Monday, March 13, 2006

[AoyW] Introducing 'indi', a Web 2.0 Site in Your Pocket

Last week at the ETech conference, the indi "personal web site" from InfoEther made a tentative debut for the digerati. Judging by the blog coverage it didn't receive, they didn't grok it. Maybe the only concepts the ETech audience can wrap their cortical folds around these days are those bits of fluff about to be sucked off the floor by Google or Yahoo. ;-)

The indi is a web application platform that runs directly from a flash drive on any PC. The application environment is written in a mix of Ruby and the Flash ActionScript language, with the UI rendered by the Flash player in the PC's browser. For perspective, the bandwidth of a USB 2.0 drive is comparable to a hard drive. Broadband, schmoadband. This environment isn't going to feel like any web site known to man. If the PC of the moment happens to be online, indi apps can hit the net to pick up mail or updates to a team calendar, or do multi-player gaming, or anything. If you can't get online, you've still got everything you need: data & apps, ready to rock.

The indi is a statement that personal web services like Writely and GMail don't have to run in the cloud. Rather, the data and apps of such services ought to live in your pocket, where they belong to you (not a third party) and are always immediately accessible.

Now, I know something about this space, since my company is working on an app with a similar architecture for a completely different market. You should consider me both biased, and well-informed.

The indi's designers chose Flash for the front end. In a word, "aghh". About the only compelling Flash app I've ever encountered is the Orbitz Pool Table game. And that crashes IE with disappointing frequency. When I first got Firefox, which doesn't bundle Flash, I was delighted by the Flash-free web experience. It's now my standard mode. Flash is to the web what game shows are to television.

Flash is a closed client and a proprietary protocol. It can't legitimately claim to be a presentation format, like SVG or PDF. (If it could, it would have euthanized PDF a decade ago, as Acrobat is one of those sad pieces of code that begs for a coup de grace, despite the worthy design goals that spawned it.) Thankfully, use of Flash seems to be declining steadily with the rise of the AJAX model.

However, if you plan to build a for-play web site, Flash is the only game in town. And games seem to be a key target for the indi. Bang...Aghh!

In applying the Ruby language for the data management side (which runs outside the browser), the indi gets full marks for geek chic. It also provides a variant of the OpenStep UI framework (originally developed for the NeXT) for ActionScript. This puts the UI logic inside the Flash player, instead of streaming to the browser, the way our SVG Terminal does. The indi approach is analogous to an AJAX UI framework running in a browser, talking to business logic on a server; except that the range of Flash is far greater than that of DHTML/CSS. From the perspective of most developers, this is a rather tall stack of unfamiliar, though critically-acclaimed, technology. Where's the Java or Javascript? Eschewing Java may be a business decision; licensing the JRE for mass-market/consumer distribution may not make sense in this case. And they've opted for an open UI library, rather than Macromedia's offerings.

Naturally, the indi isn't shipping at this point. A private beta is in progress, and in email, I've been told the debut date is July 4 of this year; how clever, since the indi is named for "digital independence". (Amusingly, the beta user guide is in PDF—come on, guys, eat your own dog food!) In good blogger form, I've had no contact yet with InfoEther. I've requested a beta invitation... if they oblige I'll be writing more.

The indi is a different take on how you can use the web... it's the Web 2.5 take, and it has a lot more to do with the future of the web than all of the ASP 1.1 outfits combined—Writely, 37Signals, et al. Not that we don't need decent online apps, it's that the useful scenarios for them pile up to a much smaller heap than those for the indi and its ilk.


At Monday, April 17, 2006 9:17:00 AM, Anonymous Alexander said...

I think your take on the indi's potential market position is right on. I've just entered the beta myself (like 5 minutes ago) so I can't speak to the actual implementation at this time, but the positioning is excellent.

Between indi and the U3 'standard' I think we're going to see an avalanche of useful, responsive, portable applications in the next 18 months. But how to commodify it?

At Friday, September 14, 2007 2:42:00 PM, Blogger khushaal said...

i was using my mobile data account for a few months so added the FlashBlocker extension to Firefox. It's so great that I've kept it & is one of my favoured plugins. (It replaces all flash & shockwave objects with blank space with button in middle, so you can select to view just the few flash objects you really do want to use. plus is complete with site white-listing, etc.)


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