Sprout: A mashup & application tool for the masses

Our pals at Techcrunch just posted about a new company that debuted today at DEMO called Sprout and thought I’d attempt to get in on the private beta and lo-and-behold…I got in.

The ‘sprout’ (their term vs. ‘widget’) you see below is one I created in 15 minutes. It took me longer to open Photoshop, reduce the size of the Connecting the Dots header and to type in the pathnames to my podcasts (yes I know…they’re OLD) then it did to create the sprout!

I just grinned and shook my head in disbelief as I used it since Sprout has delivered on my pent up desire to have just such a mashup and creation tool which begs the question: why the hell didn’t Adobe do this with their rich internet application (i.e., RIA or Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)) strategy? To date mere mortals — who are savvy enough to use InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator and the like — can’t truly deliver on AIR, Microsoft Silverlight or even Webkit apps unless the propeller on their beanie is fairly large.

There are a few nits (the words “Click on any playlist…” were bolded and italicized which didn’t publish) but they’re so few compared to the power Sprout has unleashed they’re easily overlooked. I also want to understand what they’ll charge for the service — or those I direct to Sprout to create — before I get too fired up about recommending people leap on the tool and deliver mission-critical products.

I also noticed a slight latency as my ‘sprout’ loads which you might notice also. I’ve been a broken record on the topic of the “dirty little secret” — that Internetwork latency is already affecting mashups, Web/Enterprise 2.0 applications, video delivery and essentially everything we do over the Internet — but this latency won’t likely slow down the creation and delivery of mashed up applications. I hope, really hope, that this latency doesn’t crush the spirit of those of us truly wanting to create and deliver significantly higher value on the Web with tools like Sprout.

Using this tool for 30 minutes tonight has sparked about 25 ideas for how I’d use it. From completely self-contained multimedia slideshows to a different sort of ebook to a poor man’s RIA, I suspect many others will have exactly the same reaction and start building these things like mad.

3 Comments

  1. carnet on January 30, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Steve,

    Thanks very much for the writeup about Sprout. We are really happy that the community likes what they see so far. We are going to continue working hard to squash bugs and improve our product. I am extending to your readers access to our private beta with a request that they help us with both of the above.

    http://sproutbuilder.com/friendsofsprout

    aloha,

    carnet



  2. Patrick Bay on January 31, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Hi Steve,

    I did enjoy your write up about Sprout. I would like to point out, however, that your connection between what Sprout does (or is supposed to do), Rich Internet Applications, and AIR, is like comparing apples to oranges. It’s true that AIR is in beta so what it actually does has not yet been fully explored, but the Adobe Integrated Runtime really is a different beast. I run my own blog about AIR and Flash development(http://www.peabee.com/) — and I’m a professional developer in both technologies — so I do hope you trust me when I make these statements.
    The Adobe Integrated Runtime is more like the Java runtime. It allows existing Flash content to run as a *desktop application*. In fact, it’s probably the exact opposite of an RIA because it’s not intended to run on the web, it runs as a standard desktop app. The reason Adobe didn’t do the same thing is because…well…they’re not really related.

    What Sprout does and what AIR does are two very different things. Webkit and Silverlight are also not equal since they’re also web-based technologies. If you want to run a comparison, I’d suggest comparing Sprout, Webkit, Silverlight, and Flash. Unfortunately, the fact that Sprout is written in Flash makes this a bit of a moot point anyways. If you don’t believe me, simply right-click on your Sprout content and look at the bottom of the context menu, “About Adobe Flash Player 9…”

    I do understand the confusion between the different technologies, I spend a good amount of time trying to clear this up. Flash was (and still can be) a very annoying technology used in Flashing banner ads and bad games. But Flash 9 has had changes that bring it close to C++ in terms of power and execution speed. At the end of the day, though, it helps in my Flash/AIR evangelism because you inadvertently support Flash. I would welcome you (or anyone) to visit my blog to clear up some of these misconceptions and to discover just how ubiquitous Flash is (and how wide-spread AIR will be). Behind the scenes, Flash is a core technology that really is making inroads in places you may not even think of. Most web-based applications these days are, in fact, Flash. Very few are AJAX/JavaScript and fewer still Java.



  3. Steve Borsch on January 31, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    @Patrick Bay

    Drawing an analogue between Sprout and AIR was probably disingenuous of me. No question I know the difference between AIR, Silverlight, WebKit and runtimes like java or even Flash and harbor no confusion. Also, the point about RIA’s as a category — and comparing it to what Sprout is delivering — was, perhaps, more misleading.

    The point I was making (and my enthusiasm for Sprout) is that the high level tools to create and deliver rich Web content, RIA’s or even specific runtime deliverables doesn’t exist for non-programmers/developers.

    I understand that ‘serious’ hybrid application development needs the juice of developers. I also understand that comparing Sprout to widget creation tools is probably more accurate, but most widgets/gadgets suck IMHO. But Sprout excited me because I could visualize dozens of runtimes that I — and many, many others I know — could deliver with click-n-configure speed and cut-n-paste embedding. That, and update once and all shared runtimes update — are analogous to the power of the Web itself and it got me all warm inside.

    I lived through (and participated in) the desktop publishing revolution and recall getting a publishing magazine that talked about this new thing called Postscript. Enough of a geek even then, I typed it all in and ran the code so I could print a perfectly rendered circle on my Laserwriter. While cool, even then I knew high level tools were the only way printing and layout would reach the masses.

    Enter Pagemaker (I had a .09 version) and the ‘serious’ publishers, graphic designers and others in the industry turned up their noses at it. Most pooh-poohed the “explosion of fonts” on a page, the rookie mistakes by desktop publishers, the cheesy publications suddenly on the market, and that no serious designer would use those tools.

    Today? I defy you to find ONE serious publication globally that DOESN’T use personal computer-based page layout and creation. In addition, prepress as a category of work at a printing and publishing house is pretty much dead.

    In some ways, Sprout is an alpha version of what could and should be. Adobe and Microsoft are chasing elephants (the big media companies, ‘serious’ developers, et al) while people that could build some awesome functionality with high level tools for their use, their markets, their startup businesses and for their invention is what’s needed to get this entire category moving.



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