Google Mashup Editor: first impressions

June 30, 2007

Unfinished shedI just got my alpha sign-in from Google for their Mashup Editor. Immediately, this ruined any good intentions I have for finishing off my shed but hey, every sane person is in bed at 7am on a Saturday morning, so it’s time in lieu as far as I’m concerned.

First impressions: true to Google style, they’re focussing on their developer base first and foremost and will probably worry about the GUI later. It’s sparse – essentially a code editor view and a couple of tabs for feeds and sandboxing. Compared to Yahoo! Pipes it’s very unimpressive to look at, but Pipes was always going to be a winner GUI solely on the basis of its innovative drag and drop interface.

Google Mashup Editor - editWhat’s more important, of course, is what it does..

At its heart, GME gives you access into a kind of metalanguage which is a mish-mash of html, javascript and the <gm: ***> namespace. It’s very reminiscent of the vague dabblings I’ve had with .Net. For instance, to define a repeating row based on some kind of input feed, you’d say:

    <tr repeat="true">
      <td><gm:text ref="atom:title"/></td>
      <td><gm:text ref="digg:diggCount"/></td>
    </tr>

As with any coding based environment, you make changes direct into the line editor, then save and preview – when you do this, the sandbox tab comes up and you get to see your creation. Or an error message…

Maps wikiThe samples are impressive and give some idea as to the range of ideas that can be implemented. The screen grab on the right for example is a “Maps wiki” which lets you add a point with comments and a rating onto a Google Map. You can see the GME code for this sample here. Not bad for 81 lines of code…

When you push publish, your application is pushed up onto the Google servers – interestingly, you can also choose to publish (and preview, while editing) as a Google Gadget which means anyone can embed the widget onto their personalised Google startpage. There’s a few mashups already online in the Google Mashup Gallery.

Crucially, the cross-over between gadgets on the web and gadgets on your desktop is blurring (see Google’s “Google Desktop” gadget list, for example) so expect this to become a very interesting space to watch.

What’s important with all of this – and I think this is interestingly reminiscent of the (first days of the) web – is that you can “view source” on any of these apps: much like Pipes where you can clone anything that anyone else has done, the starting point is often “I’ll copy what person X has done and extend it so it works for me”. This is a new and welcome paradigm which keeps appearing – MIT Scratch which I reviewed briefly a while back has a similar approach: once you publish, your work is automatically available to others. This will ensure that beginners always have code samples to learn from, and ultimately grows creativity exponentially.

I’ve so far spent all my time writing this rather than playing, but my first impressions are that although graphically less impressive, the potential here is far greater than Yahoo! Pipes: being able to save data, edit at code level, embed javascripting, tweak CSS, publish as a Google Gadget, etc. – these feel like the beginnings of something very, very cool.

I’m still waiting for my Popfly account (c’mon Microsoft, catch up..) – hopefully will be able to report back soon.

Right, must go and do some more playing. Er, I mean, finish off my shed…

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