Wednesday, February 24, 2010

FamZoo goes live!

Nine years ago, when Oracle started down the path of turning Application Express (nee HTML DB) into a real, supported product that was shipped with the Oracle database, we had the good fortune of being mentored and led by Bill Dwight. Bill was a hands-on Vice President in the Oracle Tools division and he led the development of JDeveloper, Developer, Forms, Designer, and iLearning. Bill had a lot of experience and success at Oracle, but also he had the right kind of savvy to guide us from a "project" to a product. He imparted a lot of sound advice that still helps us today.

Fast forward to today, and Bill Dwight is the founder and CEO of FamZoo, Inc. In a nutshell, FamZoo is "a family-friendly web site that helps parents teach their children the practical skills they’ll need to thrive in the real world." FamZoo the company, and FamZoo the Web site have been under development and in private beta for a few years, but as of January 21, 2010, FamZoo is now open for business to the public. As you navigate around the FamZoo site, you'll see the tell-tale signature of Application Express in the URL. There is an extensive FamZoo tour also available.

FamZoo has been an interesting case-study for Oracle Application Express, in that:
  1. They made the conscious decision to write the customer-facing portions of FamZoo in lovingly hand-crafted HTML / JavaScript / AJAX. According to Bill, this was important because "our consumer facing UI is very, very custom and particular - a key part of our brand."

  2. The internal administration and dashboard pages of FamZoo were written using the traditional wizards and declarative APEX infrastructure.

  3. Even with the very custom customer-facing UI, they still capitalize on other benefits of the Application Express framework, including security, session state, page templates, etc.

  4. With the exception of one local APEX instance for upgrade testing, the development and deployment of FamZoo has been done on commercial, hosted instances of Application Express from two different hosting providers. Not only was this extraordinarily cost effective, but it let the FamZoo team focus on building their business and their brand, and not have to worry about database and Web site administration, backups, power, etc.

The user interface of FamZoo is really superb and the overall flow and navigation of the site is elegant. To develop this kind of site takes a lot of time and effort and careful planning, regardless of the development framework that is chosen. I'm just happy they chose to go the Application Express route.


Stew said...

As you said, they've done a great job presenting a great-looking site while using the power and efficiency of Apex development.

Thanks for sharing this.

Johannes de Jong said...

Congrats a fantastic looking site, a great advertisement for APEX.


Paul Brookes said...

Excellent example of Apex in use 'externally', in a very creative way. Something that it would be great to see a lot more of.

I'm probably a bit biased, but it does seem very responsive as well.

Hats off to Bill if you're watching.


Johannes de Jong said...

By the way the site does not work for IE6, yeah I know its time it died.

If you want I can pass on a screen dump.


Robert said...

I agree this a good looking site, but I can't help but think that it would have been easier on them using a php framework like codeigniter or cake. Don't get me wrong, Application Express is fantastic and I've saved literally months of work using it for inhouse applications with many forms, but this site is all about layout and I'm left wondering exactly how much time was spent getting the look and feel exactly right.

Bill Dwight said...

Thank you for the nice compliments on the site!

Some responses to comments so far:

* MSIE6 - yes, it's true that we don't work on MSIE6 and, sadly, there's still a lot of it out there. In tonight's patch, we're adding a conditionally displayed banner to clearly notify IE6 users (and earlier versions - yikes!). We're banking on Google Apps' recent IE6 de-support announcement to help defend our position. Other companies, like 37Signals, have gone the same route as well. Bless them!!!

* @Rob - well, for us, being super comfortable with PL/SQL, happy to commit to the Oracle DB, and big fans of the simple "minimal moving parts" architecture of Apex, we actually saved ourselves a ton of time. We used Yahoo's YUI library for the Ajax bits, the integration was easy with Apex, and then we get all the power of PL/SQL + Oracle SQL for the backend (hey, we're not just a pretty face, we do have lots'o data back there to mess around with ;-) I've always loved how there is no impedance mismatch between PL/SQL and SQL. Of course, this approach isn't for everyone, but we love it for the reasons and the context mentioned.

Ittichai Chammavanijakul said...

Congrats and great job! Not only the concept and site interface are very fantastic (definitely I'll try it out), using APEX as a development framework makes it more interesting.

This is a good show case for APEX.

Bill Dwight said...

@Ittichai Thanks for the nice comments! We look forward to having your family try it out and getting your feedback. (Note: search twitter for "famzoo coupon".)