Mashing up Flex in Australia

I recently found out about a competition being held in Australia, by the
Government 2.0 Taskforce called Mashup Australia. This taskforce, as taken from their Terms of reference.

will advise and assist the Government to:

  • make government information more accessible and usable — to establish a pro-disclosure culture around non-sensitive public sector information;
  • make government more consultative, participatory and transparent — to maximise the extent to which government utilises the views, knowledge and resources of the general community;
  • build a culture of online innovation within Government — to ensure that government is receptive to the possibilities created by new collaborative technologies and uses them to advance its ambition to continually improve the way it operates;
  • promote collaboration across agencies with respect to online and information initiatives — to ensure that efficiencies, innovations, knowledge and enthusiasm are shared on a platform of open standards;
  • identify and/or trial initiatives that may achieve or demonstrate how to accomplish the above objectives.

The Mashup Australia competition was created to emphasis this and provide a practical demonstration of the benefits of opening up sets of their data.

There was quite a large amount of data sets available albeit some not exactly in the most usable format. It was a great way to make the public aware that this data exists, and for us as developers to have fun with how this data could be presented.

I spent a few days on a couple of entries, using flex and flash for the UI. It would have been nice to have a bit more time to test them and to add a few more bells and whistles.


The first idea I had was called the GCI PhotoHUB. Because a number of Government Cultural Institutions publish their photographs onto flickr I thought it would be nice to have a central application to be able to search/view these common image sets.

I used the neat as2flickrlib API however I did realise that the commons API was not included in the lib so I had to write one myself for getting that particular piece of information.

I wanted to create something that was intuitive for the end user and something a little playful for them to interact with.

This is the entry here

The second idea was to create more visually digestible way to display crime statistics in Australia. I chose a number of methods for this which included primarily a map overlay, secondary – charting components, thirdly – a raw data set. I felt that this would give the end user 3 options depending on what they felt comfortable with.

The initial UI was changed slightly after working through some UX concepts from a good friend of mine who works as a UX consultant.

There were a number of design cues including the map indicators taking reference from police lights as well as the font chosen for the map overlay to help with the overall theme.

The data set provided was in the form of an xls document. Because .xls documents aren’t exactly the best format for web applications. I created a webservice to read the xls file and serve up the data as both a ColdFusion query set as well as a call to return XML. Making the data much more useful for both Flex and potentially other developers eventually.

This is the entry for crimewave here

Both these apps were built in quick time so I’m sure there will be a couple of bugs crawling around 🙂 so if you find one feel free to let me know. Overall it was a fun way to utilise this newly exposed data from the Government and even a better way to expose it using Flex as the tool.

Who should know about RIAs

During the times when I’m attending an event that is non-IT related people ask me what I do for a living. Most often then not when I tell them that I build RIAs for companies they tend to get a glazed look over their face. It’s similar to the look of an original flavoured Krispy Kreme glazed donut, and where the eyes loose focus and start filtering out to the background. Worst case scenario is when I need to snap my fingers three time and tell them to return back to the conversation.

Most of the time I can prevent the “Krispy Kreme Look” by explaining to them the concept behind the RIA or Rich Internet Application. Once I do that the penny normally drops and they can name a couple of examples, most commonly TweetDeck and Twirl. These are two of the most downloaded Flex and AIR applications, and have done well in exposing the RIA to the broader community.

I think it’s important for us in the RIA space to be pushing the concept and benefits of RIA to the general public. From acceptance breeds growth, and in the digital realm RIA acceptance still has a little way to go.

In Australia recent studies have shown the amount of money spent in the digital arena is ever increasing. When compared to annual profit, the amount of money spent in digital is still rather small, even though online customer growth is increasing. It’s this statistic which had me thinking about the acceptance of RIAs in companies and them willing to invest in technology to help with their revenue stream. As the more a company spends in the digital environment the higher the margin of profit, it makes sense to invest in RIAs.

As customers migrate towards and expect more from companies in terms of digital services and experience. A companies customer service is no longer not only judged by the smile of the shop assistant or the friendliness of the wait staff but also by it’s online service. This is where well planned and executed RIAs excel, engaging the user, holding their hand through a complex task, giving them the information when they want it without hassle. The RIA doesn’t call in sick, steal money from the till or wake up on the wrong side of the bed, things that we have to deal with day to day with traditional customer service.

The technology is not important but the idea behind it is and it’s something that us working in the RIA world need to push, not only towards business managers but to the general public, the end user or customer.

As they say the customer is always right and by raising their awareness to RIAs it can not only benefit everyone involved but also the overall growth of the digital space.

Catalyst could save you time

I’ve just come back from attending the Brisbane leg of the Australian Adobe User Group. It showcased the new features and overall direction for the development suite of products which included the new Flash Catalyst, Flash Builder, Flex 4, Cold Fusion 9 and Bolt.

I was really interested in Catalyst as it’s something that I could see a lot of benefit in using personally.

Adobe has made a conscious effort to further improve the work flow between designer and developer which the introduction of Catalyst.

A tool to help create interactive user interfaces transitions and all, without having to worry about a single line of code. It also enables the user to port this directly into flex for the developer to turn this into an application.

By having something like Catalyst can remove the steps involved going back and forth between Interactive Designer and Developer as the explanation of transitions and state changes are nutted out in the design stage for the developer to see. Of course this is the ideal scenario and we all know it never exactly works out as smoothly as that.

For a designer it can eliminate the need to provide multiple screen shots of piece of interaction and the need further explain your concepts through emails, phone calls, power point presentations, smoke signals or interpretive dance.

It’s still in Beta so I’m sure there will be many more tantalizing features to come but so far it’s looking great.

Overall I can come away from the user group meeting knowing that Adobe is indeed heading in the right direction. They have identified the need to streamline the design/development work flow, as well as further enhancing an existing suite of core products.

Having said that I still think a developer that can touch type could save you more time 🙂

You can download the beta version of Catalyst from the Adobe Labs here

What’s your pot of gold at the end RIANBOW

This is my first post for 09 and coming of the back of the new year which goes hand in hand with resolutions and all that jazz.

What is your motivation in being a RIA developer?

For me it’s seeing a project evolve from it’s conceptual stages through to it being released to the end user. I get my thrills out of knowing that people are actually using this application that had started out as a twinkle in a project team members eye. It’s even better when they are absolutely over the moon with the end result.

I know many others who find utter enjoyment in coming up with the perfect class, function, or design pattern.

So what’s your motivation, what’s your pot of gold?