Tag Archives: joomla

Salesforce Show and Tell

Day 2 of the Salesforce Non-Profit Roadmap session was focused on refining plans and sharing information. We had sessions and reports from Salesforce Product managers and developers, and we discussed and demoed some of the creative things that our community has developed. The Salesforce guests showed off Apex, the new scripting language that will be available for live use sometime next year; and we had a fascinating (but non-discloseable!) peek at where the reporting is going.

A lot of the talk focused on ways that we can — or will be able — to get around Salesforce’s core assumption that we deal with companies and contacts when, in fact, donation management is about individuals and households. And a big topic was integration, with a lot of questions centered on what can or should be done in Salesforce and what should be programmed on top of it. Two technologies that popped up a lot were Facebook and Ruby on Rails. I learned about (and immediately grabbed) a Salesforce library that has been developed for rails, and Alan Benamer sang the praises of Facebook both as a compelling social network and a fundraising tool, via their new “Causes” feature. Facebook has been in the news for opening up a powerful API, which makes them pretty much the “Salesforce of Social Networks”.

In the afternoon, we got to th fun stuff – showing off what we’ve done. Six of the participant’s showed off projects big and small.

Ben Munat showed us ChipIn, a fundraising widget that currently is available as a wep page plug in, but will soon be integrated with Salesforce, Facebook, and other application platforms.

  • Sonny Cloward showed us a very clean and elegant Salesforce template for fund development created using Salesforce’s Person object. The Person object, which can be used in lieu of Accounts and Contacts, was introduced late last year to a somewhat underwhelming response, the problem being that it’s an either/or choice. If you use Person objects, you can’t use Accounts and Contacts, and, in most cases, you have both companies and individuals among your constituents. All the same, Sonny’s template transformed Salesforce into a clean and simple CRM that would be far easier to teach and support, and maybe quite suitable for small organizations.
  • Rem Hoffman demoed the very sophisticated case management system that his company, Exponent Partners, has put together. This was a real ooh and aaher, as he demoed how a Mental Health agency, swamped in paper, could use it to track cases and print all of the paperwork with about a quarter of the effort that had been required. I’m very intrigued by Rem’s work, as I believe that case management options in the workforce development industry are all pretty painful. As far as I know, Social Solutions is the only company talking about opening up their application; most are the worst examples of grabbing a company’s data and locking them out of it.
  • Ryan Ozimak of PicNet demoed his Joomla/Salesforce integration, which is also very cool and clean, and promising. At present is is likely the fastest and easiest way to develop a web site with Salesforce Contact integration, and the next steps will open up other objects for clean integration. Ryan (who is sitting next to me as I type) has just let me know that this is around the corner.
  • As usual, Steve Anderson of One/Northwest had an amazing demo, showing how he has developed Apex code that completely masks the Account/Contact model so that a user can easily add and remove individuals from households. This was very slick, as his automation made tasks that take multiple screen views and actions today and almost magically integrated them. For example, if you have the household of John Doe and the house hold of Jane Doe, and you want to combine them, then you add Jane Doe to John Doe’s household and – poof! – the household is automatically renamed to “John and Jane Doe” and Jane Doe’s household is deleted. This completely removes the limitation that use of Person accounts involves – you can still have accounts and contacts. The problem being that Apex is only available in the sandbox for now.
  • Finally, Evan Callahan of NPower Seattle demoed a simple translator lookup app that he created for a client. What was cool about this was both that he put together a very intuitive and functional tool for finding a translator with the proper skills and availability, and he did it with some very simple code and a web form. In both Steve and Evan’s cases, they took innovative and undocumented approaches that produced powerful results. Must be something in that moist Seattle air.

Today we dive into how the Salesforce community can better operate as a cohesive support infrastructure and wrap up at noon. If you are a Salesforce license donee, keep your eyes open for a survey that will let you in on this critical input. And look for a bigger event next year — this was a great exercise for all parties.

NTEN Connected

Just a note that my article on IT Leadership was featured in the latest issue of NTEN Connect.

On a related note, my blog entry on Joomla Day West was almost quoted verbatim in the latest Joomla Weekly News (this is a PDF download). And I have an article coming out soon in Non-Profit Times on Data Management, a summary of the Managing Technology 2.0 presentation that I led at the NTEN conference in April. (Powerpoint link here).

The Rails Thing

It’s Thursday morning, and I’m in Portland, Oregon at the 2007 O’Reilly Railsconf, all about the web programming language/environment/framework called Ruby on Rails. I was introduced to Ruby on Rails by a friend/associate who I hope to be doing some work with soon – we’re part of a group looking for funding to develop some applications. I program in a few languages, mostly PHP, but agreed to learn Ruby on Rails after being introduced to it.

Ruby on Rails, it turns out, is a controversial language, in a way that is very reminiscent of the Apple vs. everything else debate. Rails enthusiasts are very attached to the platform, and adherents of Java, C, and even PHP, tend to be very skeptical, with complaints that the structure is too rigid and that the language only goes so far. They might be right – I’m not fluent enough yet to know. But there are a few definite things that have me interested in Rails.

  1. Rails abstrats the database creation and management process in a really fascinating way. Using the MVC framework — model, views, controller — you basically develop your database using plain english to describe the relationships between tables. This really works for me. To create the database, you write some very simple code that adheres to certain naming conventions, and then you can manage the database almost exclusively from the code.
  2. Once the database is created, Rails uses a method called scaffolding to automatically create forms for database manipulation. With one line of code in your controller, you can very simply grab data from multiple tables using a simple syntax. Rails makes it all very, very easy.
  3. I’m looking for a holy grail, of sorts, something that falls halfway between a programming language and a content management system (CMS), and this comes close. What can we use to rapidly develop interactive, web-based applications that doesn’t lock us into the type of assumptions that Drupal and (the current version of) Joomla do, but don’t require building the whole thing from scratch? Ruby on Rails is still a pretty complex thing for most techs at non-profits to budget the time to learn, but it’s intriguing, as is the move in the next release of Joomla to have it sit atop a Ruby on Rails-like framework (that, unfortunately, lacks the database routines).

I’m also looking at Javascript/ajax libraries – I’m in one right now on Prototype and scriptaculous, but the presenter is the developer of scriptalicious and his presentation style is somewhat coma-inducing…

OpenID Enabled

Just to put this all together, I’ve written a F.A.Q. and a How-To on OpenID and added them to the OpenID offerings here at Techcafeteria which are, in a nutshell:

  1. The OpenID-enabled Blog;
  2. The OpenID server, which I’m committed to maintaining. Techcafeteria won’t be going away anytime soon!;
  3. A new OpenID F.A.Q., which links to other OpenID resources;
  4. and a new OpenID illustrated How-to, which uses the Techcafeteria server as an example but overviews how they all work.

Why am I harping on about this? I really do think that OpenID offers a solution to a very pesky problem. I have an encrypted file with all of the logins and passwords that I keep on a regular basis for web sites and services that I use. There are over 200 of them. I might be an extreme case, but I’m far from alone. And, from my years as a technology manager, I know that most people solve this problem by using the same password at multiple sites. So if those sites include your online banking, that’s a serious risk.

But, beyond the convenience and security, I look at it this way. My goal for Techcafeteria is to grow it into a real diverse offering of web-based services, in fitting with the name. Some of these, like the blog, will be based on third-party platforms, others will be things that I develop (I’m experienced with PHP/MySQL and I’m learning Ruby on Rails – I’m even attending O’Reilly’s big conference on it in Portland this week). My goal is single sign-on, via OpenId, for everything that Techcafeteria ever offers.

It’s not a big deal doing this on my web site. It would have been a huge deal if I could have accomplished it at the large non-profit or decent sized law fIrm that I served as an IT Director for. At both of those jobs, we had a variety of systems, all tied into Novell and/or MS networks, but we still had nothing but password soup to offer our users, because the apps weren’t standardized enough to allow for true single sign-on.

At Joomla Day on Saturday, I sat in on a session where one of the core developers (Sam) demonstrated a way to share authentication between Joomla and MediaWiki. Very cool, but somewhat easy because MediaWiki stores the password unencrypted. Assuming that most sites use standardized encryption protocols (MD5 being the big dog, that’s not an insurmountable challenge. But I couldn’t help thinking how much easier this will be via OpenID. It’s not just about this stuff being possible – it’s also about allowing Sysadmins who are not also programmers to implement it.

So, end of OpenID rants, for now. I’ll be doing some live blogging from the Rails conference, and I’ll try and include some context as to why I think Ruby on Rails is an important programming environment.

A Day of Joomla (live)

I’m posting this live from the first Joomla Day West conference being held at Google headquarters in Mountainview (so, yes, wireless is reliable!)

This is an interesting event – an “un-conference” as Ryan calls it, which falls somewhere in the territory of a traditional conference, a town hall meeting, and, maybe, the Phil Donahue show, as emceed by the always entertaining Gunner (of Aspiration fame).

It’s about halfway through the day, and continuing through tomorrow, but I won’t be able to come back, because that would incur the justified scorn of my son’s mother, who expects me to not be a computer geek on her day. There are 100 or so people here from many corners of the earth (well, the Americas and Europe are healthfully represented) and associations to Joomla that range from a tiny non-profit thinking about using it to the core development team. Joomla, for those who don’t know, is a popular open Source Content Management System (CMS) with a huge developer community, making it very powerful and popular. It has it’s roots in a CMS called Mambo.

The big topics are:

  • The upcoming Joomla 1.5 release, which is a dramatic rewrite of the application that will make developers (like me) very happy. They have exposed a programming framework that could develop into an environment all it’s own, and they’ve made changes to the templating that allow for powerful customizations.
  • The move to more strictly enforce GPL compliance. The GNU General Public License is designed to offer users of GPL applications much freedom,with restrictions on how the code can be redistributed that insure that the community will share in all enhancements. The Mambo/Joomla developer community apparently includes many add-ons that aren’t compliant with this, and the Joomla team hopes to (appropriately) bring them back to compliance.

This is a seriously fun event with group activities intersperced with break out sessions, and a kind of “this is being made up as it goes along” agenda. Next up: speed geeking! which Gunner describes as “like speed dating, but completely different”.