Brad Fitzpatrick on WebFinger

Last week I went to the Mozilla Labs October meetup at Twitter HQ. Employees of Mozilla and Google presented their latest projects, which were very interesting for those involved in engineering the future of the Web. I intend to turn my notes from the gathering into two or three blog entries. This is the first of those.

To kick off the evening, Brad Fitzpatrick and Brett Slatkin (both of Google) presented on WebFinger and PubSubHubub, respectively. Brad stated that he “would like to totally decentralize social networking,” which is a common link between the two efforts. This post will outline Brad’s talk on WebFinger; PubSubHubbub will follow separately.

WebFinger attempts to solve the problem that we don’t have good identifiers for people. Over time, people have become accustomed to identifying themselves by an email address. They sign into websites with this as their ID and print it on their business cards. People instinctively recognize anything with an @ sign in it as an email address.

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The Rise of the Data Web

Via a tweet by Tim O’Reilly, I came across an excellent post entitled The Rise of the Data Web, on Dataspora Blog (which I quickly subscribed to). The author, Michael E. Driscoll, summed up nicely an important trend occurring presently on the web.

The web originated as a set of documents and files served up for people to read and occasionally edit. Indeed, it is this web that we all still experience as we surf from page to page reading news or looking at photos.

Underneath all this, and unseen except by software engineers, is a massive web of data. Sensors of all kinds are now measuring everything that can be quantified, from people’s location and biological functions to the environment we all share. All of this data is flowing through the network.

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User Interface Implications of Google Wave

I set aside the time tonight to watch the full hour and a half demo of Google Wave. Seeing the creators use their product shed some light onto the possibilities of the system. However, I’m glad I read the technical specifications before witnessing the user interface.

The initial focus and reaction around Google Wave centers, rightfully, on communication. In particular, the real-time aspects were highlighted and comparisons drawn to Twitter and FriendFeed. Some even tout it as the “one true” communication tool.

It’s important to note, though, that different people have different needs. For example, both Scott Rosenberg and Fred Wilson find the interface to be complicated. Fortunately, under the open development model Google is taking, others are free to design simpler interfaces.

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The Google Wave Announcement

The big news to hit the web today was the announcement of Google Wave at Google I/O. Described as “the e-mail of the future,” Wave is an ambitious project with a grand vision of unified communications.

A concise description of what Wave is, exactly, seems to be hard to formulate. You have to see it to understand it seems to be a growing consensus. That is a bit frustrating to those trying to conceptualize, but it may be appropriate if Wave truly is a leap forward for communication.

Tim O’Reilly has the best description I’ve come across:

Jens, Lars, and team re-imagined email and instant-messaging in a connected world, a world in which messages no longer need to be sent from one place to another, but could become a conversation in the cloud. Effectively, a message (a wave) is a shared communications space with elements drawn from email, instant messaging, social networking, and even wikis.

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People, Services and Content

A couple weeks ago, Marc Canter wrote a entry outlining the constructs of people, services and content. These are the central pillars around which collaboration software is structured.

Content, as a concept, encompasses a wide area. It could be a newspaper article, a radio program, a TV show, a spreadsheet or presentation. Creating and managing content has been one of the primary purposes of computers, ever since they came into existence.

With the rise of the Internet, and particularly social networking, there has been a renewed focus on people and the role they play in a system. Proper emphasis on individuals and groups makes collaboration more efficient.

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