LiveMesh and FeedSync: software “above the level of a single device”

When David Stutz left Microsoft, he wrote a parting essay that invoked a new kind of Internet-oriented operating system characterized by “software that runs above the level of a single device.” Tim O’Reilly echoed that phrase here, and often used it to help explain what he meant by Web 2.0.

The recently-announced LiveMesh is a nice example of software that runs above the level of a single device. It runs symmetrically on all your computing devices, in the part of the cloud that’s associated with your devices, and in other parts of the cloud where services you transact with are running. This entire constellation is the LiveMesh platform which, as Ray Ozzie recently explained to investors, is an answer to this question:

What would an OS look like in a world of multiple devices, in a world where instead of the computer being at the center, you are at the center?

The platform’s connective tissue, as discussed in my interview with Ray Ozzie, is FeedSync, a synchronization system based on the same simple technology that powers the blogosphere: XML feeds of items, in RSS or Atom formats. Whether they represent big chunks of information like documents and media files, or small scraps of information like calendar events and status messages, LiveMesh objects are made up of feeds. All these objects synchronize across your mesh of devices and services using the same openly-specified FeedSync mechanism.

That openness is another key characteristic of an Internet operating system. So it’s nice to see that FeedSync isn’t only being applied in the context of LiveMesh. This week’s Perspectives interview, with Barbara Willett of Mercy Corps and Nigel Snoad of Microsoft Humanitarian Systems, details Mercy Corps’ use of FeedSync to collect, synthesize, and share information about the management of agricultural development programs in Afghanistan.

In this case, the synchronized data sources are humble Access databases for which Nigel and his team have developed a FeedSync adapter. They’ve also built adapters for spreadsheets and — what should be very interesting to Ken Banks and Joel Selanikio — for SMS messaging systems.

I love stories about pragmatic solutions that find new ways to use existing, simple, and widely-deployed technologies. This is clearly one of those. But it also illuminates an aspect of the LiveMesh platform that hasn’t yet been widely noticed or appreciated. One of its keystones, FeedSync, is an open and general-purpose building block that can be used by anyone, for any purpose.

If the Mercy Corps solution interests you, Nigel says that the toolkit he and his team built for them will be openly released in a few weeks. Watch the FeedSync blog for details.

11 Comments

  1. An interesting introduction (and way to go to get Tim O’Reilly mentioning this article on Twitter!)

    I’ll have to dig into this further, but unfortunately I always wonder — What’s the business model? I can see how it would work inside an enterprise, but when will this apply to my furnace, dishwasher, and mountain bike computer? Somehow displaying ads on my hot-water heater doesn’t seem all that lucrative.

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