FillLPG for Android: Pulling the Plug

In a previous blog post I announced that the FillLPG for Android application was no longer in active development (which I then updated but let’s not lose focus here) and indicated that a time would come when I would remove it from the Google Play Store.

Well, that time is upon us.

The tipping point came today when I received feedback from two different channels, a review on the Play Store and an email from a fellow developer.

The review was the typical ‘Doesn’t work, load of rubbish‘ 1 star review that people leave when they don’t stop to think.

If they took a minute to think, ‘hold on, there are over 10k users and a five star review a few days ago says it’s great’ then maybe they would email me and highlight the problem. As it is, they just leave their review and move on.

The email was from a user complaining about the website – something I have nothing to do with, I just wrote the app.

The users complaint was that the site was so slow it was unusable and that the app failed to complete the initial data load of stations – which may or may not have been the reviewers issue too.

Now, I had been using the FillLPG application as a kind of ‘portfolio project’ that I developed for no cost and could show potential clients when I was contracting. I stopped doing this with the FillLPG app a few years ago when it started to fall behind. The fact that I was being linked with the website development concerned me greatly.

The FillLPG website is not and has never been within my control.

Me: August 2020 (and repeatedly before then)

But lets deal with the issues raised by these users.

The App Problem

So, the app hasn’t been updated for a while now so why was it crashing out of the station data download?

Simple – there was an error in the XML that was being generated by the site and the app was choking on it.

Turns out that 3 or 4 stations had been entered for Eurpoean countries with non-English alphabets, e.g. Greece, Bulgeria and Spain. The site was initially UK focused so there was probably no requirement to handle this – so when the data was persisted in UTF-8 encoding it contained some non-printable/invalid characters.

These characters were causing the parsing of the XML to fail and hence the app was failing to update the station list. New users ended up with no data at all and existing users were left with stale data.

The Website Problem

To fix the above problem I needed to login to the FillLPG website and locate the offending stations.

By accessing the XML data feed it was possible to locate the ID of the stations that were causing the problem – but updating them was painful.

The site is currently running so slow it’s painful to use – we’re talking minutes to load all the station locations on the map before I can try to locate the offending records.

Attempts to access the stations edit screen directly by Id was hit and miss as connections timed out but I eventually managed to get the XML feed clean again – so at least the app should be ok now.

Now I’m not sure why the site is running like a three legged dog but I do know that other users have contacted the guy who developed and runs the site over the past years and months with no response.

Peoples pritorities move on and it is not uncommon for projects such as this to fall by the wayside.

My Problem

I am a professional software developer – this it what I do for a living (previously as a contractor and now as an employee) – so I don’t want/need to be tarnished with the failings of a project that I’ve had nothing to do with. It may sound snobbish, but there you have it.

I (and others) have tried repeatedly to contact the site developer over that past few years but have never received a response.

There is only so long that I can ignore the crappy 1 star reviews and snide remarks for and about a project in my name – I’m (sort of) calling time on the app.

The Future

Within the next week I will remove the app from the Play Store meaning that users will not be able to search for it or install it.

Existing users will however be able to continue using the app – it will NOT be uninstalled from any device as part of this process.

If existing users change their phones and want to reinstall the application then I will make the installable file (known as an APK) available via this site with instructions on how to install it without the need for the Play Store.

The caveat will be that the app is totally unsupported and I plan to include a notification to this effect on start up after initial installation.

And that’s basically that.!

The FillLPG app was a great learning experience but it has turned into a thorn in my side that I can frankly do without.

5 thoughts on “FillLPG for Android: Pulling the Plug”

    1. Yes it would be possible to create a new website, with similar functionality to the existing one, and point the app at that.

      It would also be possible to create a cloud hosted database, i.e. do away with a website altogether, and point the app at that.

      The thing is that this will take an investment of time and money – not thousands of £’s but money nonetheless and I’m not able to commit to that at this time.

      But it’s also worth remembering that the FillLPG ecosystem is not just the website and the app – there’s the small matter of the data.

      I can’t just pick up the FillLPG data and use it for my own projects – I don’t own it. Starting from zero data would be a tough call – why would anyone use the new site/app.

      I hope this clarifies my position and decision with regards the app.

  1. You may be correct, but it would be a shame to lose the best LPG resource. The data is all user-submitted, so although the collation might be copyright, the data isn’t. And every time we synch we must be downloading all the data. So if the website were to die, every recent user would presumably have a backup.
    “All” (I know!) that would be needed would be a special version of the app that could update all its local data to the replacement server as a series of station updates (ideally preserving the stored ‘last updated’ stamp).

    1. True – there doesn’t appear to be any T&C’s on the site and the data is pulled into a local database on your device so the data is ‘out there’.

      There are other logistical issues, including rebranding, but they can be overcome along.

      The fact remains though that the app really needs a complete overhaul – Google requires app to be compiled against the latest Android SDK for a start.

      It would probably be better to start over to be honest and there are plenty of developers out there with more time to lend to such an endeavour.

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