Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

The problem with mash-ups

I’ve always been very bullish on the idea of modular web-services. It’s sound logical, desn’t it? Why reinvent the wheel when you can leverage what somebody has already built. To a certain degree, it’s working. Widgets are getting increasingly popular and there are some raving success stories for mashups like Google Maps.

However, plugging in someone elses technology can also turn around and bite you in the butt.

In the latest version of our platform we have a module for managing editorial workflows. I’ve been consistently dissapointed with your rich text editors like TinyMCE. Nothing ever seemed to show up the way we wanted it, as soon as you got even a little complicated and having been impressed with Zoho Writer I jumped at the chance to embed that into our platform

However, we hit a bug pretty quickly. If you defocus from the embedded Zoho Writer you pretty much kill it. We use custom AJAX tabs a lot so this is a pretty major bug for us. We redesigned the interface around it, but it has never quite been implemented how I wanted it – but Zoho support let me know they were aware of it and it would be fixed in the next API release.

That was 3 months ago and I’ve just been told that the API release was de-prioritised because Zoho are working on a new release of the Writer product.

Now, I guess I can’t be upset with Zoho for doing this. I’m sure the embeddable Writer isn’t a great priority for them and not too many people would be crying out about this bug. But it has certainly raised a lot of questions in my mind about making that leap of faith to embed somebody else’s product into yours because you cede control over that element to someone who may not necessarily care about it.

I really don’t have the resources or the inclination to try and reproduce a product with all the sophistication of Zoho Writer but maybe its worth sacrificing features if it means you give away this element of control.

I’ve run into similiar problems with Drupal. You bet on deploying a module, put in a heap of work to get it up and running and then you run into a showstopper. At least with Drupal, though, it’s open source so you can do something about it and go and code your own fix.

So I’ll give a lot of thought before I do this again. I had been looking forward to Zoho producing an API for their Chat product which I was told was in the works, but maybe the build your own is really the only option if its a key element of your platform.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

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