Thursday, April 27, 2006

Launched our new site Devine Sports this week. That last push to launch kept me too busy to getting any blog entries in but I'll try and get back on track. I have a second set of related sites launching over the next few weeks so it may not slow down as much as I hoped.

Devine Sports is the company that is behind the Los Angeles marathon, the Las Vegas marathon and the Salt Lake City marathon. Besides the obvious role of listing the details of the events we want this site to also be a community for marathon runners and to provide training assistance. Many runners in a marathon are people who are not avid runners. They are people who want to take on a difficult challenge and prove they can do it so it was important that the tools not be geeky runner tools with tons of graphs and statistics.

Jonathan Stevens, who I work with at Winnercomm, came up with a great concept that is the anti-thesis of tools like We made the interface much more focused and clear and it gives you a lot more control over how you want to train. The program itself is based on Devine's highly successful RoadRunners program. I built all the backend services in php on amfphp.

For the community features I used all the latest ajax tricks for nice clean interface that lets you communicate with your running partners, people who act as your virtual roadrunners club. I also used ajax to handle easy, unobtrusive rating and commenting on the articles.

We've got big plans for future iterations of the site to add more training features and replace the event specific sites with new ones. As the community grows, I hope to add a lot more features for our members and I'm sure they'll come up with some great ideas too. This was a fun site to build, the perfect blend of a large content management project and extensive use of Flash and Ajax to support some really useful features. I'll post more about the community tools after we launch the 1.1 update of them next week.

Friday, April 14, 2006

I went to Refresh Dallas last night. They had a round table with Brian Oberkirch, John Keehler, Jake McKee and Blake Burris on Social Media. Buzz is started to get outside of the web community about Social Networking sites like MySpace and shared media portals like Flickr and YouTube.

My current project has a lot of community tools built around Ajax allowing simple messaging and other feedback. The site hasn't launched yet but it will be interesting to see how quickly the userbase ramps up. The tricky part of any site like this is getting the real community started. Obviously the appeal is the community relationship yet the first people who come to the site just see a ghost town. This particular site has a lot of other content, it's not just a community, so I hope that gets people in until there is enough of an "ecosystem" to sustain it. I think these kind of focused community sites are more interesting than wide-open places like MySpace.

One of the speakers at Refresh, Jake is the Director of Consumer Experience Strategy at Slingshot. I used to work at Slingshot and they have some clients like Dr Pepper and Jack Daniels that could really benefit from this kind of thinking. It's really easy for Dr Pepper (and sister brands like 7Up, Dite Rite and Sunkist) to fall into a constant "what do we give away now" mentality but I don't believe sweepstakes really create any brand connection at all. But most products like that already have not just a community but several micro-communities. Mountain Dew's success in connecting themselves to X-Games style sports is the perfect example.

I had some good converations afterwords, not just about Web 2.0 but also Flash, User-centric app development, Flash Media and more. If you are in the area, start checking out Dallas events like this and BarCamp. There's big Dallas development community with a diverse set of skills.

Monday, April 10, 2006

I'm seeing increasing interest in the Typo3 CMS here in the Dallas area. When I first started using Typo3 in 2002, I had just wrapped up working on a Vignette based site which was my first real hard core CMS project. Vignette is a massive system that was one of the first CMS products so it is a big crufty mess in a lot of ways. It was orginally mostly based in Perl and then large parts of it were ported to Java when that became the buzzword. Despite the messy nature and many oddities of Vignette, I really liked the structure and discipline that a CMS brought to site development and wanted to find a similar tool for projects that couldn't handle the kind of budget that Vignette needed.

CMS development has been one of my main focuses ever since and I've worked with or studied quite a few. My mainstay is Typo3, an open-source PHP based system. Though not quite as bad as Vignette, it has some cruftiness too but is really versatile and has a great feature set. Despite working with several commercial CMSs since then and other open source systems, I find I can build really feature rich sites faster in Typo3 than any other system. I'm glad to see more shops here in Dallas picking it up. PHP is already pretty popular around here so it's natural for tools like Typo3 and Drupal to start seeing more use.

Typo3 4.0 just came out and has many improvements in UI and a few major features especially around workflow. Workflow was one area where commercial systems were ahead of it. I haven't used the new workflow features much but they look like they are on the right track. It's hard to handle that and keep the interface good for non-technical content people.

After my big current Typo3 based project, I'll probably be working with Sitecore again, a commercial .NET CMS. Sitecore is well suited for high traffic sites and makes really good use of XSLT. The interface is a little over-the-top, it's basically mimicing Vista in DHTML. But it has a lot in common with Typo3 in just how it makes you plan your structure and templating even thought the detailed mechanisms are different. I'm expecting to be able to reuse a lot of my typo3 experience in integrating Flash.