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Visualizing Your Community with Flex

Posted by Landon Key | October 9, 2008 .

Flex888

Introduction

Hello, everyone here at Flex888, my name is Landon Key and I am the creator of PostWorthy.com. As a guest blogger I’d like to tell you about an exciting widget that I have created using Flex 3.0 and Yahoo’s MyBlogLog API (showing in this post and at Flex888 site.)

The most exciting feature of the MyBlogLog Community Widget is its ability to help you visualize the community surrounding your website (click the community button on the widget to your left). I will focus on the community graphing aspect of the widget and leave the the reader to experiment with reproducing the other features.

If you are interested in creating relational graphs then you will want to download the Flex Visual Graph Library. This library provides a great open source framework that can be used to visualize relational data structures. When I first downloaded the project for use in the mybloglog community widget I found that there were some bugs that first needed to be ironed out to get a proper build. On a side note it is an open source library so it may have changed slightly from the version I am using but the same functionality should be there.

MyBlogLog Community Widget “BIG” Picture

My purpose for creating this widget was to give myself and others a way to visualize our websites local communities. By using the MyBlogLog API I created a widget that would allow me to see recent readers as well as common interests that they may share. The idea is simple, find the websites that my readers frequent and analyze the content on those websites to improve my own content.

To create this widget there were 4 major tasks that must be achieved:

Putting It All Together

Of the 4 tasks listed above MyBlogLog handles 2 of them for us and exposes web-service calls that makes our job much easier. Without belaboring the issue you will need to first call the web service to fetch the recent reader data and loop through each reader calling the web service to get their individual communities.

Anyone comfortable with flex programming probably has enough information at this point to head off and build their own custom MyBlogLog widget. I will walk you through the last 2 tasks and hopefully make things a bit easier on you.

The next task in my list is to unify the common interests of all the recent readers. You could approach this from a couple of angles but my method follows. In the first 2 tasks I chose to maintain 2 separate arrays one for the list of readers and the second for the communities. The readers list is very simple it contains a list of objects which hold the info returned by the recent readers web-service. The community array must contain some extra information to maintain the relationships between users and communities. Each element of the communities array must contain both the community information as well as a list of readers who are members of that community. While this does not sound difficult you will want to keep in mind that if the community exists in the array you will not need to add it again but instead add the users id to that communities list of users.

Now that you have your data the only thing left to do is write it into an XML format that the visual graph can consume and pass it in to be rendered. Since actually formatting the data and passing it into the visual graph can be complicated to explain I will put together a separate article and send it to Moxie for you all to learn from.

Summary

I hope you all have enjoyed this article and are ready to start building your own widgets using Flex 3.0 and Yahoo’s MyBlogLog API. In the mean time take a look at my widget and give it a try on your own blog. I am also looking forward to hearing your feedback and suggestions in the comments here on Flex888. I believe Flex888 is also going to test the widget out on for a week or so and comment on what he thinks about it.

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2 Comments so far
  1. Landon Key  October 9, 2008 9:20 am

    Moxie,

    I wanted to say thanks for the guest blogging opportunity. I hope your readers enjoy this article and provide some feedback on the widget.

    Everyone,

    Let me know what you love about it. Let me know what you hate about it. Let me know what else you would like to see it do.

  2. Sravan  October 9, 2008 8:17 pm

    Great to see you here, Landon!

    The community feature is awesome. The one feature missing is fetching more details about a recent visitor, because a user might not always want to navigate to each mybloglog page by default but rather know more about the visitor first.

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