Archive for August, 2006

Improved Google Maps Mashup

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I have recently completed some custom Salesforce.com / Google Maps mash-ups for clients and have made some improvements to the whole integration.

First, it has been updated to utilize the Salesforce.com PHP5 Toolkit. Performance is improved from the nusoap toolkit. Also, if you are running a PHP 5 version after 5.1.2, the toolkit supports compression, which is great.

Second, I found a really good Google Maps PHP class that allows for additional functionality beyond what Phoogle provides. The adapter I am using now is by Monte Ohrt from phpnsider.com. You can get it here. I had to make a couple changes to it, but those changes should be going into his next release. Some of the improved functionality this adapter provides is:

  • Ability to use Yahoo! or Google Geocoder APIs: Yahoo! currently supports the US only. Google supports many countries such as United States, Canada, China, Japan, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. I have been opting for the Google API, but both work well.
  • Include a sidebar that lists the returned records: Clicking on a sidebar link pops up the corresponding map marker
  • Caching of Geocode lookups. Cache your successful lookups to a MySQL database for faster retrieval the next time you Geocode it. This is an optional feature.
  • Auto centers the map based upon the map markers placed on it
  • Better error handling.
  • Has all the same functionality as Phoogle, so I didn’t lose anything in the transition
sfdcgoogle_mapsmashup.png

I put up a new demo of it in action. For this demo, I decided to get a little fancier and show how a form can drive the results returned in the map. My clients typically want the querying capabilities to be dynamic, so adding forms is common. This demo has a very simple form to demonstrate the capabilities. However, for some of projects, I am building forms dynamically based upon the metadata in the Salesforce.com org. Pretty cool!

If you are interested in this functionality being customized for your organization, please visit the product page on the Arrowpointe website and complete the form on that page.

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WebDialogs Unyte Events

Company: WebDialogs, Inc. (website)
Product: Unyte (website)
AppExchange page
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WebDialogs Unyte Events allows you to “share documents, presentations, applications and your desktop in real time with anyone, anywhere, anytime”. Think WebEx or GoToMeeting. Unyte is meant for smaller groups (1 to 25 people). It has gained a strong reputation through its successful integration with Skype. In fact, there is a link to Unyte from the Skype homepage, which gives it some credibility in my mind.

Unyte is a free application for one on one sharing. Sharing with multiple people costs a monthly fee. More on pricing below.

The application was just released on the AppExchange today. I received a demo of it a few days ago and it is pretty slick. Since receiving the demo (a few days ago) and installing it (today), they have made some improvements to it, which tells me they are serious about getting it right.

Functionality

After installing the AppExchange package, 2 new tabs were available to me. On install, both were put into the Unyte Events application.

The Unyte Events Installation tab is only needed temporarily to get setup. Once setup, you can remove it from view. This tab is where you enter your Unyte username and password. If you have been using Unyte with Skype already, then use your existing username. If not, then you can sign up for a new username. If you are not a user already, but plan to use the program with Skype too, I suggest that you sign up separately using your Skype username and then enter that information into the tab.

unyte_setup_links.jpg

One feature in the install tab was a button to install the custom links that were required in your org. I ran it and it worked great. This feature automatically:

  • Added a Skype Username field to the Leads and Contacts
  • Added the Skype Username to the Lead and Contact Page Layouts
  • Added formula fields (rendering hyperlinks) on the Leads and Contacts pages

The Unyte Events tab is where you can schedule events or start an on-demand event. In the image below, I scheduled an event for tomorrow.
unyte_schedule_event.png

From here, clicking the [edit / invite] link takes me to a Salesforce.com event record where I can invite people to it using native Salesforce.com calendar functionality.

unyte_custom_links.png

An alternative means for interacting with Unyte is to use the links on the Contacts and Leads. These allow you to initiate Unyte sessions with that person. They also provide Skype links to initiate a Skype call, SkypeOut call or Skype chat.

unyte_host_app_screenshot.png

As a meeting holder, you run a small app on your desktop to control the sessions. This is where you can identify the applications to share and communicate with people on how to access your session. It also provides annotation and remote access control. Looking at my task manager, it took up 21mb of RAM while running.

As a participant, you can view everything through your browser.

Pricing

Per the AppExchange page, Unyte is:

Free for one-on-one sessions, $100/yr or $35/qtr for 5 participants, $300/yr or $100/qtr for 15 participants, $450/yr or $150/qtr for 25 participants

Opinion

I have enjoyed using Unyte. I will definitely keep it installed in my org and use it when I can. I will certainly use it for one on one sessions where I need to share my desktop. It has more limited functionality than GoToMeeting or WebEx (e.g. you cannot see a participant list). I will probably choose GoToMeeting or WebEx for my more important sessions. However, for quick one-on-one or informal sessions of a few people, Unyte is a good option.

Unyte could also be a good option for Salesforce admins to use when supporting their users. Couple it with the Meebo integration to allow for real-time responding to support questions and demonstrating functionality without leaving your desk.

It does have a few quirks that I am sure they will work out soon. Last I spoke with them, they were planning on releasing a version 2.0 shortly. At this time, there is only a version 1.1x beta version. The biggest quirk I experienced was that it would abruptly end a session when I was selecting the specific applications to share. It seemed to like it best if I decided to share all of my apps. However, I prefer to selectively share. Not the end of the world, but makes me hesitant to use it for my more important sessions. I’ll wait for it to stabilize first.

All in all, I like Unyte and think it’s worth trying out. If you are not into it from a Salesforce.com perspective, I still suggest using it personally alongside Skype.

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Provide a “chat with your admin” support feature in your org

Mark at salesforcewatch.com posted a nice solution for using a free service called Meebo to provide a way for users to chat with the salesforce admin.

This is a creative idea for Salesforce support. It allows users to spend very little time to get their basic questions answered. It’s usually the answers to the little questions that add a lot to productivity.

Check it out

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Info Center (preview)

InfoCenterScreenShot_small.png

I have created a new application called the Info Center.

The Info Center was developed to fill a common need. During a rollout, users typically go through well constructed training sessions and will usually walk away with training materials, quick reference guides, etc. However, once the system has been in production for a while, people rarely ever reference that material again. When people have questions, the answers can be hard to find in the training materials. Training materials are typically not organized to answer specific questions that arise.

Why not have a place where you can publish the answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)? You could do this on your company intranet or in a document, but why not use Salesforce.com and allow the business the ability to manage the content themselves? Enter the Info Center.

It is only available as a Test Drive right now, but I am very interested in your feedback. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on:

  • Would this be a useful tool to have within Salesforce.com? (it would be free)
  • Are Messages, FAQs and Links core items that need to be communicated? Any others?
  • How is the user experience?
  • Is the performance acceptable? It is a little slow to load, but once loaded it responds very well. Is that acceptable from your point of view?
  • What would you do differently? How would you improve it?
  • If you had it in Salesforce.com, would you use it? Do you think your users would respond to it?

Please take the Test Drive and provide your feedback as comments on this post or on my support page. I loaded the test drive with content to answer the Frequently Asked Questions about the Info Center. I’ll let the Info Center explain what the Info Center does!

button_testdrive.gif

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Building the AppExchange

On the new AppExchange blog, there are 3 posts providing background into how the AppExchange came to be. Interesting read.

Part I: Building the AppExchange
Part II: Creating the Data Model
Part III: Launching AppExchange.com

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