Joining web namespaces

The other day I read the following statement in the Economist:

Sensitivity of the data will decide if an application is suitable for processing in the cloud.

The writer does not mention, and probably is unaware of, the principle of translucent data. In a translucent database, the data is encrypted and thus opaque to the operator of the database. Users of the data share keys to unlock the data, and can do anything with cleartext copies that they keep locally. Can real and useful applications be built in this kind of regime? We don’t really know, because hardly anybody has tried. But if it turns out to be possible, it could become a foundation of cloud computing.

I wanted to advance the story. In particular, I wanted to help make a connection between that statement in the Economist and the idea of data translucency. I’ve written about translucency on my blog, and those entries are tagged on delicious. But nowadays the attention stream flows mainly through Twitter. So I composed this tweet:

Economist: “Sensitivity of the data will decide if an application is suitable for processing in the cloud.” Unless the data is #translucent.

There’s a limit to what you can do in 140 characters. That tweet uses all 140, but still falls short of what I wanted to do:

  • Quote from the Economist
  • Link to the Economist
  • Colonize a formerly empty hashtag namespace (#translucency)
  • Connect that namespace to its delicious counterpart

Inevitably I failed to do all that in 140 characters. Reflecting on the failure, I made this LazyWeb wish:

I wish I could tweet the command “join http://delicious.com/judell/translucency to #translucent and #translucency”

I’ve had some success joining tag namespaces from different domains. I mentioned the idea in this entry, and a commenter (engtech) provided a nifty solution based on Yahoo Pipes. I have since used it to keep track of items tagged icalvalid on blogs, on delicious, and on Twitter.1

My LazyWeb wish came from that experience, plus another which I wrote up in an entry entitled To: elmcity, From: @curator, Message: start. That entry describes how elmcity curators can now use Twitter direct messages to send commands to the elmcity service. The mechanism harkens back to Rael Dornfest’s brilliant Sandy, a service that acted as a personal assistant and responded to a repertoire of command messages.

Sandy lost her job when Rael went to work for Twitter. I’ve wondered if she would be rehired there. If so, a command like the one I proposed might be an example of the kind of thing she could do.

On further reflection, I’m not really sure what such a command would mean, or whether it would make sense to use Twitter to send it, or indeed whether it would make sense for Twitter (rather than some other service) to respond to it. But I’m in an exploratory mood, so let’s explore.

It would be straightforward to create a service that would take the Yahoo Pipes trick to the next level. Instead of editing and saving a Yahoo Pipe, you’d just command that service to merge the set of feeds for some tag. That command might best take the form of a URL:

http://tagjoiner.org/join/TAG?delicious=yes&twitter=yes&wordpress=yes

As is true for my combined icalvalid feed, the result formats could be HTML for viewing and RSS for feed splicing. As the creator of the joined feed, I’m aware that it exists, and I can cite it when I want to direct people’s attention to the union of the namespaces.

But suppose I wanted the joined namespace to be more discoverable than that? Here’s where it might make sense for Twitter to be involved. If a hashtag search on Twitter did the join, it could be made evident to the followers of the person making the join request, or even to anyone searching for the hashtag involved in the request.

This is almost surely too indirect and too abstract to ever make sense as a mainstream feature. But it’s fun to imagine. If I’ve made an investment in a tag on delicious, or WordPress, or somewhere else, I’d like to be able to bring those items to the attention of people who encounter the corresponding Twitter hashtag.

The general idea behind all this goes way beyond Twitter, of course. Waiting in the wings is a whole class of services that reconcile different web namespaces.


1 That feed used to include a mix of items marked [DELICIOUS] and [TWITTER]. But the Twitter items are less durable and seem to have aged out of the combined feed.

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