Monday, March 31, 2008

Post VII…using ‘mash ups’ to save time & money

Recently, we launched a Google Maps ‘mashup’. It displays the classmates of the logged in user on a map with a photo and link to their NetCommunity profile. Steve MacLaughlin covered it in his blog so I’ll spare you the details, he’s better at talking about what we do than I am anyway.

This brings up a good topic for my blog though, the power of mashups. So what is a mashup? Usually people think of some custom map when they think of a mashup but basically a mashup is the integration of one or more ‘services’ from various vendor’s via some type of API to deliver a creative and unique product to your end user.

To put it simply, why would you try to create a photo gallery application when you can consume Flickr and Picasa’s API? Those guys are in the business of photo galleries and it would be stupid re-create the wheel they have perfected. Just use the API to integrate their functionality inside NetCommunity.

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo know their maps and they have built some very serious APIs and developer resources around their products. If that wasn’t reason enough it’s important to note that many of these companies have a very non-profit friendly pricing model, usually free, that makes the decision easy.

In the case of our mashup that Steve covered we actually used Google Maps, Microsoft MapPoint & the NetCommunity API to geoCode, build and populate a map of the classmates of the logged in user. This hybrid solution enabled us to deliver a very unique service to our alumni using data that only we have. We used APIs from 3 services and integrated them to promote our mission and we did it for next to no money and less than 20 hours worth of manpower.

Social networking services are another area where mashups are growing. It’s still early but in the future I see a situation where NetCommunity/Facebook/MySpace and other OpenSocial apps will be tightly integrated with each other creating a mega-social network where people can connect via their social networking medium of choice

So before you embark on a project check to see what’s out there. It’s very possible that there is some mashup solution that’ll help.

That’s it for this post…let me know if you have a topic you’d like me to discuss.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Blackbaud's latest step towards a more 'open' API

For those of you that are currently customizing NetCommunity or thinking about it the latest blog by Steve MacLaughlin is going to be of some serious interest.

As Steve states in his blog the NetCommunity API was always free but you were required to pay to use the API of The Raiser's Edge.

That has however changed and this is just another example of how Blackbaud is becoming more 'Open' with their API.

You can read Steve's Post here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 site redesign launch...

We have launched our new website redesign!
This has been a long process between IS, Communications & LMD (Laurel Marketing & Design, our design partners).
The new site has two new features besides an updated look and feel.
  • Social Source - This was an idea we borrowed from Cornell. Allows a user to print, email and share content on Social Networking websites.
  • Classmates Map - This is a home grown mashup between Google Maps, Map Point & BBNC. It is a very sweet feature and allows our alumni to view a Google Map with the markers of all of their classmates and links to their profile. It's our first attempt at real world use of map mash-ups. It will be posted later this afternoon.

Thanks to all of our internal staff that made this possible!

I'm putting together another post here soon so check back!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Post VI: A step back…

It’s occurred to me that it might help folks to see some examples of custom parts that we have done to better understand the advantages of developing custom solutions for NetCommunity. I’ll include a screen shot of a few of them and a brief overview of the reason we chose to go the route of a custom solution instead of using an out of the box part.

Military Salutation
This was one of the first custom parts we did. We are a Military Service Academy and as you can imagine using the proper title when addressing an officer is pretty (very) important. The titles themselves are also very conditional. A specific rank like O-3 might not have the same title in one branch as it does in another and your military status also plays a part in how your title and salutations are displayed. On top of all of that there are specific rules about how the tiles are abbreviated. While NetCommunity facilitates the option to add custom titles in our case that would produce a title1 & title2 dropdown list on the profile a mile long after we added all of the possible combinations to the list.

We just rolled out v2 of this custom part last week. This custom part was designed for a few different reasons but the primary one was because BBNC and RE treat event registrations as Gifts and our organization doesn’t want that. As a result of going the route of a custom part we were able to do many other things that the out-of-the-box events part doesn’t support. All of the data flows right back into RE and registrations emails are sent to the registrant and to a few internal folks.

This is a good example of what you can do once you have a few custom parts under your belt. We probably could have used the Shopping cart module that Blackbaud has separate form BBNC but that costs extra and this didn’t take long to make. All the data of the purchase flows back to the Notes tab on the user’s RE record. All the credit card transactions happen through IATS and the orders are passed to external fulfillment companies. It’s also the first custom part we wrote that uses AJAX. That’s it for this post.

Please subscribe to the blog and let me know if you have any topics you’d like me to discuss.