items should go into the second USB port, so you might need a USB hub.
- For power, use a USB-to-MicroUSB cable. This should go into the TV and also into the Raspberry Pi. The idea is that the TV powers the Raspberry Pi.
- Same with HDMI cable, into the Raspberry Pi and the TV
When you power the thing up, first configure the LAN network. In Raspbian use the wi-fi supplicant to do this which will force you to manually search for the Wi-Fi network.
When everything is setup, it should look something like this:
The Raspberry Pi configuration
Now comes the fun.
Usually Raspberry's will include a Raspbian distribution. By default, it will autodetect the video mode, if not, I will do a short post about it in another installment to configure the video options. After that, there are a few simple steps to get everything set up:
Update and Upgrade Raspbian
Simple command with the root terminal:
$ sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
This will take a while so go have a beer and come back in a couple of hours. When you come back, Raspbian should be updated.
We need to download and install chromium. The reason is that this will handle memory a bit better than other browsers and you'll avoid crashes.
$ sudo apt- get chromium ttf-mscorefonts-installer
Once it's done, there is one more step to do.
Autostart to webpage
We need to make the Raspberry autostart in the chromium webpage you desire and it's very easy.
Open root terminal and type
$ touch start.sh
You just created the file we need to execute commands at startup. Now, open the nano program to edit the file.
$ nano /config/start.sh
Next type this line, of course, replace the URL with the one you want to open:
chromium --kiosk http://myboardsite.com/thepageidesire/
That's it. Chromium will autostart and open the page you want in fullscreen mode. The cool thing is that when you arrive at the office, you'll turn on the TV with a remote and the Raspberry's will autostart. One button turns on everything.
In the next installment, we'll talk about how to write an API and feed data to your dashboards.
Our Setup :)