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Superstar TJ

Q&A 

TJ is a life-saver. We can't count the number of times he has quietly and calmly stepped in to help a stressed-out NC who has maybe swum a little too deep in the custom-code pool. His specialty? JQuery. The things he can do with a few lines of code are downright amazing. Need smileys? He's got 'em. Trying to accomplish something Ning doesn't yet offer? He might have a solution for you. He runs his own network that's devoted to JQuery, and we asked him all about it.

Tell us about your network? What’s it all about?

jQueryHelp is the name of my network, and also its focus. I set it up to offer tips about using jQuery to customize Ning Networks and to show the range of modifications that can be made with jQuery. I answer questions and come up with my own ideas for jQuery tips that can be simple mods of just a few lines of code, or "apps" with hundreds of lines of code which interface with external programs and databases running on servers external to Ning.

What exactly is JQuery? Is it complicated?

jQuery is a JavaScript library, which means it is an extension of JavaScript that offers many extra useful built-in functions. It allows you to insert, remove or change content at almost any position in a Ning Network, and allows you to interact with external data sources. It also provides a standard set of codes to use on all browsers so you don't have to write some code for one browser and different code for another. It is important to remember that JavaScript is client-side code, meaning it runs on the computer of the person looking at the website that has JavaScript code in it. The person request a page from a server on the Internet, and the server builds some HTML, usually by running server-side code. Then, that HTML gets turned into what you see on a website by the browser. Once the browser has rendered the page, then JavaScript runs, and it can make changes to the HTML so that things on the page can change, be removed — or new things can be added.

What are some of the things you can do with JQuery?

jQuery is similar to CSS in that it selects certain elements on a web page to work on. It can change or remove things. It can also add in a user interface for an app and then send and receive data for the app by interfacing with server-side code on an external server, which is often connected to a database. Most NCs won't want to get into that much depth, but they can use it to do things that can't be done with CSS, like acting on elements on only certain pages of a site and not others, or taking some action when a visitor clicks something. It is also fairly easy to bring in content from other pages in the same domain and insert it on a different page. There is even a way to bring in data from another website, provided it is in JSON format, allowing you to get around the "same origin policy" which usually restricts importing data unless it is from the same domain. 

How did you learn JQuery? Do you have a background in programming?

I taught myself web programming in the late ‘90s, and one thing I learned was JavaScript. When jQuery came out, I saw that it made JavaScript programming easier and more standardized across different browsers, so I studied the jQuery website and read a great book on JavaScript that uses lots of jQuery called Javascript: The Missing Manual.. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Polytechnic University of New York. I worked as a software engineer in the artificial intelligence labs for a prominent military contractor for several years. It was a great job, and I worked on interesting and fun machine-intelligence problems that still provide challenges today. But I always wanted to be a business owner, so I left my career and my home state and started a new life. There have been many ups and downs as I created and worked at several very small but generally successful enterprises, both in and out of the tech arena. I enjoy what I do and feel the greatest satisfaction when I am able to help someone solve a problem or fulfill a need.

Is there anything Ning could do to make JQuery more useful or more valuable for NCs?

It would be great to have a Ning JavaScript API, building on the "ning" variable which is all we have now. Many of the things in the regular Ning API could be included. This would allow the $25 a month Plus NCs to access data that now can only be used by the $60 a month Pro NCs. For starters, it would be good to have a PageOwner variable, which would tell the Ning ID of profile page owners and group owners. It could be defined when a visitor is on a page not under direct control of the NC, profile pages being an example of what I mean by that. There is a way now to tell whose profile page a user is visiting, but it’s not straight-forward. It would also be good to expand the CurrentProfile variable to tell whether the signed-in member has Paid Access to the page they are visiting, or even more complete data as to what pages they do have access to, due to paying for Paid Access. It would also be good to tell their role, such as NC, admin, moderator, etc.

What would you like to see Ning make next? What’s at the top of your wish list?

Now that I have been thinking about a JavaScript API, I'd like to have that! Anything else I want, I simply build it myself!

You’re always so helpful, but more than that, you’re super polite. Are you a midwesterner or something? Where does your laid-back attitude come from?

I am actually from New York City! In "real life" I can be quite direct and like to get to the heart of the matter. Interacting online is a completely different animal. First, you generally don't have to type a reply immediately. When you are in a forum, or even a chat room, there is a delay that everyone understands. That gives you the opportunity to take a deep breath and think about what you are going to write before you type and send it. To me, it is very important to be polite and respectful of others' thoughts, feelings and opinions. If I am currently having an emotional reaction to something online, I make it a point to respond at a later time when I am more rational! The other thing about being online is that it is sometimes difficult to indicate when you are joking around or being sarcastic, so I generally try to avoid that and just behave in a warm but business-like manner. Believe me, I have learned these two points from making some mistakes along the way! I have been interacting online since 1988 and have said things I regret, but now I try to listen first and only reply if I have something worthwhile to contribute and I am in the right frame of mind to respond respectfully!

Do you ever take on custom work or offer services you’d like to let our NCs know about?

I am happy to offer solutions or at least point towards one if someone asks a question in the forum on my site. I try to do the same on the Creators forum, although I am not there all the time and many of the questions there are not in my area of expertise. I offer whatever assistance I can for free if it takes me less than an hour to design and test it. If I determine that coming up with a solution is going to be time consuming, then I do charge for my services. If someone has a need for a custom app for their Ning network, I would love to hear about it, and I'll let them know if I think it can be created and approximately what the fee would be. If the person has that kind of budget, then I start designing their app and give them some sort of demo, then we discuss the payment amount and terms. If you're reading this and you have a need for some custom programming work for your Ning site, message me at my jQueryHelp site, and we'll talk!  Also, I have some ready-to-go apps for Ning Networks that you can see and try out at my site.