Friday, April 20, 2012

Google AppScripts: Power, Beauty, and, well, actually, a lot of work still needed

I was lucky enough to be part of Google's AppScript hackathon in Chicago.  I enjoyed meeting several people in the hacking community, and learned a bit about what AppScript is all about.  Short story: JavaScript in the cloud, connecting calendar, email, spreadsheet, powerpoint, docs, forms, databases, and everything else together, relatively seamlessly.  Think of it as VBA for the cloud

Long story: We had several tutorials, got a basic idea of how to build class files with scripts in them, how to set some properties, trigger changes, send emails, and a few other odds and ends.  My initial attempt was to scrape Craigslist based on a search query, and post all results into a new spreadsheet page (sortable) based on the results and an xml template (I missed that api).  If I have time, I'll actually build it.

Honestly, debugging was horribly slow, writing the scripts wasn't easy, and the bouncing back and forth between pages to reload was relatively unfriendly.  If there was a way to test this on the command line, or even better, have a plugin to a real environment that could save the code locally and back up instantly (or when optimized), then I'd be a fan.

This can be a really powerful step forward for business analysts, interns, and other folks who don't know a lot about programming, and want to just connect apps together with simple functionalities.  Honestly, one of the cooler ideas I saw was someone using Flex mobile to write the app, storing the js code in StageWebView, and then running their form that way...I left before I had a chance to see it in action, but it sounded quite promising.

For anyone interested in trying this out, the website has good documentation, but some of it is quite buried (or relies too heavily on GWT UI toolkit documentation).  That documentation could use some examples embedded with the code, but that's just my opinion of the docs.  Otherwise, there are plenty of scripts to help you get started with writing off a few quick innovative app ideas.  Hopefully you have time to work on something and show the world.  But for right now, it has some maturation to be more robust for full development.

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