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Battle of the Mashup Editors (Yahoo Pipes – 1, Microsoft Popfly – 0, Google Mashup Editor – 0)

When Yahoo Pipes first got released, I didn’t really think much of it and didn’t even attempt to look at the mashups being created. Then Microsoft got into the fray with Popfly and I tried my luck and got an invite into the Silverlight creation. Next came Google with their Mashup Editor and since I use so many Google apps, I dropped my email for an invite too. Finally got it yesterday and seeing it as a good chance to try out creating a mashup from the perspective of a novice creator, I got my hands dirty and did some tweaking to make sure Where2Makan? had a proper geocoded RSS feed (I had already been tagging the posts with custom fields named “Longitude” and “Latitude” so the job was a little easier).

Unfortunately, GeoRSS was having a server migration so the WordPress plugin that was supposed to make life easier wasn’t available for download. I managed to track down an earlier build at Ravi’s Blog and so added functions to the plugin that could work with my custom fields.

Had to hack wp-rss2.php in WordPress but managed to get

<item> …
<georss:point>$lat $lon</georss:point>
<geo:Point>
    <geo:lat>$lat</geo:lat>
    <geo:long>$lon</geo:long>
</geo:Point>
</item>

to show up properly in the feed. Frustratingly, both Firefox and IE refused to format it. Banged head a few times before realizing the namespaces weren’t being recognized and so added two lines at the header and it finally worked.

xmlns:geo=”http://www.w3.org/2003/01/geo/wgs84_pos#”
xmlns:georss=http://www.georss.org/georss

Now that I had a good feed (looked at Flickr’s example just to be sure), it was time to create a map with the editors.

Test #1 – Yahoo Pipes

User interface upon logging in was great. It was my first time but pretty easy to understand that you need to drag a module onto the workspace, quickly configure it and drag its output onto another module. I used “Fetch Feed” -> “Location Extractor” -> “Pipe Output”. Noticed the debugger pane below and quickly looked through the data to make sure it had parsed the feed correctly and hit “Run Pipe”. The map overlay with my posts and titles popped up pretty quickly and presto, I had a mashup of Where2Makan? with Yahoo Maps. Total Time : <10 mins with practically not much to do other than configuring the feed URL!

Test #2 – Microsoft Popfly

Moving on to Popfly, you’ll notice that the user experience is entirely built in Silverlight for the editor. Cool effects like having the background change when you drop a relevant block into the workspace makes it look all rather snazzy. I initially tried to drop a RSS feed block onto the workspace and just hook it up to the Virtual Earth block but couldn’t see the Lat/Long values being parsed. Was about to give up when I realized I should should search for a GeoRSS block.

Thankfully, GisLi0 had shared the block created and I thought I was off to a good start. Configured the feed, went to Virtual Earth’s block to modify the Lat/Long mapping and hit “Preview”. A great nice map of USA zoomed into view and after scrolling to Singapore, no pushpins to be found. Hit the console to check the debug errors and seems that Lat/Long pairs were not parsed. I had to start looking through documentation to see if there was any way to edit the code of the GeoRSS block but it seemed that shared user blogs are private. Attempted to download the BlockSDK but that meant having to fire up Visual Studio, understand the SDK docs, write code and lose sleep! Total time spent : >15 min with no results to show for.

Test #3 – Google Mashup Editor

Finally came to the last editor. As usual, Google’s simplified interface and cool blue theme was in full effect. Here you don’t even get drag and drop modules to configure. This is for the power users, if you understand a bit of HTML, CSS and JavaScript, this will be the app to empower you. If you don’t, its going to look like a whole mess of a foreign language. I opened the sample “Maps Mashup” and did a test run. Looked great with the sample feed. Naively, I replaced it with Where2Makan?’s feed and did another test. Same result. Nice map of USA with no pushpins. This time, there was no debugger to view the parsing results although I highly suspect it didn’t even read the feed properly since I couldn’t see it loaded in the feed browser. Time spent : < 5 min with no results.

Summary and Conclusion

I can’t say I took a great big dive into all three editors but went into them with one purpose, to create a Map Mashup of Where2Makan? and the maps provided by each company. Based on the initial experience and my goal, I would say Yahoo Pipes has a definite edge with a slick UI, intuitive modules. It is slightly lacking in the customization of modules area but the fact that I practically only had to paste a URL in for the mashup to work just gives it extra points. 

Microsoft Popfly with its Silverlight offering feels a bit bloated and although it offers some customizations at the block level, creating a block definitely takes a fair bit of understanding and an IDE! Also, not being able to output results like Pipes makes it a little short on reusability.

The latecomer Google Mashup Editor has a bit of catching up to do with its rather simplistic UI although I think it might be the most powerful of them all with what its samples look like (Calendar, Tasks, Map Wikis). Look forward to evaluating it again when it matures a little more. For now though, shall look into how to use Yahoo Pipes to create some other interesting mashups.

Final Notes

Yahoo announced samples for Maps Mashup couple days ago. And with Google’s announcement that GeoRSS and KML feeds will be supported by the Google Maps API, this is going to another interesting way to show map overlays.

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3 thoughts on “Battle of the Mashup Editors (Yahoo Pipes – 1, Microsoft Popfly – 0, Google Mashup Editor – 0)

  1. Pingback: Where2Makan? gets a Mashup with Yahoo Pipes

  2. Michael, I’m quite impressed and intrigued by this. Will have to try it too. Thanks for sharing your experience using the three mashup apps. :)

  3. michael says:

    Kevin, thanks for your comments. Was quite fun to do the testing since I had been contemplating writing my own app to use Google Maps and GeoRSS mashup. The experience was good to let me determine whats available as tools to make the jobs easier but I think I would probably go the way of custom building a website around Where2Makan instead of using the mashup editors since they provide a rather minimal developer experience. Still grappling with starting RoR with Google Maps in my spare time :)

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