This is the fourth part of the five part Mozilla Labs Concept Series on Online Identity. This post introduces the “Share” verb as a core feature of the social agent. Historically, browsers have relied on email for sharing, but it’s time that the browser did more to make it easier to share across networks — while at the same time reducing unnecessary clutter on webpages. This post describes how sharing could be built in the browser.
. . .
Looking back, it’s quite plain to see that web browsing, email and chat co-evolved, each being the domain of different applications, and being powered by non-interoperable protocols. Over time, people grew used to separating information consumption from information exchange. The dual use of applications like Firefox and Thunderbird demonstrate this situation, as though sharing and consuming were completely distinct modes of computing.
However, people largely treat these behaviors as one in the same — they’re nearly as eager to share what they discover on the web as they are excited to discover it. It’s just that email is one of the few (clunky) tools they have. And yet, imagine what the experience is like for the uninitiated — launching a browser for the first time (especially if they aren’t inured to the ways of email). They’re going to find it terribly frustrating to share something they find on the web, no matter how great their natural desire is to share it.
This functionality should be supported by our software — browsers included! Social computing is about combining both discovery and sharing — and the social agent can, again, manage such transactions.
Thus, it’s disheartening (is it not?) that the most advanced sharing feature that browsers offer today — in 2010 — is a hand off to your preferred local email client, adding friction and interrupting your flow. Should you really need to launch a separate app just to share a link? ?
Meanwhile, it’s become all the more common to publish content openly on the web — a public display of sharing. While historically people have been hesitant to be too open online, the success of public-by-default services like Flickr over private-by-default services like Kodak EasyShare prove the durability of this trend, which is also manifest in services like Delicious, StumbleUpon, Twitter, and Facebook. It’s clear that relying on email as the primary mechanism for sharing is useful, but not sufficient for today’s web user — whose network is increasingly not found in their email address book.
Enter: the social agent.
Recall that the social agent already manages the people and topics you follow and your relationships with various parties. The next step is to add sharing to the browser. In this way, the tool that you use to discover content will be the same tool that you use to share and rebroadcast that content. Thus sharing becomes a natural part of your routine, and you become a participant-creator of the social web.
Now, of course it’s not sufficient to just add a sharing button and call it a day. That’s what so many websites already do, marring their pages with a bunch of tiny icons intended to help you share better! Well, your social agent should banish those annoying pests and make it easier for you to share the links and content with the people that you care about. Sure — for web savvy folks this isn’t necessarily a problem — but as websites become more dynamic and complex, there is a need to make sharing much more straightforward and integrated.
So suppose you visit the New York Times homepage and spot a story you think your friend would be interested in. If you used the “Send Link…” function, you’d end up sending a link to the homepage: nytimes.com. By the time your friend visits the site, the article you wanted to share might have already fallen out of site. Sharing fail!
Yet, you didn’t do anything wrong. You saw something that you wanted to share and used the only tool your browser gave you. Regardless, you still want to share the story!
There are a number of ways that the social agent could help you gracefully achieve this, whether you want to share a video, photo, blog post, article, event, or other common web document. For one, the browser can ask you to indicate specifically which item(s) you want to share. It can then attach extra information (related links, titles, descriptions) to your share to enrich your message (Facebook already does this for those of you who have figured out how to use Facebook’s sharing bookmarklet).
The browser can also tell you what methods it has available to share content with certain friends, or can make a list of your contacts or friends available through a familiar and convenient auto-suggesting textbox.
This means that the browser should help you drag and drop content to your friends, and between any compatible web sites or services.
Additionally, the browser can also maintain a history all the items you’ve shared, giving you the ability to search across them, and bring them back up quickly. You could also filter by recipient, service, time, or where you were physically located when you shared.
The browser can also follow the items you’ve shared to watch for updates or other changes like new comments. Since following is a feature we’ve already discussed, it’ll suffice to say that the items you share will be recorded and followed for new updates, which will be available in your activity dashboard.
Given how prevalent sharing information has become now that nearly everyone can be reached online, a modern browser should support this behavior in order to make the experience more universal, discoverable, easier to use, and more convenient.