Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ahhh, automation

After going back and forth for a bit, we decided to automate the registration process for the National River Cleanup Week website. It doubled our costs, but will hopefully save valuable staff time in the end.

The basic process entails an online form that collects the data fields listed below. Before submitting the form, the registrant will enter several characters from a Captcha box which prevents automated form bots from submitting the form. Upon successful submission, an automated email message is sent to the registrant containing a username (email address) and password (which allows the registrant to log in to the website later and update their data, if necessary), along with a confirmation link. Clicking the automated link in the message completes the registration process by validating the registrant's email address.

This process won't avoid false registrations entirely, but it requires a valid email address since the registrant has to receive the confirmation message in order to finalize registration. It's the best method if we wish to automate the entire registration process, short of an administrator approving/disapproving each registration (which is still the safest method but requires oversight).

As an administrator, we will be able to:

  • review the entire list at any time and edit or disable a registrant's data.
  • search the list based on various data fields.
  • export the data to a delimited file for use with other software.
  • send an HTML email message to any or all registrants.
Attempting to keep our registration form lean, we’ve reduced the number of items from a pretty big list to the one below. This information will then be used to populate a Google map for volunteers to search and find a cleanup close to them. Pretty hot.

Contact Name
Contact Email
Cleanup Date
Cleanup Time
Cleanup Location
Estimated Cleanup Distance (in miles)
Estimated number of volunteers
Estimated number of trash bags needed

It’s hard not to feel we’ve somehow packed our bags, but have left something behind. Honing in on this information now, early in the development, requires a good bit of vision for the site…and since it’s a new site, to a certain extent, hard to imagine we’ve thought of everything. We won’t be able to go back and make changes to the registration process without incurring significant costs.

Somehow I still feel like I left my wallet at home.

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