My, I Like That: Omnibar
I’ve suddenly turned into a maven for Firefox extensions. I’ve downloaded two or three dozen add-ons, and kept about a dozen of them installed. I’ve written my own Greasemonkey scripts — none of them general-use, I’m afraid — and I’m thinking about writing my own Word Count add-on.
If I had to pare my browsing experience down to one add-on, though, I’d pick OmniBar. (Yes, even over Greasemonkey.) It does something so sensible I’m surprised it isn’t the default in Firefox 4: It combines the search bar and the address bar. If you type in a URI, it goes to the address. If you type in a word or phrase, it searches. It recognizes search engine keywords — which you should be using if you’re not already — and it keeps me from typing “christina hendricks in overalls” into the address bar for the hellazillionth time.
Visions of the Near-Future
This is what I want for you.
I want you to be able to treat my digital creations — pictures, words, music, video, whatever — the same way you do mp3 files. I want you to be able to download them as files, mail them to your friends, stick them on the portable or stationary device of your choice and enjoy them how you want.
I want you to be able to read them online if you have a net connection, but I want you to be able to pack them up and carry them along with you in case you don’t.
I want you to be able to experience my offerings in the manner that’s best for you. Maybe you want a simple, no-frills reader on your smartphone, and maybe you want a pretty custom skin for reading them on your home computer, and maybe you want random Lore cartoons to come up on your screensaver.
Even better would be if other creators wanted the same thing for you, because then you could create playlists to use yourself or share with your friends. Have it show you all the comics about cats, or provide the most recent updates from all the creators you follow, or see what everyone posted on April Fool’s Day.
There are a few halting attempts at this sort of thing already. RSS is kind of similar, but it’s more a pointer than a container. PDF files, e-books, various competing and poorly-supported web archive file formats … we’re getting close, but we’re not quite there.
I think in a decade or so this sort of thing will be much more common. Websites and PDF files will still exist, but encapulated data with rich metadata that can be sorted and rendered according to the needs of the reader will be the standard for any sort of serious data stream.
I’ve done a little poking around, and I’ve found something that I think will work for now. It will render in at least 75% of current browsers in operation, and more like 99% of browsers that don’t have my name in them. It will be reader-friendly, generous with metadata, and extremely portable. I hope you’ll have fun reading it, and I hope other people will join in the fun as well.
I’ve never been much for RFCs and white papers and the like. I’m just going to dive in and see if I can make something neat. With a little luck and a little free time, you’ll see the first steps in a few days.