I am finally able to talk about a project I have been working on since November when I took a new job at AOL Personal Media in Beverly Hills. Xdrive Shows is a sharing application that lets you take content stored on your AOL Xdrive account, such as music and photographs, and create a show that you can share with friends. Xdrive Shows also integrates with AOL Pictures to allow you to use your existing pictures in the shows you create. With 5GB of free storage to every user, that gives you more power than Flickr and Photobucket for storing and sharing shows. The thing that gets me excited about Xdrive shows is that it represents the first Flex application built by AOL.
Flex allows to easily incorporate GIF/PNG/JPEG/MP3 and perhaps even FLV files into our shows. Xdrive Shows will surface any of these file formats (except FLV, for now, shhh) in your current Xdrive and AOL Pictures account and allow you to preview and combine them into a single show with multiple images and sound tracks.
When the show is shared, the person you shared the show with will receive a link in his/her email account. The link takes them to a pickup page where they can subscribe to the RSS for the show, save the show to their Xdrive account, or preview the show with the show player. The internal show player is built using Flex, and the external one, the one you share with your friends, currently uses Flash 8 to allow more market penetration.
Flex communicates with the backend using a soon to be released Xdrive JSON API that will talk to your existing Xdrive storage account. Under the hood we are using the Cairngorm micro-architecture and the corelib for JSON encoding/decoding within Flex.
I consider Xdrive Shows to be a sample application, a testing ground if you will, of the many types of applications that will be developed in the future for AOL. Without giving away too much, I can say that we are moving ahead to create an even more exciting offerings built on Flex technology. These new offerings will introduce additional media formats, enhanced sharing and additional features that will blow the lid off any competition. I personally can’t wait!!
My first few weeks were spent building my own version of Xdrive Shows as my own learning tool, and as a way to understand how to work with our own JSON API (soon to be released as a public API and as a Flex API). Initially, I was developing my version of the product in parallel to another effort under way by contractors. When I showed my work to the management, they decided that our internal offering was further along and more suitable for public release. This made be really delighted since this would be my first contribution to the team. I can’t really say that I was a faster or necessarily better programmer than the contractors, but did have a good understanding of Flex (having worked on a several projects prior to coming to AOL) and a solid architecture called Cairngorm.
OK, this is the time when I have to throw out the default disclaimer when one talks about Cairngorm. It is a great architecture, but it is one of many you could use. The main advantages to using an architecture is efficiency. You get a definite productivity boost if you can reuse your code and build pieces of your application in modules or separate self-contained parts. You can concentrate on separate parts that can communicate with the model and don’t rely on everything being pathed and targeted directly from other components (like back in the Flash days).
So what is the conclusion of my story? We were able to deliver a version of Xdrive Shows that our team developed internally, a moment of great pride for our whole team. Of course, I have to give a shout out to Universal Mind, (Jesse, John, Nahuel, you guys rock!) they came on board as consultants towards the end of the project to sprinkle some code magic into Xdrive Shows and help us with future initiatives. I have a ton of respect for our team at Xdrive, especially for the QA team who kept me honest and those who poored a lot of time and effort into design and JSON. Of course I don’t want to forget to give props to Lar who, like me, moved from Arizona to crank out some killer Flex/Flash work for the new gig in Beverly Hills.
AOL managed to kill Xdrive and all my work while they were at it, like everything else they touch.