Last month I attended the Microsoft Architect Insight event, where along with we delivered an Interactive session which discussed the meteoric rise of services on the internet and the effect that this is having on browsers which enable the consumption of them.
I remember back to the early 90s when I was still in senior school. To use a computer meant a trek across the school to the IT Lab where, if you were lucky, you got to use a 486 DX running Windows 3.1; which took 45 minutes to scan an A4 picture and display it in publisher. With the Advent of AOL our school also managed to hook up the internet on 1 machine and after a short 20 minute set up we could go online and use about 10 different websites.
Today's school kids probably have a completely different experience of technology, forget going to a specific room to use the computers, they’re in all of the rooms, and their mobiles can get access too anything filtered by the Orwellian ministry of freedom. Using some rather sophisticated guess work I’d say that school kids are never 5 minutes away from the internet. As smart phones become more prolific and everyday objects like toasters are hooked up to the cloud opportunities to consume services are growing rapidly.
If we think about internet sites, we often think of webpage's, delivering data and information in a specific experience that the architects thought about and worked on. Amazon were one of the first sites to create a public Application Programming Interface, which enabled people to take away product information and do things with it that the original architects hadn’t thought about. This had 3 main effects:
- Developers were able to innovate and provide new experiences free from the core experience of the website.
- Amazon were able to sell their products on devices that they had not developed applications for.
- Amazon got lots of developers working for them for free.
The trend for exposing services to the web grew with companies like flicker offering a way for developers to enrich their applications. One of the most successful services stories has probably been Twitter, I think it’s very doubtful that twitter would have been anywhere near as successful if it didn’t have had a public API.
The developers of IE8 noticed this increase in services and added 3 new features to enable the consumption of them from within the browser: Webslices, Accelerators and Visual Search.
Webslices were designed to let users take small snippets of pages and display them on the browsers favourite bar. I recently worked with Sky News to produce a webslice that consumed their enriched syndication service and enabled users to display the latest news stories directly in the browser.
When the content of the webslice is updated the Sky News Icon in the browser flashes orange and then turns bold; this lets the user know there is updated information for them to take a look at.
Accelerators have been designed to accelerate common tasks. I helped National Rail Enquires develop an accelerator which allows users to select a place name from within a webpage and find out the next couple of trains arriving at the local train station. If a user received an email to his hotmail account Saying that, a friend will be arriving at Kettering Train Station at 3pm, he could highlight Kettering and click on the National Rail Enquiries accelerator to be informed of the next couple of train times and make sure they are running on time.
A visual search provider enables users to search an area of specific interest. For example we worked with ASOS.com to integrate their own search results directly into the browser, it also shows a small picture for each search result to help the user decide which one is most relevant to them.
After the event I had a number of developers come up to and tell me they’d never heard of any of these 3 technologies before, which is ashame since, when done right, they can provide users with a great deal of value.
Over the next few weeks I'll be discussing how some of the examples were built and how you can build your own.