Thursday, June 19th, 2008

iWidgets Public Beta: Impressive Widget Builder

Category: Examples, jQuery, Social Networks, Widgets

Joining with the Web 2.0 “go-meta” business model that’s so popular these days, iWidgets provides a service that lets you build widgets once and deploy them to various popular widget APIs and platforms.

At the heart of iWidgets is a “PowerPoint-like” widget builder that takes strong design cues from Yahoo! Pipes, but as Peter Yared (CEO of iWidgets) says:

then again Pipes looks a lot like Prograph (the original dataflow programming company, where I worked from 1992-1995)

The site transforms the widget you build into:

a native FBML or GoogleGadget/OpenSocial, which are two completely different architectures (serverside vs. clientside), and then call the destination-specific API’s for things like persistence whenever possible.

The builder was constructed using jQuery and like Pipes renders the connection lines using <canvas>. Peter shared some of the back story behind building the application:

I wrote the initial builder in [another framework] and found it obtuse. After spending literally a week trying to turn the date picker into a color picker, I threw in the towel. A friend of mine turned me on to jQuery and I fell in love with how clean and fast it was, the way it separates the HTML from JavaScript is beautiful. So I rewrote the builder we had at the time in jQuery in a two week coding session! Soon after that I got funding from Opus Capital, and when I looked to hire people, I found 3 out of 4 of our engineers through the jQuery mailing list. It’s funny how things like that work out; I ended up finding total rockstars because they were playing with a cool new library.

Peter also shared some details on the overall development process:

It took us 10 months to build the site, we have had one guy (Richard Hensel) full time on the builder UI with another guy (Jeremy Stanton) on it about 1/3 time, with the rest of his time on the overall site doing the wizards and getting things like the %#$# back button to work. Then there are two guys working on the backend, one on FBML and the other on Gadget/OpenSocial, and we just added a junior AJAX guy. We contribute back where we can, for example Jeremy contributed to the Selectable in jQuery UI. The iWidgets site itself is completely AJAX, data from the server is sent as JSON, and page fragments are rendered with Wicket. We persist the widgets you build as JSON and then transform them on the server into native Facebook, MySpace, iGoogle, etc.

The team has some future plans building on top of an already very cool site:

We have a bunch of features we are rolling out, such as calling JSON and piping the results into different components, repeating table, paging, cut/copy/paste, z-order control, live dataflows in the builder, a background process at amazon that sends out notifications like “joe just shot 2 over par at pebble beach” to newsfeeds to drive virality, more platforms such as the iPhone, etc.

I wonder if this should somehow integrate with Yahoo Widgets, Apple’s Dashboard, and other desktop widget platforms… maybe emit a bundle you can download and install into these services?

Posted by Ben Galbraith at 6:00 am

4.2 rating from 46 votes


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link to the site:

Comment by ccollett — June 19, 2008

I recently came across It seems to be similar, but still in private beta.

Comment by phgalliani — June 19, 2008

Very neat concept, and also was very impressed that its all done in javascript. I didn’t build a complete widget, but did fiddle with the interface for making one for a while. Heres my thoughts:

Relatively snappy interace, doesn’t seem bloated or heavy at all. The preview feature in a lightbox is a nice addition, and the “node connection” interface for links and urls is amazing, it allows you to visually make logical connections between items. My only recommendation from ~5 minutes of playing with it is maybe to add an autosave feature (if it’s not there already), too many people these days don’t save their work frequently enough, and I can see some people getting frustrated if they lose ~30 min of their work.

Comment by tj111 — June 19, 2008

very cool. the concept is very well executed.

I had actually misread the article the first time and thought it said “we made the site in 10 minutes” and I just thought to myself, what?! these guys must geniuses! haha.

Comment by vegitto — June 21, 2008

very good the concept is very well executed.

Comment by custumsoftware — September 25, 2008

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