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.

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Filed under: Webtops

4 Responses

  1. alan jones says:

    Wow, cool! Excel files, or comma/tab delim?

    It shouldn’t matter, but it does: John’s no Chris Messina when it comes to interface design, is he?

    Still, the functionality’s definitely there – I tried it out for myself. Had myself a simple form widget in a few minutes. Doesn’t look as good as a wufoo form, but it was quicker to build.

  2. RYK says:

    Hi, I’m looking to build a webtop to handle widgets. Wondering how I can do it such that my users have access to the vast library of google, netvibes et al widgets? Any suggestions?

  3. cat says:

    …that story database sounds extremely useful!

    cat!

  4. Amazing Sitr I like it. It Was Interesting

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