Salsa Scoop> tag: ”blog:dia tools“

Why We Salsa

October 15 is a milestone for DIA and our users: it marks the end of support for our legacy codebase. You may have heard already. From here on out, everything is in Salsa. While users of the original system can still log into and use their accounts, and old pages calling that system will continue to function (well into the future, if not indefinitely), there is officially no development, patching or support available for it. It's a day ripe with the auspices of history: this date in 1582 marked the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, an overnight 10-day leap forward to correct the backwards drift of the old Julian system. We've been on in this space about Salsa's bells and whistles -- the dashboards, custom reports, and other exotica. And we've been talking about and working on it for well over a year, and lately had scarce time for much of anything else. But as we finally make the break, it's worth a few words about the deeper change Salsa represents and the bigger-picture reasons why we're making the move.

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E-xemplar: Customizing a DIA Dashboard

A great example of using Salsa's flexibility to customize a campaign headquarters' look and feel comes courtesy of Evolve Strategies. The setup in this case is by a consulting shop giving its client a one-screen overview of how its action is proceeding. You'll have to click the screenshot below to get the full effect: How'd they build it?

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E-xemplar: Earth Day Network Ramps for April 22

Earth Day Network, one of our newer users, is hailing the approach of their signature holiday with multiple online actions. The action here is pretty straightforward as pertains the technics -- there's also a pledge to use energy-efficient bulbs, which is a basic signup page -- but it's drawing traffic from several enormous mailing lists looking for topical links and turning its supporter signup chart vertical.

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VTVigils Honors Virginia Tech Victims

In the aftermath of Monday's horror at Virginia Tech, DemocracyInAction was approached by a few folks who wanted to find some way of helping their own communities grieve and remember outside the typical online parameters of list-building and fundraising. Small as it is in the face of such enormity, we're humbled to have collaborated together to donate VTVigils, organizing nationwide vigils in commemoration over the days ahead. Please feel welcome to participate or share it with others. There is absolutely no upsell -- no participant's information will be used in any way for anything except this event -- and it's completely agenda-free in every respect beyond the agenda of being human.

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Copious Salsa Documentation

A great software tool deserves great (and a great deal of) documentation. Simultaneous with polishing the code and building new features, we've been hard at work trying to take our documentation to a different place. We've been keenly aware for a while that we've left something to be desired in that department. Believe me, we're all tired ourselves of having to say that we're working on it. But we really have been. And finally, we have a comprehensive FDA-approved* label identifying every ingredient. Click here for your Salsa documentation. (It's permanently linked from our Training & Support section.) Now what you gets here at the moment is three different things, although like all great art it will over time grow and evolve new meanings, fresh interpretations, unexpected interlocutors. (And like the Capitoline Wolf, someone will come along later and slap some new content into it.)

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DIA Salsa Spotlight of the Day: In-Line WYSIWYG Editors

Though it seems like a minor tweak, swapping the What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor from the old system in favor of a better one was a long and perilous adventure.

It's all in the editor

The WYSIWYG editor of the current system is a decent little program called TinyMCE. We did not write it; instead, we grabbed it from the great farm of available open source software. Sadly, we picked something rotten. It looked shiny and it smelled pleasant, but it was not edible. Unless you were starving. At the time we chose it we were famished. The great limitations of it are known to all of our users: from the Bush Administration-type quality control that would re-write your content to the minuscule editing window on pages that used templates, TinyMCE clearly had its upbringing at the teat of Mussolini.

. Like Mussolini, we were lying when we said it made the trains run on time. We even had to go so far as to create "features" to work around the problems caused by TinyMCE. That "disable WYSIWYG editor" was so that our users would not have to suffer through it. TinyMCE brought a lot of heartache, and that was just the daily impact we would see on our support staff. TinyMCE had to go. Under the new Salsa regime it was first against the wall. But first we needed a replacement. The new editor needed to:

  • Generate really clean HTML.
  • Be lightweight. (TinyMCE was a hog dipped in butter.)
  • Clean out the crud that Microsoft Word generates.
  • Be cross-browser compliant.

A clarion call was put out for a new editor. By this I mean I turned around in our cramped office and said, "TinyMCE blows. Any suggestions?" The response was clear: "All inline editors blow." This was not encouraging, but I was not one to give up. Every, and I mean about a dozen, open source or free editors were looked at. About a half-dozen editors with a price were tested. Rumors even started that one rogue programmer in our midst had written his own editor. The story gets even weirder: said programmer has also written his own spreadsheet application, and wears a colander on his head because he is convinced that Google is stealing all of his ideas. These were scary times. Then I discovered KTML. KTML from our friends in Romania was a godsend. Sure it cost, but it was slick and it met all of our requirements. And as a bonus they had a JSP version. Being a JSP shop this sounded good. In June 2006 we made the plunge to KTML. Happiness, briefly, reigned. Around December, our intrepid developer Erin pinged the KTML support team. In the past they generally would respond in a day or so. This time, silence. She pinged them again. The silence extended into January. Was Romania invaded? Was KTML a front for an eastern European drug syndicate? Nope. Adobe bought them. Then, Adobe summarily executed KTML for JSP. I felt dirty, alone and I panicked. AHHHHHHHHHHH. Salsa was already in an early form of its public beta at this time. Some of you even used it with KTML. Do we stick with the devil we know in TinyMCE or do we start our hunt anew? Testosterone flowed and the hunt began again. From our past crusades we knew where to look and quickly narrowed the field down to one: FCKEditor. Its name is odd, but its form is elegant. (Or as elegant as an inline editor can get.) It generates XHTML-compliant code, it's lightweight, Microsoft's mucus-laden babel is easily tackled and it works across a variety of browsers. From first glance it seemed great. Then, as we began to install it, it made us smile. When we opened its image library function we fell in love. And this is how we came to love the editor with the seemingly offensive name. Deus ex machina.

You may remember us from such posts as: Queries
Reports Dashboards Email, Tags and Scoring

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DIA Salsa Spotlight of the Day: Email, Tags and Scoring

The email blaster is by far our most-used tool. Since its inception it has, like many of the DIA tools, evolved organically. There are six separate steps to send an email blast and most of the steps seem to be just thrown in random order.

Master Blaster

In the Salsa edition of the blaster we decided to follow a more logical approach and one that is more akin to composing and sending an email from your desktop email application. The number of steps has been reduced from six to three: Write, Target, Send. In the first step, writing your email, we've combined the ability to choose a template, set the from fields and then compose the email. The new template chooser allows you to see a preview of your template than just having to rely on a name.

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DIA Salsa Spotlight of the Day: Dashboards

Third in the series. Previously: Queries Reports

I want it MY way!

Yeah, yeah. We've heard you. All of you. You want your own, customized, slice of DIA heaven. You loathe having to share you preferences with others in your office. Sharing is not caring in your book. Instead you have a rugged sense of individualism. We know. You are a special and unique snowflake. Well, we listened. Not only did we listen (and listen and listen and listen) but we did something about it. Salsa is about you. All about you. You and your needs. We can wait for our needs until our Guacamole release is ready.

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E-xemplar: Distributed Event Action Lands Step It Up in Grey Lady

Very nice piece in the New York Times today on Step It Up 2007's National Day of Climate Action Apr. 14 and the general attempt to get lawmakers to take climate change seriously. Step It Up is currently the gargantuan Distributed Event in the DIA universe, closing in on 1,000 separate local actions a month out from the action. (There's a short description of what the Meetup-like tool does on this page.) And the seamless blending of online components with in-the-flesh activities testifies to the capacity for creative activism to inspire passion and get big in a hurry:

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DIA Salsa Spotlight of the Day: Custom Reports

Long one of the DIA toolset's frustrating limitations, reports in Salsa -- flexible, customizable, savable -- put the copious data lodged in the system suddenly at your fingertips, not excluding visually relieving graphiness. Heck, maybe too much. In striking a balance between power and usability, we've had to introduce some fairly advanced concepts to the Report Builder interface, and they can take some getting used to. The query builder actually lets you construct a SQL statement, so users who are comfortable with the argot will be ahead of the game, but really, everyone can play. Yesterday, Anthony toured the buffed-up Query tool for pulling a finely-targeted slice of the list. Today, we talk Reports for pulling finely-targeted everything else.


Reports can actually do some of the things that queries do, but they do a whole lot more -- because they can be run on any data object in the system. Begone, export-to-Excel-and-figure-it-out! (Naturally, you can still do that too.)

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