Microsoft Popfly service does mashups

The Web service lets consumers create and share mashups using a visual authoring tool.Image: Mashups without the code
Written by Martin LaMonica, Contributor
Microsoft, long known for catering to the geekiest of programmers, on Friday introduced a Web mashup builder for the rest of us.

The hosted service, called Popfly and now in alpha testing, gives consumers a visual way to create a Web site or add features, such as mashups, to existing blogs or personal pages. Mashups are Web applications that combine content from more than one source.

Popfly includes a builder tool that allows people to create an application by dragging and dropping block icons onto a design page. These blocks represent tasks or services, such as a widget that displays photos in a slide show, with which a person can build.

Microsoft has created blocks for photo-sharing Web sites and mapping Web services.

Image: Mashups without the code

Behind these block icons are JavaScript, XML (Extensible Markup Language) and Silverlight code, which people can modify. The service itself is written using Silverlight, Microsoft's browser plug-in.

To build an application that takes photos tagged with the word "sunset" and displays them on Microsoft's Virtual Earth, for example, a person connects the two blocks by dragging a line between them.

By clicking on a wrench icon, people can change parameters such as the search term or how quickly they want to query a photo-sharing site. There are also tutorials to combine data from popular Web services from Microsoft and others.

Once a widget is built, the service creates an HTML code snippet which people can embed within their sites. People can share their projects and modify those of others.

Popfly also includes an application builder for people who want to build Web sites from scratch but don't want to learn HTML. It uses the same templates and layout tools employed by Microsoft's Office Live product, said Dan Fernandez, a lead product manager for nonprofessional tools at Microsoft.

The motivation behind Microsoft's decision to create Popfly was that it wanted a software development tool for nonprofessionals.

Microsoft already has Visual Studio Web Express, which is a free low-end version of its professional development tool. But the company found that consumers had trouble working with it, in part because it required writing code.

Microsoft is also considering offering a mashup authoring tool for business users, Fernandez said.

Popfly joins a group of existing Web-based do-it-yourself authoring tools and services.

Google recently introduced a wizard for building mapping mashups, while Yahoo has Pipes for combing RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds to create new applications.

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