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Using Google Apps to generate a simple site from a form

I was blue skying with a friend the other day and came up with checklist to build a simple canned website from a form submission, using Google Apps and Google Apps Scripting.

  1. User goes to a form.  (More on creating a form)
  2. User submits images, video links, text, email, background color, etc.
  3. That all goes into a google spreadsheet, which triggers the building of a site.  Here’s trigger info.
  4. You can automatically build a google site.  Here’s the api: site creation, page creation.  If you want your own domain name ( I think you can do that, but you’d need to integrate with a DNS service to set that up–this part bears a little more investigating.
  5. If desired, you can generate the QR code for the site.
  6. If you need to tell the form submitter that the site is created, you can email them a link to the QR code so they can print it out.
  7. You can even remove content from the site via cron (see triggers link up above), though you can’t automatically delete the site.
  8. It’s conceivable you could even use google checkout to charge users beforehand (though this is a bit less supported).

What’s great is that you don’t need to have any tool other than a browser to build this entire stack.  Google is truly creating a toolkit/macro language in the cloud.

Google Maps is now charging

…if you reach a certain number of mapviews.  You have up to 25K/day mapviews free, which works out to just over 9 million map views a year.  My understanding of those limits is that they are per-business, not per domain or site.  Here’s the announcement on their blog.

Alternatives for javascript map generation:

Google Maps has made mapping ubiquituous (I’m sure Brian Timoney would agree), and in doing so has done the web a great service.  It will be interesting to see what happens as they try to charge for this service.

8z Real Estate Hackfest

Recently, at the company I work for, 8z Real Estate, we had a hackfest.  A hackfest, for those not in the know, is a chance for employees to spend time working on whatever they want to do but don’t have time to do during the normal business day.  It’s also known as ‘FedEx day’ because you build something to ship in one day.

The idea is to give everyone a chance to do something work related that they want to do, or try, or explore, but don’t have time to because of the hustle and bustle of work life.

From the post at Atlassian (as far as I know, the originators of FedEx day).

[The] task must be something “out of the ordinary”. This is hard to define – but basically the spirit is that you can’t do something you would normally do. It’s a chance to attack all those “I wonder if XYZ would work… “, “It would be nice if we could… ” small … tasks that always get pushed off in the heat of battle.”

We had about 11 employees and contractors gather at the office.  Our schedule:

  • 8:00 Employees arrives, normal work begins
  • 10:00 Employees cease normal work
  • 10:00 – 10:30 brainstorm session
  • 10:30 – 10:45 pick projects
  • 12:00-1:00 eat lunch (Snarfs!)
  • 10:45-4:15 continue work on project
  • 4:30-5:30 present projects (8 min presentation) and drink a beer

We had an 2 hour block of work at the beginning of the day because we needed to, but after that, almost no one did everyday work.  Phones were off, email was closed.

The type of projects selected varied.  Most folks weren’t developers, so we didn’t have a ton of shipped software.  But we had some really interesting ideas, ranging from investigation of interesting technologies (what’s coming down the pike with our e-newsletter sender, infographics) to outlines of business ideas, to refactoring of business processes.

The excitement of all working together, in one room, on different projects, for a fixed amount of time, with no interruptions was one highlight.  I also really enjoyed people’s varied takes on aspects of the business.  It was also impressive to see the skills that I didn’t know some people had (powerpoint, for one).  It was awesome how many good ideas we had, even though some of them would have taken a hackfest week to implement.

All in all, it was a worthy experiment and something every business should consider doing.

Image Recognition Automation Fail

I had a friend who asked me to take a quick look at a business problem he was having.  He had a set of photos (of vinyl record albums) that he was looking at to identify the artist.  After finding the artist, he’d do some additional categorization work and then push the image and metadata to a ecommerce site he is running.

He wanted a way to more quickly identify the artist and album, preferably without his intervention.

The first thing I suggested was Mechanical Turk, as this seemed like a great example of a Human Interaction Task.  However, my friend tried this and found it to be more work (mostly proofing, I think) than it was help.

He also pointed out that Google Image Search does exactly what he wants.  You can post an image or URL to it (you have to use the camera in the search box), and it will give you back like images, best guess for the image matching, and links related to the image.  Pretty cool!

However, there is no API for the new Google Image Search.  Sure, you have the old, deprecated Images API, but it doesn’t have access to post an image or a URL, just keywords.  A bit of looking around revealed this StackOverflow post, which deconstructs the new Image Search parameters.  However, the deconstructed URL gives back javascript which needs to be executed by a browser.  I looked briefly at Selenium and webdriver to do that, but couldn’t figure it out.

I also looked at Kooaba’s API, but they didn’t get back to me when I signed up for a free developer account, and their API only covers books, CDs and DVDs.  Also from a StackOverflow post, I looked at MacroGlossa and IQEngines.  Neither of them seemed to work–MacroGlossa wanted a category (and, shocker, vinyl record albums was not a category) and IQEngines let me submit an image wasn’t successful in identifying it.

I had to admit I was defeated.