Idea for an MLS Companion Tool

Discussions around using and interfacing with the Church MLS program.
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Idea for an MLS Companion Tool


Post by tleish-p40 »

So I have an idea....

A little History: Ward Clerk
Several years ago I was called as a Ward Clerk. In that calling I put together multiple custom reports:
  • Compact Ward Directory
    All names, addresses and phone on 1 sheet of paper double sided
  • Ward Handheld PDF Directory:
    primarily for ward leaders
  • Elders Quorum Photo Directory:
    they were the only organization at the time that was interested
  • Ward Directory Booklet
    The Relief Society did this every year. It had all the ward leaders, all ward members with name, addresses, b-day (minus year)
  • High Priests/Relief Society/Elders Leadership Report
    Contained Members of group, their b-day, HT/VT companion, HT/VT families, address, phone. Believe it or not, this report was also compact.
The process was
  1. Export CSV files from MLS
  2. Parse data and place into a MySQL database
  3. Generate templated reports to PDF using the Java open source JasperReports
All reports were saved as compact pdf files and could be generated at any time and emailed or printed.

Side note about JasperReports:
If you are not familiar with this program, it is a phenominal reporting application that can handle all sorts of complex page calculations that aren't that easy to program. The report templates are defined using XML and natively exports to a format like adobe acrobat. I've always thought about wrangling together a community to build up templates that we could share with one another.

History cont: Stake Tech Specialist
A few years later I was called as Stake Tech Specialist. My first assignment was to generate a Stake Directory using the same method I did in my ward. The directory had 3 sections
  1. Stake Leadership Directory w/ spouse, email, & phone
  2. Branch/Ward Directories:
    Ward Leadership w/ spouse, email, & phone
    Families w/ Address, and Phone
  3. Stake Phone Directory
    Head of Household & Spouse w/ phone and branch/ward
    organized by last name, so if you couldn't remember what ward the person was in, you could figure it out by their name
Problems with the old directory method
  • Used to take months to put together.
  • Directory used to be 160 pages (80 pages printed double sided).
  • As soon as it was printed, it was out of date, but it was still only generated once a year because of how long it took
  • Even if you print to PDF from MLS, the pdf file size was approx 3MB per page. Do the math and a 160 page directory is way to big to email
Accomplishments w/ New Method
  • Can be generated in a few minutes
  • Directory contains more information, but was half the size at 80 total pages (40 pages printed double sided)
  • In it's native PDF format, it's a total of 700kb
  • Because it's so fast to generate and so small it is created and emailed out to stake leaders and bishoprics once a month
  • $$ Savings $$ Our stake used to spend over $1000 a year in printing for our stake directory, but because it's less pages and can be emailed we now spend less than $300 a year
I've been contacted by several people asking me for the program to do this. The problem is it's not a strait forward process and there's a lot of tweaking.

Member not of Unit
For example, on the stake level we don't get the name of the Bishopric for a singles ward in MLS. Why? Because the members of the bishopric are not officially members of the singles ward, their records are still in their home ward. So there's not way to extract this info from MLS. MLS doesn't even display it.

There's several instances like this where we enter custom information.

Individual Contact Info
Another problems is individual contact information such as cell phone and email (not household). Our stake uses email a lot, so this was important to them.

My Idea
So, where am I going with all this? I've been thinking about putting together a MLS companion tool that helps easily configure and manage all the above and launches the report. We as a community could share report templates, photo directory templates, other reports, etc.

But, in addition it has been discussed in this forum about the need to for tools for different calling. Like the ward mission leader, who wants to keep track of non-member households or wants to Google Map homes. There could be a member version without any sensitive information, where leaders could keep track of visit reports, etc.

I've thought a lot about what this could be written in. There are lots of languages out there, but I've come to the decision that I think Firefox would be a good choice. Yes, you can actually build applications with Mozilla/Firefox. There are lots out there, and they look great.

Why Mozilla/Firefox?
  • It has it's HTML and XUL architecture that almost any web guy or programmer could learn
  • You can style the pages easily using images and CSS, so it would support a community style of development where a designer could mock up the pages in html/xul/css/ and javascript and a coder could make those pages work (this is how the guys in the design team in SLC are doing it)
  • It natively supports web, it's a browser after all. You could log into with it, you could google map with it, you could scrape data from the unit website to merge with other data for a more complete directory, you could work w/ both the ward calendar and google calendar where auxiliaries could coordinate schedules.
  • Plugin Architecture: firefox strength is it's plugin architecture for installing and uninstalling. Anyone would be able to build and share plugins. People could easily add or remove them as they wish.
  • Internationalization: Mozilla/Firefox has built in support where each plugin has it's own set of language files. Others in the community could do translations. Internationalization is a big challenge with the church.
  • Accessibility: members at home who need accessibility help at home or work would be able to use this tool to read the directory to find a phone number where the text might normally be too small on paper or unable to be read because of other challenges.
  • Cross-Platform: runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux
  • Open Source: i.e. the tools are FREE
In addition, I read on today that Firefox 3 which is set to come out this fall and is being set up to allow offline applications. Rumor has it that there may be a partnership with Google to allow many of the Google apps to be used offline.

I need your help
So, I've got this great idea but I also have a family and a life. If people are interested in this project then I need help. If I could be a team together, we could build this. I'm not an expert at Mozilla/Firefox apps but I know enough to be dangerous. I've toyed with it in the past and it's a pretty robust tool for building an app.

We all keep talking about different tools and we are all creating our own. This would be an opportunity to come together into a single tool to accomplish many of the desired tasks. It may not be your preferred language of choice, but we'd be able to accomplish much more as a community than as separate individuals.
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Post by mkmurray »

Can you provide a few links to programming within the Firefox environment? Perhaps tutorials or something.

This is an intriguing idea to me...


Ok, I found a few links:

These are kind of broad, so please post more if you find better ones. Thanks.
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Post by atticusewig »

MLS Companion is a great idea !

Will you be setting this up on anytime soon ?
It would be great to see more LDS open-source software.

I'd be willing to help. Maybe with documentation - I'm out of
practice with coding, so I'd probably join in on that a little
later on after I "brushed up" on my skillz. :)

I'm sure that graphic artists, project manager-types, and so
forth could really help your idea become a polished product.

- Atticus Ewig
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Post by tleish-p40 »

Thanks for posting the links mkmurray.

In addition to the ones previously listed, here are a few more resources.

Free Online Books: (a little dated, but still applicable)
Creating Applications with Mozilla

Rapid Application Development with Mozilla!

Developer Forums

Development Environment
XUL Integrated Development Environment Plug-in for the Eclipse platform

Also, I forgot to mention that I am a Senior Interaction Designer for a company base in Salt Lake. Before my current job I was a director of web development firm for several years. So I'm no stranger to software.

Before I set up a project somewhere like sourceforge, I want to make sure there's enough interest.
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Post by WelchTC »

Cool idea! I recommend that you also sign up with and put a wiki page up about what you propose. I'm sure there will be people that would like to be involved.

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Post by JasonG-p40 »

I've never worked with XUL and I haven't done any developement in Moz/FF either, but if it looks like I can be of some help after I check up on these links, I'll be glad to lend a hand.

Regardless of whether or not I can help much in the creation, I would certainly be jumping at the chance to use it.
Jason D. Griffith
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Post by BrainClay »

Wow! What a great idea. I like the speed and cost savings aspect of it. I am swamped at work, and have a very heavy calling, but I'd love to be a tester. I can get access to ward or stake data and try it out, or even better yet, I know several stake technology clerks that I could work with to test.

Brian Palmer, Arvada, Colorado
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Post by bhofmann »

tomw wrote:Cool idea! I recommend that you also sign up with and put a wiki page up about what you propose. I'm sure there will be people that would like to be involved.

Tom read my mind. I think would be a great place to start and I think this would be a great idea. The possibilities are huge with a project like this and already has an LDS open source user base.
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