The battle of the mashup editors

The big three tech companies all have their own mashup editors. Who comes out on top?

Over the last year, all of the big three tech companies (Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo) have created their own online mashup editors. Both Microsoft's and Yahoo's are publicly available, but Google's is in a small private beta. Today I'm taking a look at the pros and cons of all three.

Microsoft Popfly

Microsoft is taking a really visual approach to the mashup editor. Popfly lets you easily mash different services together through the use of what they call "blocks." There are a lot of blocks that are already designed by Microsoft to provide data from different services such as Digg and Facebook for your mashup, but developers using Popfly can also create their own blocks for anyone to use. Third party developers have already made blocks for things such as Wikipedia and Last.FM. The entire interface is based on Microsoft's new Silverlight web technology. It's very easy to jump in and design a simple application even if you don't have a lot or any coding experience, but if you are a more advanced developer, there is plenty of room for some more hardcore coding.

Pros:

Easy to use, slick interface, easy Microsoft Gadget creation, great community features, works with IE and Firefox.

Cons:

Doesn't allow for as much advanced customization as the other services, still in alpha testing so it has some bugs.

Google Mashup Editor

Google's Mashup Editor takes a much more technical approach than Popfly. Google's product is for real coders only. You can write mashups in JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. Google also has created some special "GME" XML tags to help the development process along. The super technical nature of Google Mashup Editor is going to seriously reduce their user base, but it definitely appeals to those who like to get down and dirty with some code.

Pros:

Offers a lot of advanced customization, appeals to more to programmers.

Cons:

Too complicated for users who don't have a strong knowledge of Web programming.

Yahoo! Pipes

Yahoo Pipes feels a lot more like Popfly than Google Mashup Editor. Yahoo Pipes features the same sort of drag and drop interface as Popfly and uses similar modules to help you build applications. Although it is like Popfly, it is also fairly technical and can be intimidating. It's very flexible if you know how to work with it. (Here's a quick lesson.)

Pros:

Allows for a lot of customization and flexibility.

Cons:

Tough learning curve for the less experienced users.

My pick is...

After looking at all three of these mashup editors, I have found that the easiest one to use, by far is Microsoft's Popfly. It provides a really easy entry point for those who want to get started in developing Web applications. Of course, just because something is the easiest to use does not mean that it is the best to use. Yahoo Pipes provides similar features to Popfly as well, but it seems to be harder to get the hang of. Google Mashup Editor is by far the hardest since a lot of people who might be interested in creating a mashup do not have the technical expertise necessary to code one completely by hand.

That said, my vote for overall best mashup editor is Microsoft Popfly. It lets beginners design their own mashups and get gratification fairly quickly, but there are also enough advanced features to satisfy most experienced coders. The community features that are built into Popfly also really help to enhance the experience and allow developers to build off of what others have contributed.

About the author

    Harrison Hoffman is a tech enthusiast and co-founder of LiveSide.net, a blog about Windows Live. The Web services report covers news, opinions, and analysis on Web-based software from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and countless other companies in this rapidly expanding space. Hoffman currently attends the University of Miami, where he studies business and computer science. Disclosure.

     

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