Tim Dietrich

Custom Software Developer

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FileMaker WebDirect: I've Seen the Light

This afternoon, my first FileMaker WebDirect-based solution goes into beta testing. And while it is too early to say just how well it will go, I have to say that I'm very excited about both the project and WebDirect.

My opinion of WebDirect has changed considerably since I first wrote about it back in December, just after the FileMaker 13 platform was released. You could say that I've "seen the light."

Like many FileMaker developers, I've learned a lot about WebDirect over the past several months. Through trial and error, the sessions that I attended at this year's FileMaker Developer Conference, and the kindness of people in the FileMaker community, I now have a better appreciation of what WebDirect is, a better understanding of how WebDirect works, and perhaps most importantly, an understanding of what it takes to successfully develop a WebDirect solution.

The project that I'm working on involves the creation of an online dictionary for the Salish language. Salish is a family of 23 languages that are spoken by the Native American people of the Pacific Northwest region. It is an endangered language, which means that it is at risk of loss, as its speakers pass away or shift to speaking other languages. Those who are fluent in Salish tend to be older, with most being over the age of 50. Of the original 23 dialects of Salish, only 15 still remain in use today. So there is a fear is that Salish will eventually disappear completely, resulting in a loss of both cultural and historical knowledge.

The goal of the project is to provide a publicly accessible Web site that can be used by students and scholars to study the Salish language. A team of volunteers is working to create a very thorough resource that will help to sustain, and hopefully revive, the Salish language.

In the first phase of what will eventually be a much larger project, a small team of volunteers will be entering English words and phrases, along with their Salish translations, contextual information, variations, phrases, and more, into a FileMaker database. The Salish language is both large and complex, so this is no small task.

So, why did I decide to use WebDirect? For one reason: It is a perfect fit for this project.

The team of volunteers who are working on the project are geographically dispersed, and members will likely come and go as things progress. In addition, the project is in a very early stage, with extremely limited funding. Therefore, we want to avoid having to license and deploy FileMaker Pro as much as possible. With WebDirect, I am able to provide the team browser-based access to the FileMaker database that I've created. There's no need for them to purchase licenses for FileMaker, and deployment becomes a non-issue.

The database that I've designed has a very basic interface, and I've tried to create a workflow that makes it as easy and quick as possible for the team to enter their data. Through the use of script triggers and a script that I've written, team members can copy and paste the Salish translations into the database, and FileMaker will automatically "clean up" the text by removing styles, fonts, and so on. But more importantly, the script maps any special characters to the somewhat complex Salish symbols. As a result, team members do not need to spend time manually adjusting the text, or switching fonts and/or keyboards. (See below for screenshots of the solution.)

There is no doubt that WebDirect has a long way to go. We are all looking forward to the day that it supports printing, the creation of PDFs, improved performance, and so on. However, when you think about what we can do with WebDirect today, I think you'll agree that it is quite impressive. I know that I, for one, am really impressed by what I've been able to do with it on this project.

I'm looking forward to seeing where FileMaker takes WebDirect in the future, and I'm also looking forward to using WebDirect on projects in the future.

The Home Page for the Salish Language Project database. Click the image to see a larger version.

A List View layout for the Salish translations. Click the image to see a larger version.

A Form View layout for the Salish translations. Click the image to see a larger version.