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Building a Flash Message Board System

Chapter Description

Before Flash MX was released, message boards were almost always HTML constructions. Now they can be deployed using Flash MX and a backend server-side system to great effect. This sample chapter shows you how.

Why Use Flash for a Message Board?

That's a fair question to ask. The overwhelming majority of message boards are HTML-based systems. They are usually composed of a series of individual ASP, JSP, or PHP pages that perform middleware operations between Flash and their respective databases. This still works well in most circumstances. However, developing a system like this from scratch may equate to a system of dozens of individual pages to perform individual operations.

The power of Flash MX as a GUI (graphical user interface) enables you to deploy your applications in a visually seamless fashion. There is no need to traverse multiple pages of a HTML-based system, and the experience is much less jarring to a visitor.

With the correct planning and development, conventional middleware pages (PHP, ASP, and so on) can be replaced with a single server application. The system could even work offline. This alone, however, wouldn't necessarily convince the casual developer to use Flash for such an application.

As Flash gains higher levels of usage, you'll find more sites and applications composed completely as SWF deployments. How elegant would it be to nestle your message board system directly within a greater application? Deploy a Flash-based Help Desk on an intranet—it could consist of a message board, email system, the ability to chat live with a customer service representative (audio), or even hold a video conference with someone from customer support who was specifically qualified to talk to your problem! All of this enclosed within one large Flash-based system, built of advanced components and allowing for the seamless integration of those components, all residing in a single browser window, accessible to you—and even customizable per the individual user's tastes. Deploy the system as an offline application, and now you're talking about a seriously elegant solution to solve particular needs.

If you are developing something like a Flash-based Web site for a company that sells computer hardware, for example, how nice would it be to have a tab on the side of the page that, when clicked, simply swings out a message board specific to a hardware part, so you could get available user feedback/ratings on a particular part you are considering for purchase? All without leaving the page you were already on? That's something you'll be seeing spring up in online applications. This is a movement you can embrace and further along by using MX in such ways.

That same message board system could communicate with another component, such as a live chat area, where an online admin would receive a message containing the topic of your recent message board post, and he could push a message window to you inviting you into a one-to-one personal chat to help resolve your technical problem. Within the span of a few minutes, you might be able to gain help from replies to your message board posting, or from an admin in a live chat session. That same admin could even push JPEG diagrams of a schematic to you now through Flash MX.

This idea is just the beginning in terms of possible uses of this type of integrated Flash-based solution. And with Flash, you don't need to worry so much about a client's browser or operating system (as you might with strictly HTML-based solutions) – you know that your front-end displays and functions with synergy, and that your backend solution processes information as needed.

All of this could be rather difficult to manage in a HTML-based system. You'd have to worry about client detection scripts, style sheet issues, possible JavaScript incompatibilities, tabling, and so forth. Not so with Flash.

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