Archive for the ‘RIA’ Category

Is Twitter the Cloud Bus?


Courtesy of Michael Coté, I received a Poken in the mail as one of the lucky listeners to his IT Management and RIA Weekly podcasts. I had to explain to my oldest daughter (and my wife), what a Poken is, and how it’s utterly useless until I run into someone else in St. Louis who happens to have one or go to some conference where someone might have one. Oh well. My oldest daughter was also disappointed that I didn’t get the panda one when she saw it on the website. So, if you happen to own a Poken, and plan on being in St. Louis anytime soon, or if you’re going to be attending a conference that I will be at (sorry, nothing planned in the near future), send me a tweet and we can actually test out this Poken thing.

Speaking of the RIA Weekly podcast, thanks to Ryan Stewart and Coté for the shout-out in episode #46 about my post on RIAs and Portals that was inspired by a past RIA Weekly podcast. More important than the shout-out, however, was the discussion they had with Jeff Haynie of Appcelerator. The three of them got into a conversation about the role of SOA on the desktop, which was very interesting. It was nice to hear someone thinking about things like inter-application communication on the desktop, since the integration has been so focused on the server side for many years. What really got me thinking was Coté’s comment that you can’t build an RIA these days without including a Twitter client inside of it. At first, I was thinking about the need for a standard way for inter-application communication in the RIA world. Way back when, Microsoft and Apple were duking it out over competing ways of getting desktop apps to communicate with each other (remember OpenDoc and OLE?). Now that the pendulum is swinging back toward the world of rich UI’s, it won’t surprise me at all if the conversation around inter-application communication for desktop apps comes up again. What’s needed? Just a simple message bus to create a communication pathway.

In reality, it’s actually several message buses. An application can leverage an internal bus for communication with its own components, a desktop/VM-based bus for communication with other apps on the same host, another bus for communication within a local networking domain, and then possibly a bus in the clouds for communication across domains. Combining this with Coté’s comment made me think, “Why not Twitter?” As Coté suggested, many applications are embedding Twitter clients in them. The direct messaging capability allows point-to-point communication, and the public tweets can act as a general pub-sub event bus. In fact, this is already occurring today. Today, Andrew McAfee tweeted about productivity tools on the iPhone (and elsewhere), and a suggestion was made about Remember The Milk, a web-based GTD program with an iPhone client, and a very open integration model which includes the ability to listen to tweets on Twitter that allow you to add new tasks. There’s a lightweight protocol to follow within the tweet, but for basic stuff, it’s as simple as “d rtm buy tickets in 2 days”. Therefore, if someone is using RTM for task management, some other system can send a tweet to RTM to assign a talk to a Twitter user. The friend/follower structure of Twitter provides a rudimentary security model, but all-in-all, it seems to work with a very low barrier to entry. That’s just cool. Based on this example, I think it’s entirely possible that we’ll start seeing cloud-based applications that rely on Twitter as the messaging bus for communication.

RIAs and Portals

In a RIA Weekly podcast, Michael Coté and Ryan Stewart had a brief conversation on the role of RIAs in portals. They didn’t go into much details on it, but it was enough to get me noodling on the subject.

In the past, I’ve commented on the role of widgets/gadgets ala Apple’s Dashboard and Vista’s Sidebar and how I felt there was some significant potential there. To date, I haven’t seen any “killer app” on the Mac side (I have no idea about Vista given that I don’t use it at home or at work). One thing that I found curious, however, was that when I went looking for a decent Twitter client for the Mac, there was no shortage of dashboard widgets, but actually very few desktop apps. I wound up choosing Twirl initially, and am now using TweetDeck. Both of these are Adobe AIR applications.

So what does this have to do with portals? Well, my own view is that your desktop is a portal. A portal should contain easy access to all of things you need to do to do your job. The problem with desktops today, however, is that the typical application is so bloated, that the startup/quit process is very unproductive, and if you leave them open all the time, you need dual monitors (or a really big monitor) and a boatload of memory (even though most isn’t getting used). For this reason, I still really like the idea of these small, single-purpose widgets that do one thing really well. The problem with it right now, however, is that Dashboard and Sidebar fall into the out-of-sight/out-of-mind category. I want my Twitter client in a visible portion of my desktop at all times, or at least with the ability to post a visual notification somewhere. If I leverage a Dashboard widget, it’s invisible to me unless I hit a function key. It’s out-of-band by intent. There are things that belong there. That being said, the organizational features of Dashboard could easily be applied to the desktop, as well. If I had a bunch of lightweight widgets that I used to do the bulk of my work always available on my desktop, that would be great. It had better perform better than the current set of applications that I have set to start at login, however.

Where does RIA fit in? I don’t know that I’d need portability from my desktop in a browser-based portal environment. I’m sure there a people out there that do everything they need to do on a daily basis via Firefox and a whole bunch of plugins. I’ve never tried it, nor do I have any interest in doing so, but for people in that camp, common technology between a desktop portal and a browser-based portal could be a good thing for them. For me, my primary interest is simply getting a set of lightweight tools for 80% of my day-to-day tasks that aren’t so bloated with stuff I don’t need. I thought a bit about portability of my desktop environment across machines (i.e. the same TweetDeck columns at work and at home), but I think that’s more dependent on these widgets storing data in the cloud than it is on storing the definition of my desktop in the cloud somewhere, but that might be of interest, as well.

The gist of all of this is that I do believe there are big opportunities out there to make our interaction with our information systems more efficient. Can RIAs play a role? Absolutely, but only if we focus on keeping them very lightweight, and very usable.


This blog represents my own personal views, and not those of my employer or any third party. Any use of the material in articles, whitepapers, blogs, etc. must be attributed to me alone without any reference to my employer. Use of my employers name is NOT authorized.