Sunday, May 20, 2007

Microsoft introduces Silverlight-based Popfly

It is not often that Microsoft releases something that you haven't known was coming for months, but the announcement of their new Popfly platform on Friday was a rare exception. The Microsoft Visual Mashup Creator Express, May 2007 Community Tech Preview Internet Edition (a.k.a. Popfly), which is still an alpha product, is Microsoft's attempt to enable "non-professional" developers to build their own "Web 2.0" mashups without writing any code. By using Silverlight (the 1.0 variety), the Popfly team has created a visual interface that allows non-developers to easily connect different "blocks" to create custom mashups.

For example, a simple mashup generally requires that you add one "data source" block (such as Flickr) to your workspace and one presentation block (such as an Image Carousel). These 3D spinning blocks (which look very similar to Telerik's Silverlight demos) can then be visually connected by dragging a line between the two blocks. Once connected, you can preview your mashup and see images pulled from Flickr to fill your carousel. Check out this video from the Popfly team for a great overview of how everything works.

If you read the Popfly FAQs, you'll discover that Popfly aims to be much more than a visual mashup tool. It appears the overall goal of Popfly is to become the "YouTube of applications", enabling developers and non-developers to easily share and rate projects. Time will tell if the universe of non-developers that browse YouTube everyday really want to create and share their own mashups.

The Popfly alpha is an invite only opportunity (currently open to only 2000 people), so chances are you will not be able to play with this new tool right away. There is an interesting "Whack-a-dev" game, though, that may make passing the time a little more enjoyable.