Touching Things In The Real World

The Challenge of Stuff

Over at the BlueBlog, Fraser asked an interesting question. One which, if I’m not mistaken, goes a bit deeper than the surface “marketing” spin it seemed to receive. Here is what he wrote:

“Here’s what I want: an easy-to-understand term that encompasses all of the items we recognize.

Here’s the challenge: we recognize a broad-range of items – books, music albums, stocks, recipes, people, restaurants, etc – and there isn’t a simple to grasp term that captures everything in the list.

Here are some words that occasionally get used:

* things
* objects
* items

If you’re not familiar with what we do, after hearing that we recognize things you’re left asking “things? what are things?.” ”

The problem, it seems to me, isn’t so much that the words being used are too technical for the average web surfer to understand. The problem is that the concept is somewhat alien.

For those of you not familiar with AdaptiveBlue and BlueOrganizer Indigo: AdaptiveBlue is a small company that provides the BlueOrganizer Indigo add-on for Firefox. BlueOrganizer works with SmartLinks, another AdaptiveBlue product, to provide contextually relevant shortcuts for many terms found within web pages, allowing actions to be taken on the real-world items behind those terms. For instance, if you’re looking at a movie, it knows you’re looking at a movie and will help you to read reviews, purchase, rent or just about anything else you would do with a movie. Indigo also has a very tight integration with services like Twitter and Tumblr, as well as social networking sites such as Facebook.

Returning visitors to Wordout will recognize that I have written several times about AdaptiveBlue and their products. To say the least, I am very impressed by their vision and what they are trying to do. While much of the so-called semantic web is focused right now on providing more information, or “better” ways of sifting and recommending that information, AdaptiveBlue is beginning to actually connect the virtual world we find on our screens to the real world outside our doors.

The New Paradigm

And that, Fraser, is what the problem is. Every schoolchild knows what a “noun” is. We all know what “things”, “objects” and “items” are. But those concepts are viewed differently, depending on the circumstance. We’ve been conditioned by half a century of television to think that the screen is not real. What you guys are doing is applying a new paradigm to the way we use our screens. AdaptiveBlue is trying to take what has been considered primarily a “passive” activity, and apply “action” to it.

That is why I love you guys, your products and your company. The hype on the street is all about the next iteration of the current web and you guys are out building new streets. It’s obvious, to me at least, that our webs will evolve along with us, becoming more tightly integrated into our lives the same way the telephone did.

The voice on my great-grandfather’s 1st phone sounded like a caricature of a voice, and my son’s Pearl has MP3 ringtones. Old Abel Roberts could go months without using the phone. Young Abel Knight works at a help desk fielding phone calls all day. Pa Roberts thought the phone might be a useful toy, but he had no real use for it. His great-great grandson’s phone is an extension of his life.

In many ways, it’s the same with Indigo. Television and then the internet trained us to think in terms of ‘non-reality’ and passive entertainment. We don’t expect that what we do online has any real bearing on our everyday lives. So for most of us it’s still just a distraction, and certainly not an extension of who we are and what we do.

From Communicate to Manipulate

But for the internet to be more than a distraction, more than entertainment, for it to have the impact we want it to have and not just that of CB radio or television, it must become more firmly integrated with the real world. It has to extend us, to physically connect us to our world.

We must be able to use it like we use our telephones. Few of us would dare to go out without our telephones. At any time, we might need to be able to communicate. The web will take that a step further, allowing us, at any time, to manipulate. Indigo is a step in that direction. I wrote before, and I will quote me here:

I don’t think this way about many web applications, but I think Indigo is a major deal. With this release, AdaptiveBlue has slightly changed the playing field. Indigo begins the bridge-building effort that must begin somewhere if any of this so-called Semantic Stuff is ever going to have real value.

I wish I could answer Fraser’s question. I wish I could come up with an easy one or two word way of describing Indigo to someone new to it. But it’s just not that simple. How can you show someone in a couple of words that they need to re-think the way they look at the web? How can you just tell them that now, what they do with a click can make something actually happen for them, right here, right now, in their real world?

I am Jon, and I’m working on that…


2 Replies to “Touching Things In The Real World”

  1. Hi Jon!
    Thank you for the kind words over at the BlueBlog!
    I really enjoyed reading this post! I think you feel much the same as I do about AdaptiveBlue! I was just happened upon them a couple of weeks ago and am so impressed with how innovative their products are. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of them sooner!
    Thanks again and have a great weekend!

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