Microsoft's Popfly: Mashups For The Masses


First previewed in May, Popfly enables hobbyists and others without coding skills to build Web pages and lightweight Web applications by clicking and dragging prebuilt "blocks" of functionality. A conference session with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer featured the demo construction of a Popfly photo-sharing application built around Facebook, the social networking partner Microsoft has been extremely cozy with this week.

Popfly incorporates many of the new offerings Microsoft hopes will raise its profile as Web power player. The service draws on Microsoft's Silverlight multimedia technology, an aspiring Flash killer, and features blocks for mashing together data from Microsoft's Google-rivaling Web services like Virtual Earth and Live Search. It also includes hooks for an array of popular Web sites outside Microsoft's domain, including digg, Twitter, Flickr and eBay.

Microsoft hopes Popfly's branding and style will make it attractive to the Web 2.0 crowd. The site quips that the development team wanted to call the service "Microsoft Visual Mashup Creator Express, October 2007 Community Tech Preview Internets Edition," but was persuaded that Popfly would be a bit catchier.

Popfly's core service is free, although Microsoft envisions it as a platform atop which partners can create their own functionality blocks, some of which may include subscription fees.

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As it showed off at this Spring's Mix07 Web development conference, Microsoft can roll with the top dogs when it comes to tricking out conferences with cutting-edge social networking tools. Mix07 debuted Flittrbook, a stylish aggregation of Facebook, Flickr and Twitter that blended together attendee multimedia feedback into screensaver slide shows.

For the Web 2.0 Summit, Microsoft drew on Popfly to mash together Flickr photos, Twitter commentary, Facebook profiles and Technorati posts. Of course, such real-time feedback can be dangerous: One of twitters currently in heavy rotation on Microsoft's mashup is "web 2 conference is very lightly attended today. Must be Friday."