Click here to see Popfly screenshots
Every Web 2.0 technology has had its time at the top of the hype cycle, from RSS feeds to blogs to wikis to podcasts. Now, it seems, is the time for mashups to get the lion's share of the Web 2.0 attention, as plenty of technology titans, from Adobe to Google to Yahoo, are starting to release tools to let people create mashups.
Also getting into this game is Microsoft, with the release today of a beta of Popfly, a free service designed to help novice users create mashups that can combine small Web-based applications or gadgets and a variety of Web services.
Popfly is based on Microsoft's Silverlight technology and because of this I found that I was able to successfully use Popfly on both Windows and Mac OS X systems and on both Internet Explorer and Firefox.
Despite being a beta and having a few shortcomings, I am very impressed with the implementation of Popfly and how easy it makes it for nearly any medium-savvy Web user to create a variety of composite Web applications, especially when compared with other mashup tools that require users to understand a fair bit about Web scripts.
With Popfly users can create most mashups simply using a drag-and-drop interface and filling out information in form-based fields. Probably the biggest weakness in Popfly is its reliance on Silverlight for users to be able to view and use most of the mashups that are created. While Silverlight provides cross-platform capabilities, it is still not found on a majority of user systems.
Any Microsoft account such as Passport or an MSN account can be used to log into the Popfly beta. Once in, I was presented with a simple and easy-to-understand interface that provided some useful tutorials to help users get started. Within Popfly users can create mashups, Web pages, and blocks or Web gadgets.
When I chose to create a mashup I was presented with a hierarchical list of gadgets or blocks that I could drag and drop into the main design field. Despite being a beta, there is a surprisingly large number of blocks available, providing functionality for everything from games, search tools, data manipulation, social networking, mapping and even some business capabilities.
To get started I simply dragged blocks into my main design area and then linked them together. For example, a simple image slide show could be created that linked an image search block to a slide show block. Once a search term was entered by clicking on a wrench icon that brings up a configuration field, the mashup built an on-the-fly slide show of all the images found in the search. I could easily preview my mashups and once satisfied could define them as shared in order to use them in external sites and applications.
In many of the mashups I created I never needed to enter any code, though in some the configuration field didn't offer enough options. In these cases I was able to go into the advanced view, which let me manually edit the scripts.
Popfly also provides a very good WYSIWYG Web page creator. Using this tool, users can create a variety of Web pages that can be easily customized and designed to fit a variety of needs. And, of course, this Web page creator makes it very simple to use and embed in Web pages mashups that have been created in Popfly.
One current shortcoming in this beta of Popfly is that there is no editor included for creating blocks or gadgets; right now it is basically just a plain text field. However, since it uses standard scripts, users can create their gadget or block in any development tool or editor and then cut and paste the code into the Popfly block field.
Those interested in trying out Popfly themselves can access it at www.popfly.com.