A combined view of the world

NetNewsWire + Shiira Tabs

In a post titled “The new Combined View and hybrid web/desktop apps“, Brent Simmons reveals that’s he’s starting to see the power of AJAX-powered interfaces in Mac apps, namely NetNewsWire (beta 3.0b7 now available).

Going one step further, he makes a very important observation:

The key to the whole thing is JavaScript. When something happens in the page—you click on a news item, for instance—the page calls back into the app, and the app tells the page how to update.

It’s kind of like Ajax in that way, except that the communication channel is not http and it’s synchronous (which it can be, since it’s right there on your machine).

And in that, he’s beginning to pull away at what very likely will become the next generation platform of the next revolution in web development.

For some time, people have gone on and on about the LAMP stack — made up of Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. It’s certainly a veritable and productive bundle of technology — if you’re always online. The truth of the matter, however, is that our local content stores don’t sync well with the remote stores… that my local LAMP don’t talk much with remote LAMPs. And in terms of offline productivity, that makes for huge dilemmas.

I’m seeing a third generation stack emerging that holds a great deal of promise for sewing up the future of offline-sync-online experiences.

That stack looks a bit more like Rails, SQL Lite (which the next rev of the Firefox bookmarks will be based on), Microformats, some blend of JSON/AMASS/jQuery/behaviour.js/scriptaculous/prototype and, yes, WebKit. What do they have in common? Well, enough inter-woven stickiness to make the heart of a true web geek start to murmur.

The missing link? The client and server OS component to tie them all together. Now, I’d love to see hAtom used as the data transport and storage mechanism in the OS. It would simply so much… but alas, it looks like RSS is the chosen son in the near term.

Why do I say that I wish hAtom were used for this purpose? Well, consider this. The language of the web is, for whatever you make it, HTML (and lately XHTML). This means that any webpage you visit, and indeed, any feed that you suck up, probably has some of this markup in it. In fact, rendering engines are getting better at both supporting web standards and as well as enabling some crazy cool things that you might not have thought possible before. All the while, XHTML is becoming the modern day ZIP format, able to store rich media as well as metadata about that data in microformats.

The browser is also constantly caching this data for you, in order to load sites faster and faster.

Now think about that: where are you doing most of your work in any given web app? Not surprisingly — in the browser! So you’ve got this cached version sitting on your harddrive with all the JavaScript, all the XHTML source, all the graphics and all the CSS, but nowhere to stick the data should you re-instantiate or open that page from the cache. Which is kind of ironic, since AJAX is all about asynchronous messaging… that is, sending messages non-immediately.

So, the thinking here is… if we’ve got this new “stack” at our disposal, it’s only a matter of time before we rewire our web apps to learn to write to a local SQL Lite store, using Rails as the delivery system, meanwhile storing the views and interactivity later, like Brent has done, in XHTML, CSS and JavaScript. In fact, most of the entire stack will end up as strictly JavaScript and XHTML storage unites once we see some diversification in microformat schemas. There’s no reason why you couldn’t save your bookmarks, your emails, your blog posts, your IM conversations, your documents, your financial records and the whole lots of content that means something to you in simple, basic, readable-everywhere, XHTML.

And so I appreciate, very much, that Brent is starting to see this — and the power that might be found therein — not just for him or for his app, but for anyone for whom the web and its online-offline machinations has caused great consternation. An XHTML-driven world, though potentially messy at first, offers a great deal of flexibility, of efficiency and of reuse and cross-polination.

If only I could get Brent to use hAtom… and if only I could get Microsoft and Apple to support hAtom in the OS like they all do for RSS… We’d begin to bear witness to the promise of this so-called “semantic web”.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: Molly.com (YC W18), Uber, Google.

3 thoughts on “A combined view of the world”

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