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Software Widgets All Over the Place

August 31st, 2006

Nick Carr discusses the idea (brought up by Chris Anderson) of wrapping bits of data with an appropriate application, and then embedding that bundle directly into a web page. Bruno Pedro extends the basic idea to include the notion that not all the data be included in that bundle. At some point of extension, I think you end up back with the Web as it is today. Sure, pages will be more dynamic, and Ajax-like techniques make mashups possible, but is it a revolution?

Does it make sense to have lots of little spreadsheets; a different one on each page? Let’s say computers are really fast and have tons of memory, so efficiency isn’t an issue. What about the user? Will all these apps have different UIs because they’re from different vendors? Will each of these AppWidgets contain only the subset of functionality the embeddor thought would be useful to the data being presented? If we say “No, never!” to these issues, do we end up with ActiveX?

Let’s say we’ve learned from the past and we can do embedded apps without any of the obvious pitfalls. Is the web ready for the idea of apps whose data is pulled from disparate sources? The existence of mashups says yes, but how widespread is reliable, successful interop? The problem of data exchange has a few key aspects. Syndication via RSS or Atom addresses the issue of packaging in a manner that seems more manageable than SOAP, but there is still the issue of creating a tenuous dependency with each data linkage. It seems that there are a few really stable sources of information, particularly large companies, but the dream seems to be tying together information from many small sources as well as the big guys. If every individual is a source of data, does that mean that we each have to worry about compatibility-breaking changes to our own personal APIs?

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  1. August 31st, 2006 at 14:27 | #1

    From your post:

    Bruno Pedro extends the basic idea to include the notion that not all the data be included in that bundle.

    Well, what I’m imagining is that not only the data will be sitting elsewhere on the Web but also the actions that can be performed on it.

    By actions I mean scripts of course, but not in the sense that we know them now. These scripts would be snippets that would perform very basic tasks. By joining some of these scripts together you could perform a complex action.

    Yes, everything is already developed. Scripts are called Web-services and, yes data is basically everywhere already. So, what are we waiting for?

  2. August 31st, 2006 at 14:45 | #2

    Bruno, I think you’re right that the pieces are there, but I think it’s the glue that’s missing. For instance, we hear stories today about things on the web being there forever due to caching, backups, etc., and we also hear about things on the web being ephemeral in that a page that was there yesterday might be gone tomorrow. Typically the same information is still available somehow, but changing a URL, much less the way the data is labelled and categorized, can have catastrophic effects on scripts that depend on that data.

    I think the problem gets back to a coupling between the abstract data we want and the implementation that makes it available. What we (or at least I) am waiting for is an accepted way of identifying information that is not dependent on a typically dynamic infrastructure. We need an abstraction from the web that is more than HTTP forwards.

  3. August 31st, 2006 at 14:55 | #3

    That’s right. What we really need is a complete abstraction from this model we’re relying upon right now.

    Think, for instance, that the Web is just a collection of documents. It makes sense to address them by a unique name (what we now call a URL).

    But the Web is not merely a collection of documents. The Web is a cloud of information and actions that can be performed on that information. We need something radically different to address elements within that cloud.

  4. August 31st, 2006 at 15:04 | #4

    Agreed. But what is it going to be? We want granularity, redundancy, and decentralization. Is something like Kademlia the way to go? It’s nice in that the information is as first class a citizen as the nodes on the network, but, afaik, assumes that all nodes are created equal (i.e. it doesn’t provide for supernodes).

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