E-FILES: E-Loan customises info for users

Online home loan broker E-Loan - created by internet accelerator company eVentures - is using XML and XSLT to give visitors to its site access to information specific to them.

Online home loan broker E-Loan — created by internet accelerator company eVentures — is using XML and XSLT to give visitors to its site access to information specific to them.

According to E-Loan’s lead Java programmer William Hoyle, the technology was chosen because the server needed upgrading and, in reviewing other tools available, XSLT (extensible stylesheet language transformations) suited its needs best. He says the use of the XML technologies is largely invisible to the end user — “as it should be”.

However, “what they do see on our site is more features because of the ease of development. For example, current interest rates are presented twice, once as a comprehensive table and once [in summary] as a scrolling list,” says Hoyle.

“The code to generate the XML rates document was easy to write because the coder was free to define its structure. The translation from XML to HTML for display was accomplished with two simple XSLT templates. If we had to generate both of these views in the traditional way, by outputting HTML from the code, we wouldn’t have done both things. Generating HTML directly is just too messy and hard to maintain. XSLT makes it easy to generate different views of the same data and as a result our site is much richer.”

The business, one of the many B2C operations to suffer recently, offers site customers a customised list of mortgage products. (E-Loan recently retrenched all but three of its 17 staff, changed focus to B2B financial tools and moved to the headquarters of new investor The Warehouse.)

“Mortgages are complex products and are available from a wide variety of vendors. Essentially a customer is looking for one small piece of data from our large database, so what we do is ask them a few simple questions and present our database to them in a way that shows up the differences that are important to them. XML and XSLT make generating these different views of our database easy,” says Hoyle. Once a customer knows the mortgage they want they can apply online. The application data is stored as XML so that E-Loan can present different views of it to different banks, as they require it.

In citing further benefits of using XSLT, Hoyle says it allows developers to take a pipelined approach to presenting data. “Back end coders query the database and generate XML, middle-tier coders use XSLT to pull the back end documents together and give them structure, and front end coders write the HTML and use simple XSLT to present the structured data. We get a nice separation of data, business logic, and presentation.”

Commenting on whether the local uptake of XML will increase in New Zealand, Hoyle says: “It’s already here, and pervasive. It’s not really a surprise that it became so popular so quickly — just that nobody thought of it earlier.”

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