Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Making AJAX desktops REALLY useful

AJAX desktops, or webtops, are cool. Whether it be Google Personalised Homepage, Netvibes, Microsoft Live, Pageflakes, etc, etc, more and more people are making their start pages one of these new breed of widget-based services.

I tend to use both NetVibes and Google but as a business tool, I’ve found them both limiting, because while there are a lot of widgets out there for both ecosystems, there’s always stuff I’d like to plug into them, but can’t. It was almost exactly a year ago that I wrote a post called A Web 2.0 Intranet on the cheap where I talked about combining AJAX desktops, iframes and RSS to create a pretty powerful Intranet on the cheap. But at the time, I also expressed frustation about the limitations of what could be plugged into this environment.

Well, I’m pleased to announce that a new tool – the Wyaworks Widget Builder – which I’ve been involved with and which I really believe makes the AJAX desktop environment a far more compelling environment for a business to deploy as an intranet platform (Video here).

I’ve been collaborating on-and-off with John Hyde from Wyaworks for more than 12 months now, and last April we showcased a little form-builder tool called Wyacracker. The idea was to enable anyone to plug mini-applications into blogs, Google Pages, MySpace, emails, or indeed anywhere really that you could paste the required script into. The project was to be something of a marketing exercise for the Wyaworks platform, which John has been using in his custom programming and consulting business for a number of years now to do rapid-application-online-development for companies up to the very largest enterprises.

It was reasonably well-received, but in the end, people don’t have that much cause to plug forms into blogs so it didn’t really extend the goal of Wyaworks which is to enable anybody to easily and simply build applications to suit their exact requirements.

However, when you start to grow attached to one of these AJAX desktops, the ideal is to have an ecosystem you can plug everything into. Problem is, that it’s almost certain that at some time or other, there will be a widget you just wish someone had built, but it simply doesn’t exist. And that’s where the Wyaworks Widget Creator comes into it. http://www.wyaworks.com/google/google.jsp is the URL to add to your Google Homepage.

John built this application on top of the Wyaworks platform in less than a week, after I suggested it to him. So it doesn’t have the prettiest interface, it’s reasonably raw, and right now, it only runs on the Google Personalised Homepage (hopefully Netvibes and then others will follow pretty quickly).

But essentially, it lets you create any application-style widget for your Google Homepage that you can possible think of. My first attempt was for a story database, to keep track of our story leads and where different stories were in the workflow process. In less than 2 minutes, I’d built my Story Tracker widget, which now sits front and centre on my Google Homepage.

Enthused by that, I then decided to see how much of an Intranet I could build out using the Wyaworks Widget Builder. I started by creating a CRM tab and then build an Accounts widget, to keep track of our clients and companies we deal with; a contacts widget to keep track of the people we deal with; an Opportunities widget to track sales we were working on and finally a Leads widget for incoming opportunities. Voila, a CRM application built in 5 minutes. All of the widgets can share data, so I can pull company and contact data into my Opportunities widget, for example. And the forms are all fully portable, so I can stick the leads form onto our home page, and anyone who expresses interest will feed straight into the Leads widget.

I then created a HR tab. Again, in less than 5 minutes I’d built an employees database, an expense claim widget, and an annual leave request form.

The widgets take data in-and-out of Excel. If your already using Excel to manage a contacts list or keep track of just-about-anything, you can instantly turn that into a widget just by importing the data straight into the Widget creator. Or if you want to use Excel to do additional reporting and spit out graphs and so forth you can export your data to Excel at any time. And, these applications are infinitely scalable as well. As I mentioned, the Wyaworks platform has been used to build web apps for Fortune 500 companies, and these widgets use exactly the same architecture, so if that little CRM widget starts to grow a life-of-its-own, you can start tooling around on the full Wyaworks platform and build a fully relational application.

Indeed, click on the application it pops up a stand-alone version of the application.

Clearly, I’m biased but this tool is so simple and powerful, that I think it can really expand the potential for the whole AJAX desktop category. I’m hoping John gets time to re-tool it for Netvibes or Pageflakes reasonably soon, because my biggest issue right now is with some of the limitations of Google Personalised Home Pages, especially when in Google Apps start page mode. Netvibes and Pageflakes have a heap of fantastic features like being able to define the number of columns in a page, and also sharing tabs, which will even better empower this widget-based development model.

But in the meantime, if you use a personalise Google homepage, you should check out this widget. It’s free and it really is just a matter of minutes to build any app you can imagine a need for. Again check out this video to see how it works.

Filed under: Webtops

Google Apps start page SUCKS!

My company uses Google Apps and has upgraded to Premier Edition, but I’m bitterly dissapointed with the Start pages.

While Google has been rolling out its cool, new themes for the personal start pages, its Google Apps start page is still lagging about a million years behind. Still no tabs! Surely tabs are even more important for business users than individuals, and they can actually be the foundation of a very cool intranet system (more on this next week).

Plus it needs to give the company far more control over what is customisable and what is not. Allowing me to lock down one column of three is just not cutting it.

And if the lack of features wasn’t annoying enough, it’s buggy as all hell. I can’t get my start page to refresh with the new widgets I’ve added to the locked-down column, so its pretty much unusable.

C’mon Google. This isn’t good enough. I’m actually paying for this service, but the free personalised home page is far superior. Not a great start to monetising these kinds of services.

Filed under: Google

Trackback spam getting out of control

Trackback spam is going nuts. While Akismet does a fair job on spam comments, it doesn’t seem to catch nearly as many trackbacks and I’ve basically given up trying to delete it all.

My suspicion that this is getting a bit out of control was confirmed by a media release from security company Sophos yesterday, which was basically leveraging off news that

a Filipino online news service, www.newsbreak.com.ph, found over 27,000 links to adult webpages had been posted on its website”.

Sophos issued the release as a warning to blog owners, but I’m tipping most of us already have a pretty good idea of the trend.

This really is a major problem for the blogosphere. My Recent Comments widget is basically useless because its full of spam and if it does force bloggers to start turning off features like comments and trackbacks, where does that leave the great “conversation” then?

Spammers, you suck.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Digg-ing a legal hole for itself

Today, I watched an incident unfold that was enough to convince me that Digg is a legal minefield waiting to happen.

In short, a ridiculous rumour was posted to a gaming website, subsequently dugg, and went ballistic, clocking up more than 800 diggs at the time of writing it, and being one-of-the-top ten stories of the day. The rumour said that Gamepro Australia had accepted a bribe to write a negative review of a game. It was based on a single post submitted at competing gaming site Gamespot.com.au.

I can’t imagine any professional journalist for a moment even entertaining the idea of accepting a bribe to write a negative review, nor could I for a moment accept that the world’s biggest gaming company would engage in such dodgy PR practices. The whole story was so obviously inaccurate, but apparently not so much, that hundreds of people promoted the story to near-the-top of Digg.

The GWN story is libellous and IDG Australia and the editors and journalists in question would have a very good case if they chose to sue.

I actually sent them a few questions, asking if they were prepared to stand by the story, if it was legally challenged and the story was finally shellacked on Digg and what do you know, within a couple of hours, the “allegation” was removed.

Update: We’re happy to report that the person who started the bribe rumor on the Gamespot forums has admitted it was a lie, so we’ve removed mention of the rumor from this story. Their rumor post has also now been removed at Gamespot, and mention of it on the Gas Powered Games forum has also gone,” says the post on GWN.

In most legal cases, you kind of have to show that damage was done to make it worth suing, which means you’d very seldom bother to sue a forum or blog, because they’re traffic is relatively small. But Digg is getting to the point where its traffic and influence is such, that its not going to be hard to prove that a post like this caused enomous commercial damage.

Were I a lawyer representing Gamepro, it would be very easy to demonstrate that these hundreds of people all believed the post enough to promote it. Comments posted to the site like: “The people at GamePro are the real assholes here, we all know EA has somewhat of a shady way of doing business so I’m not that surprised that they would attempt something like this. But GamePro how about a little journalistic integrity”

The story also propagated around other gaming sites, forums and blogs. Again, it wouldn’t be at all difficult to start doing some calculations, work out how many people saw the post because of Digg, start doing some simple legal calculations about damage done to brand and reputation, and come up with a very big number, as to

Whenever, I’ve been asked about this type of episode, I’ve always suggested that most social media is self-correcting – that is, an inaccurate story will eventually get ferreted out as inaccurate. However, that really doesn’t take into account the damage that gets along the way. The fact that so many people dugg the story, after a large number of people expressed doubts about its validity show that far from everyone bothers to read the comments, and an even smaller fraction of those people would bother to return to the comments or see the re-vised original piece.

I’m actually really disappointed in the Digg community that they let a story that was so flagrantly dubious reach the point it did. I would have expected that it would have quickly beaten down by the senior members of the community. And the large number of buries that the story got, didn’t really seem to do much to fix the problem either.

In fact, the post is still sitting there and it still has the libellous and inaccurate heading and text. It’s kind of ironic that while all the posts that it references have been removed or edited, the Digg post remains. It’s still sitting at number three in the top gaming posts of the last 24 hours with the headline: “GamePro Magazine caught in review score bribery scandal”.

In essence, Digg has been informed that the post is inaccurate (and I’m led to believe contacted directly as well) but the post hasn’t been removed. This is obviously the first action that any publisher would take and when you get down to it, Digg is a publisher, its just using its users rather than journalists to post stories. At some point, a site like Digg is going to be held to the same standards as a MSM outlet and, it remains to be seen, if it can put in place the moderating measures to avoid these types of problems.

Or perhaps, its just need to re-look at its algorithms and take into greater account the buries that a story receives. I’m not sure if this thing could have happened at reddit, because stories tend to get beaten down a lot more at that aggregator when compared to Digg.

I’m certainly no lawyer, but as an editor and journalist who has done all the basic media law training, it does seem to me, that at some point in time, Digg is going to run into a case like this, except it’s going to be about the wrong person or the wrong company, and somebody is going to decide to make a point.

Disclosure: Seven or so years ago I used to work for IDG Australia, the publisher of GamePro Australia and as the CEO of MediaConnect Australia I am a passionate support of the Australian tech media community.

Filed under: Content Aggregation, Digg.com

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