free html hit counter I Wish "Tapestry" Existed - John Battelle's Search Blog

I Wish "Tapestry" Existed

By - October 07, 2011


(image) Early this year I wrote File Under: Metaservices, The Rise Of, in which I described a problem that has burdened the web forever, but to my mind is getting worse and worse. The crux:

“…heavy users of the web depend on scores – sometimes hundreds – of services, all of which work wonderfully for their particular purpose (eBay for auctions, Google for search, OpenTable for restaurant reservations, etc). But these services simply don’t communicate with each other, nor collaborate in a fashion that creates a robust or evolving ecosystem.”

I noted that the rise of AppWorld only exacerbates the problem (apps rarely talk to each other or share data).

This must change. Not due to my philosophical problems with a closed web (though I do have that problem) but because yesterday, while driving back from an afternoon in the Valley, I had an idea for a new service, which for now I’ll call Tapestry, for lack of a better name. And then I got depressed: I figured making such a service would be really, really hard to do. And it shouldn’t be. And I hate getting depressed so quickly after having a fun idea.

The hard part of my idea isn’t the tech. In fact, the tech is probably drop dead easy (well, part of it is. The data mungeing and such is probably super tough at scale). But I fear the really the hard part is getting any number of platforms to allow a third party work on my behalf so as to bring my idea to life. In short, I think Tapestry might be impossible to build because it may well violate various Terms of Services that I haven’t read. (I recently clicked “Accept” on a new iTunes TOS on my iPhone. It was 62 pages long. I mean, come on!)

In short, the hardest part of executing my idea could be policy related, not tech related.

But to my idea. I’ll express it here with two caveats: One, if this idea has already been done, and I just don’t know about it, forgive me. And please tell me why we aren’t ALL using it. And two, if you make this service because you read this post, at least add an Easter Egg pointing to this page, willya?

OK, so here’s the story. As I was driving up from Google, stuck in typical crap traffic between the Valley and Marin, I wondered what my pal, we’ll call him Dr. J, was up to. Now Dr. J is not much of a user of social services – no Twitter updates, no Foursquare checkins, no Facebook status. He has a phone, and he texts and uses email. I knew he rarely picks up his phone, and since I was driving, I couldn’t text or email him (well, I could have, but….).

Anyway, I got to thinking about Dr. J and why he doesn’t use social services much. For him, it’s about investment of time. There isn’t one service that really works for him, where the investment given matches or exceeds the value derived. He’s got accounts, of course. But he doesn’t really use them. Then I thought, well, if we had Tapestry, he might start!

I think there are a lot of people like Dr. J. I then thought about other people in my life, and in particular, people who do invest a lot of time into social services. What, in the end, are they getting from each? I’m sure it varies, but for me, here’s what I get:

Twitter: A platform for my public output, an audience who have opted to hear what I have to say.

Foursquare: A fun way to leave digital breadcrumbs of where I’ve been, a historical record of sorts that I imagine will end up being useful in some way. Sometimes good to find shops and restaurants near me when I’m in a new place. Almost never good for “connecting with friends in real time,” which is why I joined in the first place.

Facebook: Noise. But I know it could be great for staying in touch with close friends, if I had only instrumented it right. I didn’t.

Google+: Not sure yet. But my “colleagues” circle is kind of like a better version of a list I once made on Twitter, then forgot about. I’m on it because I think it’s going to matter soon.

This blog: A place I think out loud, and create things to share on social platforms.

In short, I interact with about five “social” platforms, (though only one of them – this blog – do I consider “mine.”) Most people I know aren’t active bloggers, and they don’t have a place that is really “theirs.” If they do “exist” online, it’s through dependent web services like Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

It’s this lack of an independent “place” online that Tony Conrad’s is addressing, but for me, it’s not enough. is static page, a place where all my various links live. It’s not a metaservice that’s alive. And, it’s now owned by AOL. I’d prefer it to be independent, so it’s not at the whim of a larger entity that might use my data in ways I can’t control.

In short, I want to be able to ask “What’s Dr. J up to” right now, and get a response that shows his last Facebook status update, his last checkin, his last blog post (if he has one), perhaps what’s playing on his iTunes, his last few tweets – a real time summary of all the signals he’s putting out into the world. It’d also include any personal communications – the last text thread I had with him, our last email exchange, etc. What I don’t want to do is check four or five or ten services to create that picture. I want one real-time snapshot. I want to be able to query all my friends’ records in the Database of Intentions, both public and private to our personal relationship.

Wouldn’t that be cool to have for everyone in your life? I suppose Facebook is that snapshot for most people today, and Lord knows the company is working hard to make sure it has every kind of signal it can find – location, status, identity, media use, email, IM, etc. But the fact is, there’s more to life than what you put on your Facebook page. And as I said before, I’m wary of dropping a permanent tap root into a large platform that is out of my control.

So I’d love to use a service that queries all my various social actions and curates them into one publicly addressable instance independent of any larger platform like AOL, Facebook, Apple, or Google. I’m pretty sure this is what and the Locker Project will make theoretically possible. (And many better ideas, to be sure.) Tapestry could likely be a service built on top of’s platform.

But I’m worried that were Tapestry to blossom, big social data players like Apple, Facebook, and others might ban us from using it. After all, you can’t leverage Facebook’s API unless you’re a developer. And most consumers aren’t going to become developers just to use a service. And Lord knows what lawyerly hairballs lurk in the depths of those tome-like Terms of Services.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s an elegant hack around all of this that will make my hand wringing sound uninformed and silly. I sure hope so.

What do you guys think? Is it possible to make this service? Or is it not really needed?

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16 thoughts on “I Wish "Tapestry" Existed

  1. Janet says:

    Tapestry, as you describe it, is too close for comfort.

    I think when I want Tapestry I will pull out my Carole King CD.

  2. John says:

    Hey Janet. The point of Tapestry is that you control it entirely.

  3. David says:

    How nice this would be John. It’s interesting how you say you would want to see what everyone else is up to but don’t want to give the power to Facebook or the like to enable them to do that. I feel similarly about Facebook but wonder whether you have mixed two elements together here.

    The first is your control all in one place. Some people have tried to use their pin or contact manager for that purpose but they are always wanting and don’t automatically connect with lots of other things in the way you describe would be nice.

    The second is what everyone else sees. You allude to this in your reply to the other commenter. But again this is much trickier since your interests and the service provider’s interests may be different (i.e. they benefit like FB if you have less control).

    Your previous piece on Google+ pointed to a potential hub and the redesign/systematization of the Google app interface makes this approach easier to implement for them. I might add that the ease with which Google allows you to exit their services (exporting information is so easy and so obviously not intended to serve as an exit barrier) suggests that they might be a suitable candidate for allowing you to control the second portion of “tapestry.”. Great idea!

  4. Bart says:

    I have built it in my blog.

    Check out the footer of .

    (It is built as a collection of modules on top of the open source CMS .)

  5. opit says:

    ‘Tapestry’ as you imagine it does have analogues in Diigo for Search and Yoono for a sidebar feed accumulating Facebook, Myspace,Buzz,Twitter and more. I note many rely exclusively for their pet Google feeds to provide news but even Yahoo!’s pipes apps don’t do the job in the way you describe. Netvibes, Pageflakes,Opera Community Unite all have their place. I don’t use Shareaholic as designed nor Cool Views either much. feedly becomes addictive without being as ‘in your face’ so much.

  6. Aditya says:

    Unfortunately iWish is a product Steve Jobs did not build. Else, with a magic wand you could have had Tapestry. I mean this in a respectful way. You can read my tribute to Steve(on facebook).

    The question you raise is interesting yet challenging in many ways.

    Let us look at what you(John) have to say:

    Single Service: Surely 1 single service that brings it all togther is a dream come true. It can truly happen only if there is a way to bring all the feeds(social: so RSS won’t cut it..sad..and its an expanding standards) together and somehow make semantic sense for you(the user) despite all the standard challenges(spellings/contexts) with Folksonomy.

    The one way I see it happening is if 1 organization becomes that central messaging standard which can only happen if they are the big daddy of social medial (Facebook). There were a zillion firms and VCs that bet their careers on Single Idendity firms(don’t need to name) but finally FConnect has been able to make it happen! Somehow, Magically every website has FConnect, that is how even your blog accepts comments. Lets bear in mind WordPress did allow single sign on across all WordPress so it worked for the Blogging Community but it did not work for everyone. Community inclusion is key.

    You can continue reading the rest of this comment on my blog if you wish. As it forced me to push out a post that I was holding no to for a while.

    Question: What is the Unit of Information?

  7. Sort of like ?

    I haven’t updated that recently (I don’t use twitter very much, because it too random / noisy), but I think this depicts the basic idea, right?

  8. Aditya says:

    @John – The question you raise is interesting yet challenging in many ways. Single Service: Surely 1 single service that brings it all togther is a dream come true. It can truly happen only if there is a way to bring all the feeds(social: so RSS won’t cut it..sad..and its an expanding standards) together and somehow make semantic sense for you(the user) despite all the standard challenges(spellings/contexts) with Folksonomy. You can continue reading the rest of this comment on my blog if you wish. As it forced me to push out a post that I was holding on to for a while.

    Question: What is the Unit of Information? You can read the full post here:

  9. Aditya says:

    @Norbert – Think John and many others are wishing

    a) That they don’t need to set this page up and that the frames and content sets are dynamic. Something like what FB is becoming now.

    b) Also, that one day they can move items from 1 column of your page to another without losing its semantic(meaning), that was the idea behind Facebook Social Plugin but then everyone needs to trust Facebook with all their information.

  10. shehab says:

    didn’t friendfeed come close?
    gist and (to a lesser extent) rapportive are in the general space also.

  11. Amit Patel says:

    FriendFeed aggregates social streams from multiple sources (including “imaginary friends” for importing streams of people who aren’t on FriendFeed), but after using it for a while I realized that I was missing context and culture.

    A post on Facebook or Twitter in isolation isn’t carrying the context of other posts. There’s stream-specific context (someone is responding to someone else, not necessarily through a “reply”), but there’s also cross-stream context (things like ‘Photo Friday’ or ‘#thingsididntknow’). Then there’s the cultural aspects of each community, like hash tags on Twitter, mayor badges on Foursquare, rage guy on Reddit, Fake Grimlock on, etc.

    In the end I found that the aggregation wasn’t that useful for me. It was mixing together things that came from many different sources and different formats and trying to homogenize them, and it lost what made each site unique. For example, when I browse delicious or flickr, I use the tags. But FriendFeed’s import of those feeds doesn’t include tags. Would it be useful if they had a different UI for each input stream? Perhaps, but then it degrades into a bunch of sidebar-style widgets that don’t fit together.

    The best stuff on FriendFeed is the stuff that started on FriendFeed, not the stuff imported from elsewhere. The best stuff on Google Buzz is the stuff that started on Buzz, not the stuff imported from elsewhere. These two experiments have made me a little less optimistic that aggregation of social sites will work out.

  12. Timothy says:


    Ironically, Facebook may be ideally positioned to introduce a Tapestry-like option that would enable “power-users” to fully control their data/identities while keeping them linked to their non-geek “Friends.”

    It would be great to see Facebook introduce a Premium WordPress framework/template that would allow us to port all our FB personal profiles onto a self-hosted server and on a custom-domain that we own.

    The biggest strategic mistake made is not to give us the option of using a custom-domain (masking as premium feature). Take a look at Google Apps and it quickly becomes apparent that had it not offered us the option to use of own domains, we would’ve been reluctant to move our corporate email there.

    If Facebook is serious about becoming a platform, such a move to self-hosted profiles and pages would be a major leap forward and would dramatically change the tenor of the discussion concerning cookies, privacy, et al.

  13. “A fun way to leave digital breadcrumbs of where I’ve been, a historical record of sorts that I imagine will end up being useful in some way.” – I have a product in beta that I think you’re going to find solves not only this, but nods to this notion of collecting signals from friends. @br_ttany if you want more info.

  14. Timz says:

    CmdrTaco wants something similar:

    IMHO the key is a really, really good user interface that both lets you easily see the information you want to see coming in; and gives you a very clear picture of what you’re sharing with whom on the way out (even though Facebook makes that as UNclear as possible, especially via the API.)

  15. It’s a great idea, but I think you’re right. There’s just nothing much to be gained by the really big players in allowing some third-party developer to tie all their apps together. One of the ways in which capitalist-thinking can really fall over, I feel.

  16. Suenetbook2011 says:

    Hi, i think you want an offline blog with tons of widgets and links picked up from your social media and placed in the relevant pages; back to time management diaries but on line; we called it a brain in a book…maybe a p.a. to run it rather than a virtual assistant…