This is something that's bugged me for years, but James Kendrick at jkontherun has finally pushed me to write about it as a response to one of his posts.
He poses an interesting scenario, at the end of his post, based on the newly announced (and not yet available) Palm Pre, however he's making some pretty big leaps. The current software, isn't learning anything, it's just taking a context based response. The same response each time. Not that I don't think it's great, and would love to see it not only on WinMo, but Outlook as well.
I'm surprised overall how poor the current set of mash-ups, or portals is. There's sooo much data out there that most of us aren't using because we don't want to jump through all the hoops (different sources, websites, searches etc) to get it. It would be relatively easy for software to aggregate it better for us.
We're finally starting to see steps in the right direction. There have been portal sites for ages (think yahoo, or more recently iGoogle), but they don't really aggregate as they should to make things truly seamless, you're at the mercy of the created gadgets, or have to get in and code one in the provided API. How much duplication do you think that creates?
Take Tripit.com for example. It’s moving us in the right direction, and the wrong direction all at the same time. It’s pretty neat that I can consolidate all of my travel info into one place, it looks up relevant information based on the itinerary I send it. I can check flight status, check-in for my flight, get driving directions, weather, and add personal notes. Now it’s not perfect, it’s got some cool social type features, but to take advantage of them I have to get my network on TripIt. I can put a badge on my blog, or LinkedIn profile to show where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m headed, but I can’t put it on my facebook page.
I’m a pretty savvy user, and I used to scoff at the people who complained it was too hard to figure this stuff out. It’s not that I can’t it’s that I don’t want to spend the time. I’m looking at gadgets and technology to enhance my life and make it easier, not learn a different set of standards, or usage scenarios for every little thing I want to do. Ten, five, even two years ago I’d accept it just wasn’t feasible for some of this stuff, walled gardens where how technology worked. Not today friends. There is no reason or excuse for any program you’re using on your PC not to be internet aware, and it should be able to export and import data to leverage that awareness.
This is the type of stuff I’m talking about. For the last couple of years I keep waiting for the killer website to come out and aggregate at least all of the push information out there for me in one easy place. I don’t understand why it hasn’t happened. The site needs a couple of basic things. I think this information falls into three categories. Push, Pull, and Context. Each type of information requires different access, but it would really be killer to be able to get it all in one place.
This concept goes way back to the Windows 95 days and Remember that neat concept Microsoft had where you could put web pages on your desktop, and they would be update when you were online. Some specific partners even had widgets (or whatever they were called) that would push the data to you rather than your PC initiating the request.
Well guess what most of the data I’m looking for on the net is available in a standardized push method, what’s not should be. RSS I spend nearly all of my online time (outside of getting sucked into the time sink that is YouTube) on two websites. GMail for my domain, and Google Reader. I follow 199 different websites daily, and thanks to the automagic updates of RSS feeds to my reader I never have to go to any of those individual sites to know if it’s been updated. The updates appear and I read them, it’s great.
Our new killer site would have RSS aggregation built in. I can add any RSS feed and it shows up on my portal. The power of customization is where things get interesting:
- Perhaps the default is a blog-roll style list of feeds I’m following with the standard reading view, and that’s fine for most.
- Some feeds where I want them to always display – a news feed for instance, I should be able to create a custom container just for that feed, and put where ever I want on my portal.
- Lets say I have a friends/family member’s blog that I always want to appear – in the format it is on their website. I should be able to create a container, and the content should display as it does on their site (assuming they’re using CSS and HTML to style their site).
- Password protected RSS feed support needs to be included as well.
If you’re having trouble imagining the power here I’m guessing it’s because you’re not familiar with RSS. As you surf the web start looking for RSS Feed links, little orange buttons, or the little orange feed logo in IE 7. Almost every blog has one, any major website has one.
If portals started to truly embrace and fully support RSS (in the standard reader format, and outside it) RSS would be even more prevalent.
There are sites where RSS is lacking (or too well hidden) for no valid reason. Why in God’s name do I need to go to facebook to see my news feed. This is why I don’t leverage facebook all that much, if I had an RSS feed of my facebook feed, and links to allow the responses as I do in facebook, I’d be all over that.
Lets take it a step further. Right now I have a bunch of APIs available from various websites to create widgets for their sites (facebook apps, Yahoo gadgets, Google widgets, Windows Sidebar gadgets, etc.). If our site wanted to be the end-all be-all it would be able to pull in any of these apps/widgets, whatever and use them.
That other website I’m spending all my time in is GMail for my domain e-mail. While there are parts of e-mail that should be push (and new arrivals could easily be handled via RSS), there are parts that should be pull as well. Back to my portal site. I should be able to enter any website (did you know each of your GMail labels, or searches creates a custom linkable URL?) and have its contents appear in a container on my portal. So if I want a list of all of my e-mail labeled "purchase” to appear in a container I should be able to do that. If I want my favorite YouTube video to appear in a container I should be able to enter that URL. This is probably an easier implementation than the Push info I’ve called out above.
This is where it gets a little dicey, and decidedly more complicated. This is the example from James’ post that got me started, and causes me to expand.
- Palm Pre looks up maps/directions from one event to the next on your calendar
- Palm Pre looks up relevant internet information on meeting attendees based on your calendar
- GMail provides a link to a map of address that appear in your e-mails
- GMail provides a link to tracking of package numbers that appear in your e-mails
Why isn’t my computer OS, or at least some of the applications smarter about this?
Just like millions of other corporate users I use Outlook all day every day for corporate e-mail. Why can’t it do better about this. I should either be able to right click an address, and have it map it (via my choice of web-based applications), track a package, reverse lookup a phone number. This functionality is built into IE7’s search box (you can create a custom provider just by providing the appropriately formatted URL), why isn’t it build into the OS? I’m not even asking it to make decisions, or learn, just give me the option to build my own library of actions, and let me use them, rather than the current open a browser, go to google maps, copy the address from the e-mail, paste the address into google maps.
The next step would be to have a pane in the app, that has all of these items (that I’ve specified) there for me. If I can define a keyword that causes a specific web action to take place (i.e. 1zXXXXXX is a UPS number go track it, and put the results in the side bar), this allows me to customize, and reduces the impact to the developer.
There’s your billion dollar web 2.0 opportunity. I just want it all in once place. I just want to control how different parts of it are displayed. I just want to be able to define what’s available at the click of a mouse (as opposed to click-select, new browser, website, paste….