I read somewhere this morning that Alan Turing said, and I paraphrase very roughly here, most computing tasks are actually about search. That seed sparked something in my mind while reading Scott Dietzen on Zimbra today.
Zimbra, for those of you that aren’t in the hyperati, is a rather cool startup offering an AJAX-based email and collaboration client and server, to compete with the likes of Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino. Why does the world need another email platform, you ask? Because email sucks, says Dietzen. He has a point.
One of the things not well understood is that AJAX is in many respects not a programming model at all, but rather a user interaction model.
Dietzen’s post, AJAX sweet spots, makes it clear how things change with AJAX, and its all about information in context, whether hovering or clicking, the mouse defines the mashup. Here is a list of possibilities:
• Mouse-over a date or time, and see what’s in your calendar;
• Mouse-over a phone number, and see what’s in your address book;
• Mouse-over a physical address, and see a map or even driving directions and estimated arrival time;
• Mouse-over a flight, and see whether or not it’s on time;
• Mouse-over a customer email address or case tracking number, and see its status;
• Mouse-over an equity to get a quote;
• Mouse-over a part number to check inventory;
• Mouse-over an Internet order, and see its shipping status; and so on.
With Ajax-based messaging, email content can also be fully actionable:
• Right click on a phone number to make a call with your soft-phone (such as via Skype or a Cisco VoIP phone);
• Right click on a date to schedule a meeting;
• Right click on a name, address, or phone number to update your address book;
• Right click on an airline reservation to print your boarding pass;
• Right click on an equity to trade;
• Right click on a part number to place an order for more inventory;
• Right click on a purchase order, provisioning request, or other internal workflow request to approve or reject it; and so on again.
Searching for stuff today is probably the key challenge in user productivity. What was his phone number? What was the document called? Where did I store that vendor number?
Every time we look for a new piece of information for our ongoing work mosaic we shift context. Google. Outlook contacts. Google. Outlook Calendar. Bloglines. X1 Search. and so on.
All the context shifting causes us to lose productivity, especially if the search engines in the different components introduce significant latency, such as the worst search engine in the world ever, the one embedded with Microsoft Outlook.
In the AJAX user interaction model, contexts can be collapsed. The user defines the chosen context. In this view of the world integrated innovation is best served by the use of loosely coupled componentry, as Zimbra has already shown with its eBay and Google maps mashups, rather than through tightly coupled client monoliths.
With Zimbra, search should effectively be instant and in context. The information we need comes to us, with a mouse hover. We don’t need to actively search for a new information component. This is micro rather than general purpose search, but task specific. Its ambient because its in the environment.
AJAX is like wearing a wrist watch rather than calling directory enquiries every time you need to know the time. There is huge value in that. Desktop search- who needs it? 😉