What can Zoho Creator do for you?

I’m constantly amazed at the wide variety of uses I can come up with for Zoho Creator. When I first stumbled across the application, I thought it might be of passing use to collect some basic information from visitors to my Web site. Over the last few months, however, I’ve experimented with a wide variety of less-than-typical uses for an online database tool.

For small business and personal Web site owners without access to a lot of IT support, Zoho Creator can easily serve as the functional back-end of your entire site, allowing you to develop some sophisticated and interactive applications for your Web site. Thanks to Zoho Creator, even a relatively novice user can add some powerful functionality to an otherwise dull Web site. As users become more familiar with Zoho Creator, there is almost no limit to the number of powerful applications that can be developed for any site.

Here are some examples of what I’ve built into my site using Zoho Creator

  • E-commerce product catalog
    This is my personal favorite…using Zoho Creator, I was able to develop an easy-to-update catalog of products for sale on my site. The catalog is completely integrated with PayPal’s functionality to allow me to sell directly from my Web site. At any time, I can change a price, image, or details about my products, or add new products to the catalog. The changes automatically get loaded into the PayPal script on the page, so when the user clicks “Buy now” or “Add to cart” I can be sure they are always paying the current price for my products. By using Zoho Creator to hold the price, product image, and description, I know that I only have to make my changes one time to ensure that all of the information is accurate in my catalog, RSS feed, and product detail pages.
  • Add comments to your Web site
    Although I haven’t done this for my site, it is fairly simple to use Zoho Creator to add a “comments” page or section to your Web site. All you need is to create a basic form with a field for a name and a multi-line field for the comment. Then, you use the Zoho-provided scripts to embed the blank form and a display of the form data onto a given page on your Web site, and viola, instant comments for your site.
  • Redirect links to shorten URL
    I use Zoho Creator in the back end of my Web site to offer URL shortcuts to pages within my Web site. For example, http://lockworldherald.com?opencd takes the user to http://lockworldherald.com/documents/productdetails.aspx?product=1. This can be a very useful way to create shortened or personalized links to any content on the Web, not only to pages that can be found on your site. But instead of using an external service, you can brand all of the links to have your own domain in them. I’ll be detailing the steps involved in this process soon on The Web for You.
  • Site navigation
    I use Zoho Creator to add navigation functionality to some of my pages. For example, http://lockworldherald.com/documents/articles.aspx contains a list of articles available on my site. This list is maintained in Zoho Creator. The nice thing about this is that I can customize which types of links are included. Compare the link above with http://lockworldherald.com/documents/articles.aspx?test=simplificationactionism. On the first page, I simply list a table of contents showing what’s available on my site (and not including items that fall into certain categories, such as DRAFT or TEST). On the second page (after the example article), I have listed “related links” to other articles that fall in the same category (“Test” in this example). You will notice, on closer inspection, that the same page is loading in both of the above examples, but that I’ve used URL variables to tell the page whether to load the default content or a specific article…so I created/coded one page, and can re-use it for a variety of contents. In this example, I’ve used Texty to create my own unique content, and then pasted the appropriate information into a Zoho Creator database that allows me to load the content or the table of contents onto my page, depending on the parameters passed in the URL. That’s particularly nice if you don’t have access to make changes on the fly to your Web site, and don’t want to spend a lot of time uploading new pages every time you make a change. It takes some advanced javascript to get everything set up correctly, but when it’s done, it sure saves a lot of time.
  • Content management
    I use Zoho Creator as a content management tool for many pages on my site. From articles to resources to projects to products, many pages on my site get their content directly from Zoho Creator. I typically use Zoho’s JSON feeds to display the contents from a given Zoho Creator application on my Web pages, which gives me the freedom to code each page once on my Web site, and make changes on the fly at any time from Zoho Creator. Also, this gives me the ability to allow user contributions to some of my lists (Such as my recommended resources), while denying user contributions in others.
  • RSS Feeds
    Although it’s not a perfect solution, Zoho’s built-in support for RSS feeds can be a very useful tool for keeping your visitors informed about what’s happening on your site. The only problem with this is that all of the RSS feed links point to the record’s display page in your Zoho Creator application, and not to a link that you specify within the database. Still, it’s a useful way to get the news out to the people who need it without investing a lot of time and energy in creating and maintaining a separate feed.
  • Newsletter mailing list
    I am currently working on a project to create and deliver an e-newsletter using Zoho Creator’s built-in SendMail feature. In this particular application, I have one publicly-available sign-up form that people can use to subscribe to the newsletter, as well as several private forms that I can use to customize both the template and the contents of the newsletter. I’ve been successful in creating a working system, and I’ll provide the detailed steps for making your own (it involves some pretty heavy Deluge scripting, if you do it the way I’ve done it) in an upcoming post on The Web for You.
  • Unlimited business applications
    If you have a small business, there’s no limit to what you can use Zoho Creator for on your site. You can use it to allow people to request a quote for your products/services (and have the results of the quote automatically e-mailed to them after they’ve filled out a form), display (and manage) your list of products available, solicit feedback about your products/services, send out e-newsletters, or do just about anything you need to do. At some point, I’d like to explore how Zoho Creator can be used to create a members-only section of your Web site. In principal, it would be a simple use of Zoho’s JSON feeds and some javascript on your site. The javascript would load both the members list and the page contents on your site and ask the user for an identification. Once confirmed, the page could then load the appropriate content on the page.

What I originally took to be a “fun toy” to play with for the rare times I needed to collect some information from users has turned into an indispensable tool for building a dynamic Web site. I’ve never encountered such a powerful application that was available absolutely free of charge!

So, whether you just want to gather some quick information from your users, create a “comments” section for your Web site, or develop advanced enterprise-grade applications for your personal or small business Web site, there’s no better application to use than Zoho Creator.

That’s all for today…

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