Helsinki wanted to revamp its approach to marketing the city to both local and international target groups. It created the My Helsinki service, which showcases information about local businesses and what to see and do in the city. The service invites the people of Helsinki to help market the city. Digia was involved in building this service. Not only is it interactive, it also utilises open interfaces and harnesses information from databases in content production.
The service is not a closed fortress, but more like plasticine. You can use it to build many new things. As the client, we’ve only realised later just how forward-looking Digia was in keeping the expandability of the service in mind at all times. Digia has always been agile and relied on common sense.
Aleksi Pahkala, Project Manager, Helsinki Marketing
When Aleksi Pahkala is asked to tell the origin story of the My Helsinki service, his face glows with excitement.
“We’d tried to market Helsinki in a similar way as other cities do. But why should we try to be like everyone else? Why shouldn’t we simply be ourselves: Helsinki?” says Pahkala, who is a Project Manager at Helsinki Marketing.
He says that the richness of Helsinki comes partly from aspects that feel ordinary to the people of the city.
“Our restaurant culture has its own unique character. Here, you can go to the opera wearing your gumboots. The President might be at Kauppatori just like any other ordinary citizen. You can take the tram almost all the way into the forests, such as to go skiing in Central Park. We have plenty of things that we didn’t even know we should be proud of,” he says.
The idea behind My Helsinki is that the people of the city are its best marketers.
“Whether you’ve been a Helsinki resident for a day, three years or your whole life, we all have our own personal stories and favourite places in the city. Our starting point was to get locals excited about sharing their ideas about all the things to see and do in Helsinki.”
The question was how could Helsinki’s diversity be turned into a service that would cater extensively to a wide range of different users? Helsinki Marketing set out to tackle this challenge with Digia, which brought its technical expertise to the project, with Idean handling the visual design of the service. Digia’s project team included a technical architect as well as DevOps, Drupal backend and React frontend developers.
Everything focused on the end user. For this reason, My Helsinki was built with a mobile focus and its implementation included usability testing.
“We interviewed many tourists, local residents and employees of the city organisation. We held workshops with different people, observed, asked questions and sought to develop the service on users’ terms. Companies both small and large also participated in the development work,” says Pahkala.
The service was implemented with open source-based React. Content production is supported with data sourced through the City of Helsinki’s open interfaces, which is enriched in Drupal. Drupal version 8 was chosen as the content management tool, thanks especially to its interface features. The service resides on the Finnish company UpCloud’s cloud servers.
The My Helsinki service currently sources data from an event database and location database, which are also under continuous development.
“Right from the start, we knew that the limited scope of the database data would pose one challenge. We seek to develop the databases such that not only will plenty of data be available, but also that it can be trusted.”
Pahkala says that linking external databases to the service is also on the cards.
“Users might be interested in what’s on at the Tavastia Club or what movies are playing in town. From the user perspective, this means that we can’t just rely on municipal databases.”
Utilising open source code and open interfaces enables longer-term development.
“The service is not a closed fortress, but more like plasticine. You can use it to build many new things. As the client, we’ve only realised later just how forward-looking Digia was in keeping the expandability of the service in mind at all times. Digia has always been agile and relied on common sense,” says Pahkala.
One of the unusual features of the service is its extensive use of external content producers. Many notable locals have shared their own tips on the My Helsinki service, including Miki Kuusi, Koko Hubara, M.A. Numminen and Seela Sella. Content has also been produced in cooperation with various companies.
An interactive feature of the site is the ability to create your own lists of Helsinki favourites.
”Even our mayor, Jan Vapaavuori, shared his own list when he welcomed 21 other Finnish mayors to a visit in autumn 2017,” says Pahkala.
Although tourists comprise one of the main target groups of the My Helsinki service, Helsinki Marketing hopes that it will also be useful to others.
“In addition to serving ordinary consumers, Helsinki Marketing provides information to professionals such as tour organisers. Our site contains plenty of startup stories and information on how to establish a company in Helsinki. We also provide information for students, investors and working people,” says Pahkala. “For this reason, content is key for us. Reliable content is our service pledge.”
Locals have also adopted the service.
“One couple from Helsinki, aged 70-plus, sent us feedback that they’d found new walking routes from the service. And I, too, find something new there all the time. The service opens the eyes of locals to all that Helsinki has to offer.”
My Helsinki was launched in summer 2017 and is currently available in Finnish, English, Swedish, German, Russian and Japanese. The service is maintained by Digia and developed continuously. A billion potential users remain out of reach, as the My Helsinki site is blocked by firewalls in China. Pahkala says that they’re currently working to reach this target group, too.
The future of the My Helsinki site could be described as being like a ball of dough that is rising steadily. As the content becomes more varied, other sites administered by Helsinki Marketing will be transferred under My Helsinki.
“For instance, we have a site for bloggers coming to Helsinki, and we’ve moved it under the My Helsinki umbrella. The opportunities for improving and expanding the site are massive,” says Pahkala.
The lively and diverse city also keeps the My Helsinki service evolving.
“I feel that the site will never be completed. And that’s what makes it so wonderful.”