Integrating the internet
I think it's time to re-embrace a tech cliché.
In my pocket is an amazing little device which has more power than the Appolo missions. But that's not even the exciting part. It's connected to a network. The same network the little device in your pocket is connected to. The same network my Bank, Government, Train, House, Laptop, Car and Grandmother's phone are connected to, and some amazing people are connecting more and more things, until ALL OF THE THINGS are connected to this same network.
But it doesn't... work. I mean, it works. It's pretty good. But not nearly as well as it all could.
One of the problems, of course, is that this amazing little device was created by and is, more or less, owned by, a company, and maybe yours is owned by a different company. And maybe both of us have very little say in how this little device works.
The google maps app has past it's peak. It's getting worse. If I want to search for ANY supermarket on my way home... well that's just not easy. I swear it used to be. And location sharing - STOP SNAPPING TO AN ADDRESS!, I shared that pin because that's EXACTLY where I am standing. Maybe that's just my preference, I'll just use an alternative. But there ARE no alternatives, Open Street Map just doesn't have the data. The data that WE own(ed) and WE put into google business listings.
In Melbourne, we have 'live' data on Tram and Bus arrival times. Available through a 'non standard' API (And by that I mean, sadly, how Google want it), and a slightly below average app. The tram one is excellent - I can actually tell when a tram is coming. The bus one is hopeless - It just doesn't seem to relate at all to where the bus actually is, and the train one is... Missing. The reason the train one is missing? It's proprietary information, owned by the train operator.
I could go on. House of Cards only available in some countries, Louis Theroux documentaries only available in 'censored' versions in the US, Getting online purchases delivered, iCal, SMS on my computer, an app where I can share a freeking shopping list - but that actually WORKS!
It's worth adding a little context, but I hate the whole 'first world problems' concept, it prevents innovation and improvement. In no way am I saying we have it bad. We don't. We have it awesome. Very awesome. And I want us to have it BETTER, not because it Should be better, but because it Could be better. Not to mention, I'm talking about third world problems too. The technology to end world hunger and debt probably already exists today.
Maybe it's a good thing that this doesn't all work. Maybe the world is better without it. But I'm fairly sure that ship has sailed, so we may as well make it work.
I sat through a presentation on Augmented Reality the other day. It was cool. Exciting, even. There was - as tends to be - a slide at the end showing the 'future'. In this future, a user was observing an augmented world, with information dots on everything in sight. What excited me about that world wasn't the visual overlay, it was the information. Open Geo-located data. User created content, sure, but more than that: Provider created content. Content which isn't 'content', it's just knowledge. All available in one, single view. One single app. 'One day. When the technology is there'.
The technology IS here! If we are talking about processing power, memory, screens, battery life - we will continue to improve, and the user experience will get better and better, but it's here. Now. The technology to have whatever information exists in the world right in my pocket, or on my wrist. Right here, right now. It isn't quite world-reaching just yet, but it's close, and getting closer with the whole balloon internet thing and what not.
But at the same time, part of the technology is missing. The integrations. The 'open standards'. Finished things. If you recall... we lost a whole 747!
We are going beyond the things which can be solved with 'an app', we have quite enough of those already. What we need now is people who can improve something which already exists, or write the glue between things which are already excellent.
That doesn't mean some startup which 'disrupts' the integration world. ITTT style, interesting as it is, I'm talking about hard work. Lobbying. Helping businesses understand that hiding their data internally isn't actually helping them with anything - It's probably even costing them money to secure stuff which could just as easily be public. I'm talking about open standards. If IRC and XMPP aren't good enough, improve them. Slack. GTalk. iMessage. End-to-end encryption for email (After all, some things are private). Actually implement aria, or html5 or whatever, everywhere it makes sense. And like, wouldn't it be cool if ordering a Boost Juice with my phone automatically added the nutritional information to the health tracking app I already have (it's lunch time)? And wouldn't it be awesome if I could access that data on my computer? And keep it when I swap between iPhone and Android? Or if I'm on the way to meet someone, and we are both delayed, something tell us not to stress? Oh, Oh, or my phone could tell my partner's car's nav where I am when he is coming to pick me up, AND, it could tell me how far away he is. Or if I'm best catching the train. And geo-fencing which doesn't suck. I need milk, remind me when I'm close to a supermarket. I know all of these can and probably have been solved with individual apps, but what if all of the apps we already have were to work together.
The future is exciting. Be part of it, and help finish what we have already started. Help index the world. The information era is upon us.
And for the love of god, Someone, please fix CSS column layouts!