Friday, April 21, 2006

How my websites can get along

Earlier I asked "Why can't my websites get along?" and now I'm going to answer myself.

What I want them to do

The love triangle in question, to review, is GMail's contact list, Amazon.com wish lists, and the Google Reader and the books listed in some posts there.

Any books mentioned in posts through Google Reader (or on any page, for that matter) should be flagged as being books, or the browser should be able to just figure out that they are books. It shouldn't link them directly to Amazon.com from the website, because maybe I like to by through B&N, right? My browser should see these elements marked (somehow) as being book titles, and make them into links to the books entries at Amazon (or Barnes & Noble). To take this a step further, the book sites might publish some kind of services feed, that lists services available to some particular resouce. So, when you ask it "What can you do with A Tale of Two Cities?" it will say "I can add it to your wish list. I can add it to your shopping cart. I can sell it to you immediately." and etc. Where should these commands show up? Well, that's up to the browser, really. It could be in a right click context menu, or an expanding dialog when clicking the element associated with the book, or maybe in a smart sidebar populated with all the books (and other intelligently utilized resources) found on the current page.

In this example, I tell my browser "I want to add this to my wish list." and it does what the service feed tells it to do, and requests some resource that is known to handle the action it wants for the target in question. Amazon.com will handle this request by adding the book to my wishlist, and it doesn't even have to show me a page about it. It should tell the browser about the success of the command, but that doesn't have to be anything Human Readable, does it? My browser might display a little checkmark or something next to the books name, even in other pages three months later.

Some point in the future, after I have lots of nifty books on my wish list, I'll want to send it out to friends in family. It is my birthday, after all. At Amazon.com, I click on the "My Wish List" link and I view my books and I click on "Send this list to someone" because I want everyone to buy me things. The page I navigate to will have a form, where it wants a list of email addresses and a message to send along with the list. The emails is what interests us. Somehow, they need to communicate that this particular input on the form is a list of email addresses. This might be some new attribute for input or form elements, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is that the client will see this and know I am going to entire e-mail addresses. It could do a lot of different things with this information, of course. It might give me a drop-down list of known emails, and those might come from a number of places. It might have different address book protocols implemented, or might pull e-mails straight from GMail webpages. In any case, it will acquire them the best way it knows, and I'll have this list anywhere I need it, including to send out my Wish List.

And then, everyone buys me stuff.

What pieces are missing

I've gone over a few things we need to accomplish to be able to combine services and information freely like we should have been doing years ago. Service feeds are an important concept that is only very lightly being touched on yet. In this case, I am talking about some Web Service that you can ask about other web services available. You would give it something it knows about, like a book ISBN or title, and it would tell you what it can do with that resource. It would return a list of commands, by name and the URLs to execute those commands. Maybe your browser would look to http://www.amazon.com/services/servicesfor?title=Prefactoring to get an XML document that has the information it needs. Does anyone reading know if there is a current format or specification to deal with that kind of data specifically? These services should all be considered something the client would perform on our behalf, maybe without us seeing. That means the results of the requests should be status-oriented, and don't need to be webpages at all. If they want to say "There is a webpage here about this request I just completed, too" then that is fine. The final component involves the data we need to put into all of these webservices, and how much about what it wants we and our webclients know, so as to better equip us to provide that information. Again, is there something in the works towards this goal?

1 comment:

Michael said...

The Semantic Web? *ducks*

I write here about programming, how to program better, things I think are neat and are related to programming. I might write other things at my personal website.

I am happily employed by the excellent Caktus Group, located in beautiful and friendly Carrboro, NC, where I work with Python, Django, and Javascript.

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