Friday, March 30, 2007

Mapping and image replacement

.. it's just more fun

Now my days at my present job are counted (and I am counting them down), I still am working on small improvements to the website. Well, I am still devoted to that, or better, I am still devoted to that.

Two things I am implementing now: Google Maps and sIFR (or Scalable Inman Flash Replacement) and these are interesting and fun. The best thing is that these are implemented based on ideas put forward by my colleagues and me, not by management. They, for one, have no idea what it is about and, secondly, rather pay for a service than get a better solution for free.

Google Maps

Right now we are using a payed mapping service that we can not even use within our website. We are opening the map in an annoying pop up and the look and feel of our website is completely lost.

It is quite easy to implement Google Maps within our website and preserve the look and feel. The only downside is that we would like to use the route planner functionality as well through the API. But that is sadly not exposed. I have looked at setting up a reverse engineered web service that would extract the route planning information (including the route on the map) from the original Google Map page. It seems possible and I think someone has done just that. I have seen it in action on a website but lost the url.

Anyhow, building such a website was possible and I know how to extract the data from the response, but it would be really silly to do just that. It would mean that we would make the website depending on the stability of the source of a web page produced by a third party. A small change could just ruin the experience. No, an API is a better thing to rely on.

sIFR

The good thing about sIFR is that works along the lines of "progressive enhancement". If the visitor does not has Flash or not right version or has JavaScript disabled, then the experience is not ruined. The experience is only not enhanced, but that's only the loss of a bonus and not the loss of a functionality.

Playing around with sIFR not just gave me some insight into this technique, but also some insight into Flash and above all Unicode and Code Pages. Characters like "é" and "€" at first refused to show up. Now, I know more about embedding fonts into Flash.

Well, talking about "progressive enhancement" for me personally there.

Taking a U-turn

Although, anything that you get for free from someone you don't know, should be approached with some reservation. You should check it thoroughly or else some funny results can come up.

This can lead to some interesting results I hope ;-)