Give Me Unified Login or Give Me Death!

A question came across the ASAE Technology Section list this week about how to manage multiple logins for a variety of web-based services offered to members of an association. I chose to deliver a bit of a rant rather than a direct answer. I’ve posted my note below:

I think the time has come where any serious vendor in the association market should support authentication from another system for their product and associations should begin to demand it.

As others have posted, this level of integration is relatively easy to achieve via web services. Sure, each association/system will have its quirks that may require some tweaking but the basics are well defined.

Hostile user/login management systems immediately cripple your ability to create member value on the web. We, as an industry, shouldn’t tolerate it any longer.

I think that people these days are willing to create a new login for organizations/companies that they interact with and receive value from. One login. Unless the value you provide is incredibly high, most will not be happy to create multiple logins for just you and many will not bother. Vendors take note: you’ll be at an increasingly greater competitive disadvantage the longer you fail to support external authentication mechanisms in your services and products.

Lean XHTML and Precise CSS

For those of you employing or exploring standards-based designs using CSS (and this should be all of you!), check out this post on Lean XHTML and Precise CSS. Looks like a good method for organizing your stylesheets. CSS files can get pretty complex as your site develops, so having some organizational method will make life easier down the road. The article also reviews the benefits of keeping presentation code in CSS and out of your page markup.

(Via 456 Bereas Street blog.)

CSS/Standards Link Roundup

Here are a few standards-related links I’ve been meaning to post. Hope you find them useful!

  • High Accessibility is Effective Search Engine Optimization
    Nice ALA article. It is completely true, as well. If you make your site highly accessible it becomes more accessible to search engine indexers as well as the visually impaired.
  • Visual Studio to Support Standards
    Based on my own personal experience, I’ll believe it when I see it. I believe they intend to do it but MS does not have much experience paying attention to standards in the past so I’m sure it will take them a while to get it right.
  • Tantek on CSS Hacks
    Great review of the state of CSS, hacks needed to implement, and future directions for browsers.
  • Printing a Book with CSS
    Another ALA article on how CSS could be used to format text appropriately for printing a book.

Feel the Power of Standards-based Design

Chris Spurgeon works on the American Public Media family of web sites. He recently posted on the Well about some changes he made to the Marketplace web site:

I just changed the tab navigation of the Marketplace radio show website (www.marketplace.org) from vertical tabs along the left hand side of thepage to horizontal tabs along the top. Other than uploading the new tab graphics, all I had to do was tweak 2 CSS rules and the change instantly appeared on more than 5 thousand static pages. So damn cool.

Chris graciously gave permission for me to quote his post here. This is a fantastic example of how going to a CSS design allows you to make significant changes quickly by editing just a single file.

Another thing to note is that if you look at the source code for the page, you can see that it includes corporate branding and search elements for the overall organization that do not cleanly separate content from presentation. The reality of web design in large organizations is that you often don’t have control of everything and have to work around various things that are not open for negotiation. However, the rest of the page does separate presentation from content markup, which enabled Chris to make that big change so easily. This shows how you don’t have to follow a purist approach to still benefit from these techniques.

W3C Forms Working Group on Web APIs

The W3C is forming a working group to look standards for Web APIs. This will be good in the long run for making AJAX interfaces much easier to develop across browsers and platforms.

The W3C Web API Working Group is chartered to develop standard APIs for client-side Web Application development. This work will include both documenting existing APIs such as XMLHttpRequest and developing new APIs in order to enable richer Web Applications.

Boxwood Technology Adds RSS to Job Board Service

Boxwood Technology is pretty much on top of the heap for hosted job board services for associations. (Disclaimer: I was a client of theirs when I worked at ASHA and I serve with Boxwood Chairman John Bell on the ASAE Tech Council.) They have just added RSS feeds to their service, which is a fantastic extension. Now job seekers can subscribe to all new jobs or to the results of a specific search. After they subscribe, any newly posted jobs will appear in their newsreader of choice. Nice! They should mention this service on their web site.

For an example, see ASAE’s job center. There is an orange RSS button at the bottom of the screen.

A couple of improvements I think they could make include:

  • Include an RSS autodiscovery tag in the page markup that will allow people to more easily subscribe with newsreaders that look for the tag.
  • Make the RSS buttom a direct link to the RSS feed rather than a pop-up window (not sure why you would want a pop-up unless they are trying to discourage indexing of the feeds).
  • Add some buttons for easily subscribing via some of the more popular online newsreaders (such as Yahoo!, bloglines, google, etc.).

Fun with Map APIs

I have been looking into Yahoo!’s mapping service API this week (Google offers one as well). What they have done is opened up their mapping services so that you can display your data on their maps. I have created a example on Yahoo! that displays my upcoming speaking gigs. Kind of silly but it took me all of 15 minutes to put this together which is quite amazing. It is all driven by this little xml file.

I think this kind of thing could be quite useful for association meetings where you could develop your own custom map of the meeting and lodging facilities related to your event. You could even create a special map for VIPs with all the locations of special dinners and other invitation-only events.

MySQL and Oracle

Oracle just bought a company that provides a key piece of technology for the MySQL database. Here is Jeremy Zawodny’s summary of the situation.

MySQL is now faced with the prospect of licensing technology they cannot ship without from their biggest rival. Interestingly, there’s always been once piece of the InnoDB puzzle that’s not available under the GPL: the InnoDB Hot Backup Tool. Without it, database administrators cannot backup their InnoDB tables without shutting down MySQL or at least locking out all transactions.

Oracle just bought themselves a whole lot of leverage with MySQL AB and a talented team of database engineers to boot.

Keep an eye on this if you use MySQL within your organization.