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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.


    Sample Web Site Project Plan

    Although every project is unique, I have found that sometimes its helpful to get a sense of the common steps involved in a visual way. I decided to post the generic project plan I share with my clients here in the hopes that it will help someone just diving into their Web site or redesign project get a handle on what to consider.

    Download the Sample Project Plan PDF (385k) here.


    From the Idealware Blog

    My Top 10 Super Handy Links

    (originally posted at idealware.org/blog)

    Inspired by Eric Leland’s post Wonderful Tools for Web Developers, here are some of the links I use all the time and keep close to the top of my bookmarks. If you work on a web or communications team I think you will find them useful too. If you have a favorite free online tool you can’t live without, share it in the comments.

    Need to know if you are the only one that can’t get to a web site? http://downforeveryoneorjustme.com/

    Free tool to check out how your site looks on a variety of browsers and platforms (Full disclosure: I use browswercam.com now)
    http://browsershots.org/

    Really cool way to preview screen fonts and compare how they will look online
    http://typetester.maratz.com/

    How do you figure out what that font is on a graphic someone found deep in the archives?
    http://www.myfonts.com/WhatTheFont/

    Check your writing against several readability scoring methods and get suggestions on making it more reader friendly.
    http://www.editcentral.com/gwt/com.editcentral.EC/EC.html

    Just a simple word count tool – nothing fancy, but handy
    http://www.wordcounttool.com/

    Lorem Ipsum Generator – when you need some greeking fast
    http://www.lipsum.com/

    Its always good to know if your code will pass HTML muster
    http://validator.w3.org/

    And your if your fancy new styles are legit according to the CSS validator
    http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator/

    One more for fun:
    For all your twitter and social networking needs – nifty copy-paste symbols
    http://thenextweb.com/TwitterKeys/


    Handy Email Testing Spreadsheet

    Testing how your Email to supporters will look when sent from your bulk Email vendor is all important. As we try to keep up with the “improvements” that Microsoft keeps making and all the various ways Web Email services can render your HTML, I have found this Excel file is pretty useful of keeping track of it all. It contains a sheet for the main programs and items to test for and another to help keep track of all your email accounts and log ins. Hope this helps someone out.

    Download the Excel spreadsheet (16k)


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