Tinker to Evers to Chance, Tripit to Dopplr to Facebook

A few months back I observed:

Tripit, meet Dopplr. Dopplr, Tripit. You two should really get to know one another.

Richard Akerman replied:

You can feed TripIt’s ical output into Dopplr, I hear (I haven’t tried it)

That remark should have rung a loud bell for me, but somehow it didn’t. Then, yesterday, in conversation with James Senior, the bell rang. We were talking about how many services publish and/or subscribe to iCalendar feeds, how few people know that, and how much latent capability is being left on the table. Paraphrasing James:

I’ll give you a perfect example. I use Tripit, it’s a wonderful service. You email it your travel itinerary, and it organizes all your information for you. But I’ve been frustrated not to be able to share that information with my friends on Facebook. I also use Dopplr, and Dopplr talks to Facebook, but Tripit doesn’t. Then I realized that Tripit publishes an iCalendar feed, and that Dopplr can subscribe to iCalendar feeds. So I made that connection, and now my Tripit events are showing up in Facebook.

Brilliant. Look:

How did I miss that? Me, of all people, Mr. Splice-Everything-To-Everything, Mr. Find-Unintended-Uses-Of-Software, Mr. Cosmic-Significance-Of-Pub-Sub, Mr. Champion-Of-The-Underutilized-iCalendar-Standard, Mr. Computational-Thinking?

Because wiring the web is still too abstract, too convoluted, and too non-obvious — even, sometimes, for me.

The phrase wiring the web comes from Ray Ozzie, by the way. At ETech in 2006, demoed a concept called Live Clipboard. From my InfoWorld writeup:

Subscribing to an RSS feed, for example, has never conformed to any familiar user-interface pattern. Soon copying and pasting RSS feeds will feel natural to everyone, and Ozzie hopes the copy/paste metaphor will also make advanced capabilities more accessible. Consider my LibraryLookup bookmarklet. Dragging it onto the browser’s toolbar isn’t something easily understood or explained. Using the clipboard as the wiring junction will make a lot more sense to most people.

The same metaphor can accommodate what I’ve called lightweight service composition and what Ozzie calls “wiring the Web.” He showed how RSS feeds acting as service end points can be pasted into apps to create dynamically updating views. Virtually anyone can master this Tinkertoy approach to self-serve mashups.

This was, and remains, a crucial insight. From now on, we are all going to be wiring the web in one way or another. And we’re going to need a conceptual frame in which to do that — ideally, a user-interface metaphor that’s already familiar. Maybe it’s as simple as copy/paste. Maybe it’s more like Yahoo! Pipes or Popfly blocks. Whatever it turns out to be, we need to invent and deploy a universal junction box for wiring the web.