From the Idealware Blog

Sproutbuilder Update and Alternatives

(originally posted at idealware.org/blog)

Last month nifty WYSIWYG online flash widget maker Sproutbuilder announced its plan to move to all pay accounts by March and like a lot of organizations I was pretty concerned about what this meant for my nonprofit clients. Assurances that Sprout Inc. is committed to the sector turned into the news that there would be limited free accounts and some discount for official organizations. Last week a modified pricing structure was announced and some solid information about what is available for nonprofits became available.

The short story is that verified nonprofits can create up to 5 widgets (sprouts) with 100MB Storage and 10GB bandwidth available with a free account. Other pricing tiers will be half price or $30/mo for 5-15 sprouts and $150/mo for 15-30.

While this is decidedly good news, I did feel the need in the interim to see what alternatives exist and if any are worth exploring in more depth. The caveats about any free application or software service still apply of course and the original Idealware post on these developments by Michelle Murrain is well worth reading.

At first it looks like there are more options and decisions to make than on a new cell phone plan. But when I narrowed down the field with the following criteria some likely candidates emerged.

1. Offers a free version and looks to remain so
2. Interface to build widgets doesn’t require HTML, javascript or programming knowledge
3. Interface is relatively easy to use
4. Ability to have many types of content on several pages or tabs – photos, video, feeds, text areas
5. Ability to customize formatting and style elements, background, text etc.

    Alternatives I plan to check out in more depth include Wix, PopFly (from Microsoft) and iWidgets. I have just done a little preliminary investigation and playing around at this point, but here are my notes on each and a longer list of the other options I found.

    Wix: http://www.wix.com/
    Probably the closest match to Sproutbuilder’s ease of use and functionality but definitely geared more towards the MySpace style and audience. This shows in the widget building interface making it a bit jumbled and not that efficient for building tasks. They do have some nice add in elements like Google maps and a contact form. Free version includes a self-promotional footer when the widget is embedded.

    Popfly : http://www.popfly.com/
    I haven’t made it far into actually producing a widget yet because it requires Microsoft Silverlight browser plug in to be installed on my computer and I am not sure I want to make that kind of commitment yet to something I may never use. The orientation here is on flash games and mash-ups, but it does seem possible to create content+feed type widgets as well. I would love to hear from anyone that has tried or is using this since the idea of easy-to-make, shareable game widgets seems appealing for some nonprofits.

    iWidget: http://www.iwidgets.com/
    Advertising is added to widgets that don’t contain any of their own, so the fit for the nonprofit community isn’t great. The interface required an initial set up that included URL links to images hosted elsewhere, which might be a slight technology barrier but the actual content addition and customization interface seems solid.

    The others
    Widgetbox: http://www.widgetbox.com/
    Seems powerful but requires pretty solid coding knowledge it looks like.

    Yahoo Widgets: http://widgets.yahoo.com/widgets/widget-maker
    Also a probably a pretty powerful tool for those with tech chops.

    Blist Widgets: http://www.blist.com/what-is-blist/blist-widgets
    Pretty sweet looking excel spreadsheet type data display widgets with interactive possiblities but limited to data input/output as far as I can tell.

    Dapper widgets: http://www.dapper.net
    Offers the ability to generate a wide variety of output types (google gadgets for example) from data collected from a web site – static or RSS feed and might be worth another look.

    KickApps: http://www.kickapps.com/widgets
    Seems like widget creation is part of a larger package that requires a $100 minimum fee.

    Clearspring: http://www.clearspring.com/services/widgetmedia
    A forerunner in the widget field but it doesn’t look like they have any free or nonprofit plans available.

    These notes were the result of a very quick look around and I would be happy for any additions or corrections to my brief survey and initial thoughts. There are a lot of neat services out there and I know I didn’t find all of them or look at all of the functionalities they offer. None of the ones I summarized seems to have the same combination of ease of use and power found in Sproutbuilder though, so for now their 5 widgets for free plan still looks like a good starting place for nonprofits wanting to create their first widgets.


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