Doing the Right Thing – It’s Not Easy – on RSS, iCal and Gravatars

Last week I had the pleasure of being over at South by South West in Austin, Texas. Although its roots are in the music industry, it is also one of the largest digital interactive events on the planet. Web folks, designers, programmers, agencies and big brands gather to talk technology, business and betterment.

The session that most stuck in my mind was “Do The Right Thing: Building Respectful Software”, hosted by Matthew Rothenberg and Gavin Bell. I caught up with Gavin at the Digital Mission stand later, which was a great chance to chat about his new book, “Building Social Web Applications” – available on Amazon UK,Amazon US, or O’Reilly. – and to talk social software.

Building web-based applications in a responsible fashion is much harder than it seems at first glance. From privacy issues, to sensible default settings, “doing the right thing” isn’t always that easy. The session was a useful chance to reflect on many of the recent changes to Milestone Planner, and where we go next, from the names used in projects, to how the RSS and calendar features work.

When we added RSS and Calendar support to Milestone Planner, we went for the most secure option available. Secure RSS feeds aren’t that common or well understood. We use them because we want to keep people’s project data as secure as we can. When you login to Milestone Planner, via the web, and choose a project and you will see an RSS Feed icon in the window. If your browser supports it, you will also see it in the menu bar. The first time you select the RSS feed, depending on your RSS reader, you will need to sign in again. From an application point of view, this is ‘the right thing to do’ as each one application uses a seperate copy of your user ID and password, so that you can control access by application. From a user perspective, it seem a little bit of a hassle, but from a security perspective, it is the right thing. The alternative is to leave RSS feeds open, or protect them via a ‘feed key’ which is publicly visible.

Once you add a project feed to your RSS reader (or email client – both OS X’s mail.app and Microsoft’s Outlook can read Milestone Planner’s RSS feeds), you are good to go. You can choose to authenticate the RSS feed once or every time. The settings are controlled by your RSS reader, not Milestone Planner. Whenever someone updates a project, you will get an update via the RSS feed – very handy!

Calendars have their own interesting twist. When you click on the calendar icon in a project, it will fire the a calendar feed. This is a dynamically updated calendar, which you can sync to OS X iCal, Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird’s calendar or any app that supports the web calendar standard. Whenever a milestone moves, the calendar feed is automatically updated. Just like RSS feeds, you will need to login to the calendar feed separately. If you allow your calendar program to store the login details, you only need to do this once. Remember to set the calendar to auto-update – not all calendar clients do this by default. Even though the standard allows us to specify the default refresh time in the feed, sadly many of the Calendar applications tend to ignore this. That’s definitely not doing the right thing!

We have also added Gravatar support. If you have one, you already know what it is. Very simply, a gravatar is a Globally Recognised Avatar – a nice picture of you that can be used (in a project) to identify you. It is more recognisable than the email address on which it is based, and better represents the social nature of Milestone Planner. If you don’t have a gravatar Milestone Planner generates an icon for you, which you will see in the people bar at the top of the page. Setting up your own Gravatar is very straight forward.

We hope you enjoy the new features in Milestone Planner. Here is a request from us: If you see a place where you think we might have set the defaults wrong, or things could be better, let us know. Milestone Planner isn’t just a team-based tool, it’s a team effort, and we’d be very glad to have you on the team!

2 Responses to “Doing the Right Thing – It’s Not Easy – on RSS, iCal and Gravatars”

  1. March 24, 2010 at 11:01 pm, Dogsbody said:

    I do love Gravatar’s and really wish they were more widely used as they make adding avatar’s to projects so amazingly easy :-)

    Hats off to you for doing the right thing, Security vs Usability can sometimes feel like a compromise and the very fact that you are thinking about these things is more than a lot of companies!

    Reply

  2. March 25, 2010 at 11:36 am, Benjamin said:

    Thank you for the encouragement and support!

    Reply

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