Metaservices FTW!


Way back when — well, a few years back anyway— I wrote a series of posts around the idea of “metaservices.” As I mused, I engaged in a bit of derision around the current state (at that point) of the mobile ecosystem, calling it “chiclet-ized” — silos of useful data without a true Internet between them. You know, like individually wrapped cubes of shiny, colored gum that you had to chew one at a time.

I suggested that we needed a connective layer between all those chiclets, letting information flow between all those amazing services.

It’s happening. First, with deep linking, which has successfully integrated the apps, the mobile OS via notification layer, email, and the broader mobile and desktop web. And now with an emerging, multi-tasking layer of user command and control based on the simplest of interfaces: Text.

Check out Prompt, which TechCrunch aptly called “a command line for the real world.” Prompt is about two things. First, integrations with useful mobile services — the chiclets. And second, a simple, social, text-like interface that allows us to get shit done. Text Uber, get a car. Text Nest, turn your thermostat down. Text Google, get a search result. Text Facebook, post a status update. Text any smart service, get shit done.

Bots are at the center of this interface — simple, rules-based bots that take our commands, execute them, and tell us of the result. It’s not rocket science, and that’s kind of the point.

It’s great. It’s right. It’s going to work — but only if we remember the other side of the coin. Links should go both ways, after all. If Prompt and others like it want to win, they have to become a clearing house for both data going out — our commands — as well as data coming in. It’s one thing to tell our bots and services what to do. It’s another to allow them to talk to each other, and to instrument a platform that gives us control of how they might combine. Once we light that candle, the Internet will shift to another level entirely.

One thought on “Metaservices FTW!”

  1. Hasn’t the battle in the Internet world for the past two decades been about who can be the most meta? Aren’t the winners those who can succeed in simultaneously being the most meta, and in shutting down anyone from being meta “on top” of them?

    As a consumer I can see exactly why I want to use the most meta service possible. But as a service, I can see exactly why I would be against it.

    Let’s go back in time, to late 1995. At that time, there were 25 different search engines and Google didn’t really exist yet, my favorite search engine was SavvySearch.. the world’s first meta-search engine.



    Instead of running your query on just one engine, it would run it on multiple engines and fuse the results. It was a fantastic idea, and it worked fantastically well. So well, in fact, that in Google’s original terms of service, from the late 90s all the way to today, there is a clause that explicitly forbids you from doing metasearch. I quote from Google’s Terms of Service (

    “You may not send automated queries of any sort to Google’s system without express permission in advance from Google. Note that “sending automated queries” includes, among other things…”meta-searching” Google…Please do not write to Google to request permission to “meta-search” Google for a research project, as such requests will not be granted.”

    So I’ve been a fan of metasearch for.. what.. 20.5 years now? And yet Google’s terms of service explicit shut down the ability to be meta on top of their search. So I very much agree with you that metaservices are what I, the consumer, need to have, FTW. But just as Google itself is trying to out-meta everyone else, Google resists the Call of the Internet to be open, and tries to shut down anyone who wants to be meta on top of it.

    So yes, let’s keep championing meta. But in almost two decades of using Google, I’ve never been able to get it to come out from its protectionist, anti-meta stance. And I suspect that if these metaservices start to really take off, all the chiclets will also start to adopt Google’s closed posturing.

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