Summer of Software: Filemaker Pro 12

Today was my first real attempt to build something useful in Filemaker Pro, and I made solid progress.

My vision is to build a database that will allow me to maintain an archive of media mentions of Bemidji State coming into the office through our various measurement channels — Google Alerts; Yahoo! News alerts; Bing alerts; daily hit digests from Meltwater; random things we find on social media; things we dig up by hand; whatever is out there that we can identify. I then would like to have an ability to cross-reference this with the categorized listing of the news releases I distribute from the office over the course of an academic year. This would help me answer questions that are basically impossible for me to answer right now, like “what were your five most successful press releases last year in terms of the number of stories they generated” or “how many media hits did we get off of X story you wrote last November?”

I worked through two key steps of this development project this afternoon. The first was to build a table in Filemaker to enter the contents of a news clip from an online source. Having used Filemaker Bento to build a similar archive of news clips several years ago (the maintenance of which fell by the wayside during my interim director appointment), setting this up wasn’t especially difficult; I already had a basic template in place, it just needed to be built for Filemaker. I have this built, but honestly it’s easier in Bento; Filemaker could stand to adapt some tricks from its younger sibling in this regard. But, it’s done, and save for the functionality I included to store a PDF image of the story, which I dropped in Filemaker, it has all of the features I had built into the Bento version.

The second part wasn’t particularly challenging, but I also successfully deployed this database to my iPad. It was nonsensically difficult to find instructions on how to get this set up in Filemaker’s documentation (mostly because there are items in Filemaker’s menus that do not have entries in the documentation, which is just silly), but the actual process was quite simple once I found the right menus.

The next step in the process will be to build a second database table to keep my news release list, which is now being stored in a Google Docs spreadsheet, which will be straightforward as building the clip database was this afternoon.

From there, things get more complex, as I need to learn Filemaker’s functionality for building what will likely be a third table that will act as an array attached to that news release list to maintain pointers to stories in the news clip data table.

A future step would be to figure out a way to automatically dump stories into the database using Filemaker’s Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) functionality. That seems like pretty Serious Business™ where software development is concerned; it might be fun to take a run at that if/when I can get the base version up and rolling.

As is typically the case with software, I see in my head how this should work. The trick now is to learn how to build it.

That Summer of Software thing is something I came up with just now. Fun. Considering I’m putting effort into learning Filemaker and I’ve started playing around with Final Cut Pro, it does seem somewhat appropriate. Even though summer is more than half over.

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