pointing at the wrong thing

Would it make sense to point Google Docs at your Twitter likes? Or Google Maps at your contact list? Or a flashcards app at your music collection?

Heads up: if you're looking for the longer, more technical version, read interoperable visions.

Would it make sense to point Google Docs at your Twitter likes? Or Google Maps at your contact list? Or a flashcards app at your music collection? Some combinations are more complementary than others, but regardless, this flexibility would enable us to play with and combine data from various apps in meaningful ways without needing to wait for the developer or platform to build it first: we can just mash things up and see what happens.

For example, by pointing a note-taking app at your bookmarks, you might use fancier text-editing features (rather than a simple text field) to add notes to your saved links, perhaps more comfortably draft a personal message or blog post about that link. Pointing at other things (like contacts, recipes, correspondence, etc.) might mean editing them as if they were only 'plain editable text', and maybe having a new way to read and search them. Consider also pointing a maps app at your contacts (maybe to see where your friends are?), or recipes (maybe to see where foods or ingredients come from or can be found?), or photos (maybe to see where you've made some memories?).

This flexibility sort of exists already with apps that open 'files', but pointing at 'collections of items' in the way previously described often requires specific integrations (as Find my shows your friends or Photos presents places from geotagged images). Would be nice to see this in every app, so that we always have multiple options to handle our digital stuff, as opposed to data being locked into specific apps and platforms.

I could imagine it useful to have a kind of 'data picker' without dealing too much with 'files', where even on a mobile device you can say 'open this from there' with just a few taps; maybe like the iOS Share sheet shows "what you can do with the shared content", but in reverse, to show "what content you can use with the current app".

Imagine a text editor that can deal with the gamut of:

  • text files, whether on your computer, Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, GitHub, etc…
  • documents from Apple Notes or Simplenote
  • documents from Google Docs or Microsoft Word, editable as simple text
  • blog posts from Ghost or Wordpress
  • contacts, calendars, or correspondence as text by 'pointing at the wrong thing'

What's the value of one app supporting a mix of these? Two apps? A whole ecosystem of apps? In the way we 'edit stuff as text' here regardless of where it is, what how else can apps 'edit stuff as X'?

This could be a dynamic ecosystem where people are building and using software in unpredictable permutations, where progress happens faster than the speed of plugins, or perhaps even without the developer or platform specifying it. I'd certainly love to see this brighter future with more possibilities for our human agency. What about you? I would love to hear what you think about this especially if you consider yourself a 'less technical' person: be welcome to comment or message me anywhere.

Subscribe to Utopia / Rosano

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.