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Sidebar: ARTstor Uses Nexaweb Tools to Build Sophisticated Online Application
When John Justin, director of development at the ARTstor came on board three years ago, ARTstor's founder, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, wanted to put its extensive digital image collection online and place it in a form that would allow academics and students to search for and use the images in papers and presentations. This was a tall order in 2003.
Justin says he found that there was no application available at the time that he could use as a model, and he soon realized after analyzing the requirements that he needed to give them desktop functionality inside the browser. "I wanted something fairly simple to use. For example, I wanted to be able to search for image metadata and then display these images in thumbnail format and then select these images and put them into groups for presentation purposes. I quickly saw a basic browser-based application probably wouldn't cut it," he says. Justin believed that what they needed was a desktop-style application with features to allow users "to drag and drop and right-click and select from lists and that kind of stuff."
Justin says at the time there weren't many vendors offering a development platform to build this kind of functionality online, but he found that Nexaweb, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, vendor stood out, particularly because it used Java in its development tools, and Justin's team consisted of experienced Java developers.
Justin says it took six months to build the first version of the application (www.artstor.org) in the fall of 2003. He says that, although it was fairly sophisticated, the program came together pretty easily, and Nexaweb helped with any bumps with the application development tool, which was also going through its own growing pains with an early release. "Things came together pretty easily. The learning curve was not steep and that was beneficial, and since we were highly experienced Java developers, we picked it up quickly. Nexaweb supported us well, and any bugs we found, and we found some, they resolved quickly and gave us new builds right away," he says.
Three years later the ARTstor has more than 500 instructors who subscribe to use the application, and Justin says that even with a population that is notoriously "technically bankrupt," they have gotten positive feedback about how easy it is to use. What's more, Justin says the Nexaweb-based application can run on just about anything that can run the Java Runtime Environment, meaning that professors and students can run it on a range of computers, browsers, and operating systems.
Justin says an art student walked into his office recently, and not knowing he was the developer, praised ARTstor and said her professors always point to it as a resource. "That gave us a good feeling," he says.