In this review Gunter will investigate the quality and usage of the Feed Genie Dreamweaver extension from DMXzone. He will create a Picasa Web album as test case and dive more in the endless possibilities of Feed Genie.
Scope of this review
First things first: I´ll try hard not to tell
you things which you can watch & read about on the DMXZONE website, and
this review is certainly not meant to provide a comprehensive introduction of
each & every feature the current Feed Genie version (1.02) comes with.
My review is based on evaluating the "Picasa – User Album Photos" feed type, will highlight my (sometimes developer-centric) observations and occasionally provide some technical background information which may be of interest to those who´d like to look behind the curtains.
Enormous time-saving even for developers
Until recently I somehow managed to forego
the whole "display feeds on your website" subject area. How comes ? Although
I´m adept at coding PHP stuff until it fits, integrating an RSS feed which
grabs data from one of my Picasa Web Albums would have meant to…
a) study the pretty complex Web Albums Data API and
b) either develop a complex PHP class myself or make use of the official PHP client library provided by ZEND.
Well, all of the above is certainly doable, but there are times when even a guy like me prefers to keep the casual desire to just be bone-lazy unharmed by not having to wade through code – and the DMXZONE Feed Genie extension for Adobe Dreamweaver appears to be a perfect match, because it does the heavy lifting behind the scenes and allows you to integrate a variety of popular feeds without breaking into sweat.
The Feed Genie developers must have spent a huge amount of time studying the various feed Data APIs. As a result the Feed Genie server behavior allows for a very convenient way to define the most important Search (plus, depending on the Feed Type, even display related…) options which will later be passed to the respective Feed provider as parameter/value pairs embedded in a query string. As displayed next, the available parameters will of course vary across different Feed Types:
As for me, this particular feature represents an indispensable highlight, because – well, even if you don´t have the slightest clue about what parameter/value pairs the respective Feed provider expects in order to generate a valid feed cache file, it just works fine and doesn´t allow for making too many mistakes. Guess what, it´s even a perfect starting point for a feed noob like me ;-)
Using Dynamic Data as parameter values: benefits
While some Dreamweaver developers will settle for creating just one document and provide a single pair of Picasa User ID/Album ID credentials as static strings of digits, others might want to take the extra step and make the functionality provided by Feed Genie available to, say, all registered users of their custom Content Management System. In this case it´s needless to mention that this data need to be stored in a MySQL database table and derived from there by using a standard Dreamweaver recordset. Very fortunately the Feed Genie developers must have been anticipating such advanced use cases, because that´s exactly what the lightning bolt icon on the right is meant for:
Using Dynamic Data as parameter values: a proof of concept
The basic requirements for realizing a very simple "per user" definition of a Picasa User ID respectively Album ID are: a functioning Dreamweaver Connection and a MySQL table with at least the following colums:
not needed for this tutorial, but such a unique column is a must have when identifying the logged in visitor via the Dreamweaver "MM_user_id" Session Variable
type: int or varchar, just make it long enough to hold the complete string of digits
Assuming that a fictitious chap going by
the username of "johndoe" has his Picasa User ID/Album ID values already stored
by now, here´s how to derive these two information units from the aforementioned
table and pass them to the corresponding Feed Genie input fields:
1. create a Dreamweaver Recordset using the indicated Filter criteria:
Confirm with OK.
2. open the Feed Genie server behavior, click the "User ID" lightning bolt icon and select the "picasa_userid" column from the Dynamic Data server behavior:
After confirming with OK, the updated "User ID" input field should now look like this:
3. repeat step 2 for the "Album ID" input field, but select the "picasa_albumid" column instead.
The available Image Size options vs. customizing the Feed´s query string
While comparing the currently defined default values of some of Feed Genie´s Search Options with the official Picasa Web Albums query parameters reference, I noticed that – for instance – the list of "Image Size" options happens to leave out a few more values which are supported as well.
Here´s what the Query Parameters Reference says:
"The following values are valid for the thumbsize and imgmax query parameters and are embeddable on a webpage…94, 110, 128, 200, 220, 288, 320, 400, 512, 576, 640, 720, 800, 912, 1024, 1152, 1280, 1440, 1600".
Does this mean I´m criticizing the Feed Genie developers ? Not at all, because trying to cover each & every possible image size option within the bounds of such dropdown menus would clearly make the whole thing far too complex to a regular user who might prefer a concise list displaying the most used options.
However the more advanced user might look for a way to override the default Image Size options, and here´s some good news for those who are not prone to panic attacks when having to switch Dreamweaver to Code View for amending little things: whatever value you define or select in the "Search Options" section of the Feed Genie server behavior, will become part of an easily editable Query String which gets inserted somewhere on top of the current document:
What would you have to do when changing one
of Feed Genie´s default "Image Size" values (say, 200px, Uncropped) to
one of the currently unavailable values (say, 1440px, Cropped) ?
Just locate the "imgmax" parameter, consider the difference between the flags "u" (uncropped) and "c" (cropped):
… and change the parameter value accordingly:
There´s just one minor downside which might confuse some: the dropdown menus of the Feed Genie server behavior are by nature limited to those values they know and will reject those they don´t -- in other words: after manually changing a parameter value to something that´s currently unsupported by Feed Genie, you´ll note that later on the corresponding menu will trip over your custom value and display an arbitrary option as pre-selected.