Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Build-your-own-widgets gains momentum

So Google today relaunched its personalised home page as iGoogle and announced the ability for users to create their own gadgets, which has received a bunch of coverage throughout the blogosphere.

Personally, it’s nice to see Google heading in that direction because it’s exactly where we’ve been headed with the Wyaworks Widget Creator (disclaimer: I consult to Wyaworks on product development and strategy). While the Google Widget maker allows users to create simple, fairly static widgets, the Wyaworks Widget Creator enables you to build your own full-blown, database-driven widgets.

I’ve got to say, even I’m surprised how useful I’ve found these. My company is now standardising on the Pageflakes AJAX desktop as our Intranet platform and I’ve got about a dozen widgets running across our shared Pageflakes tab for various functions like HR, editorial management, project management, etc. Each of these widgets has taken about 5 minutes to create, they can all interact, and I can personalize them to match our business processes precisely. We had been using Google spreadsheets for these kind of ad-hocs applications, but the problem with that is that they’re difficult to find and never really at hand.

John Hyde, CEO of Wyaworks has added a host of functionality since they were first announced. Security has been added, they run across iGoogle, NetVibes and Pageflakes, columns can be sorted, data sets can be restricted by field values and widgets can share information and fields. Widgets can be created by simply adding fields, or alternatively you can turn any spreadsheet into an AJAX desktop widget by simply importing a spreadsheet. We took a spreadsheet of customer records, imported it, and bam, we had a customer contact management widget, automatically populated with our data in a matter of seconds. Being able to access this kind of information, all from your AJAX desktop makes this kind of information incredibly accessible and easy to use.

I’m convinced that some type of webtop, or AJAX desktop, will become most people’s home page and online hub. I predict that within the next couple of years, every web application will have widget-versions of their applications that can be integrated into this kind of environment, or else they will incorporate their own AJAX desktops – that’s the way we’re heading with our MediaConnect and ITJourno portals. Most likely, it will be both.

It’s nice to see this idea start to pick up pace, when Wyaworks is so clearly the market leader in this space. I still think the killer feature with these widgets it the cross-platform capability. The openess of AJAX desktops means you don’t want to be tied into any particular desktop, so you really want to be able to take your widgets with you. While iGoogle, Netvibes, and Pageflakes are supported right now, Wyaworks has the potential to allow widgets to be deployed to any platform and with this market moving so quickly, that’s an incredibly important feature.

Filed under: Google, Web Development, Webtops

Big things for RadRails

This isn’t my usual beat, but I’m desperately looking for a way off Domino at the moment, so I’ve been checking out Ruby on Rails. I can understand why it’s got such great traction, but its just desperately in need of an integrated development environment (IDE) to accompany it. Enter stage left, RadRails. If ever a product is in the right place at the right time this is it!

Filed under: Web Development

I’m dumping Word but I can’t dump Domino

While I’m fond of bagging out the hype and crap that I see associated with ‘Web 2.0’, I am very much a passionate advocate of hosted applications and where possible I have been moving off desktop applications whenever I find an active web app that does the job properly.
I’ve always thought it would be neat to use an online word processor, but after not finding Writely to my liking, I didn’t think I’d be moving away from Word anytime soon. However, I’ve found myself punching out almost all of my writing of late using ZohoWriter.

The early feedback I saw on ZohoWriter was that it was very much a poor-man’s Writely, but I certainly don’t think that’s the case any more and I find it’s use of screen real estate and so forth makes it work much better for me. (I keep trying to dig Writely because of its tie-in with NetVibes but I seem to always run into issues).
One other Zoho product, I’m keen to try out is Zoho Creator. I’m not a programmer, but I’ve always been able to achieve 95 per cent on what I needed to create for any website I’ve needed building in Lotus Domino/Notes. I then bring in external programmers to do the tricky stuff in Java and what not. It’s always really peeved me that I’ve never found a web developement environment that enables amateur hackers like me to quickly punch out relatively complex web apps like I can do with Domino.

(I’ve yet to find a better development cycle than where the business stakeholder creates an initial prototype/interface and then hands over to a real coder to make work properly)

Zoho creator appears to be coming from this same perspective of enabling non-coders to build web applications and given their portfolio of web apps they’re developing, I’m interested to see how it works (I’ll let you know how I go, assuming I get a beta account!)

Personally, I’d like to see a lot more Web 2.0 developers, allow external parties to private label their technologies or better leverage them in external applications somehow. I keep thinking if I could just take the NetVibes desktop, combines it with Trumba, SugarCRM, ZohoWriter and GMail, customise it all a bit to fit my particular needs and whack my own front end on the front, I’d suddenly have every bit of functionality I’ve ever wanted to build into my MediaConnect sites. As it is, I’ve just spent hours speccing out my next phase of work for MediaConnect, explaining to the developer ‘now if you could make this work like it does on this site, and this do it the way it works on http://www.etc’

And you know what, if you could componentise all these cool web apps like NetVibes, Trumba, ZohoWriter, etc and them license them to other developers to use, then hey presto, a real revenue stream!

Filed under: Web Development, Word Processing

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