“…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 about.me is addressing, but for me, it’s not enough. About.me 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 Sing.ly 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 Sing.ly’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?