The following post is from Appcelerator Solutions Architect Matthew Congrove. Matthew has created the ChariTi framework designed as an open-source application builder for charities. Learn more about this powerful platform below.
￼Earlier this week I had the pleasure of releasing the second major update to ChariTi, the open-source mobile application builder designed for charities. While adding support for iOS 7 was a big item on the change log, the release includes dozens of new features and plenty of improvements.
￼￼What is ChariTi?
For those of you who haven’t yet come across the project on GitHub or Twitter, ChariTi was born out of the Hack-to-Help event during Codestrong 2012. After seeing so many great developers and designers come together to create applications for a wonderful group of charities, I couldn’t help but want to see it continue. With that in mind, I spent the next couple of months coding away to create an open source application framework built specifically for charities.
One of my first impressions after working with various charitable organizations was that they often times don’t have a large staff, and developers are even more scarce. The very foremost goal of ChariTi is to allow the non-technical staff at these charities to quickly and easily publish great looking apps; CMOs, interns, and everyone in between can easily update the content of the mobile app for their charity.
What are some of the key features?
￼Cross-Platform, Cross-Form-Factor – It goes without saying that, since ChariTi is based on Appcelerator Titanium (written on Alloy), the framework supports iOS and Android handhelds and tablets.
To achieve a uniform look across devices we created a half-dozen UI widgets including a custom slide menu, tab group, navigation bar, loading overlay, and toast-style notifications. The team is currently working on abstracting these widgets so they can more easily be placed into apps being developed by others in the community.
Fourteen Content Plug-Ins and Counting – We’ve built fourteen different content plug-ins (Alloy controllers) for ChariTi: a viewer for RSS feeds and Facebook status updates, a list of events posted to Facebook, a podcast player, tabs for watching YouTube and Vimeo videos and Flickr photos, screens to help charities spread the word, receive donations and more.
Each of these controllers is purposefully built on top of existing data and services so charities can create an app in minutes without having to mess with a CMS. This also ensures that charities can provide their users with new content by updating the same social networks and RSS outlets as usual, no extra work required.
Simple Configuration, Over-the-Air Updates – All applications built on ChariTi are configured by a JSON file. This makes it simple for non-technical users to change branding, add new content, switch out tabs and modify numerous other settings. We’re also working on a drag-and- drop builder to further simplify application creation.
But the really cool part about using a configuration file is that the application can be updated on the device of an end- user without having to submit a new release to the app stores.
When creating their initial release of the application the charity can simply specify a remote URL for their configuration file, and this is downloaded to the device when a new version appears on the remote server. The app is automatically refreshed with different colors, different tabs, and different settings.
It’s worth noting that this functionality has made it into the app stores with approval.
Preview Application – As a side-effect of this configuration feature we’ve released an application to both the App Store and Google Play Store that lets charities preview their application on an actual device. You can load and test multiple versions of the same application all from one spot.
Who’s using ChariTi?
ChariTi is being used by numerous charities at the local and national levels, and is also one of the primary tools used by the App Brewery at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Mobile Innovation Lab. Students at the App Brewery are helping Milwaukee-area non-profits quickly create mobile apps on top of ChariTi while learning development and design skills.
The framework is also used by a number of Fortune 500 companies as a basis for application development.
We’re always looking for development, design, and testing assistance. To find out more, please read our contribution website.