Ray Ozzie's Clipboard for the Web (ETech 2006)


Ray Ozzie is the first keynote of the first day. He's talking about building composite applications (what he's calling mashups) on the Web.

The real power is bringing composite apps to the user level. A reference to shell commands and pipes in UNIX bring a good image to mind for anyone who's done that. GUIs bring big apps that user weave together using the clipboard to accomplish work.

The Web has a lot of standalone apps. Where is the clipboard for the Web?

Ray launches into a demo of "live clipboard." This simulates a button control inside the browser that cuts and pastes a structured data item (snippet of XML, microformats, etc.) Point of interest: he's doing the demo in Firefox.

When something is cut, it's put into the clipboard as an XML structured piece of data. He shows a demo of cutting an event from Eventful and posting it on the Windows Live Calendar. The same paste works in Outlook as well because of a system tray program that watches the clipboard and makes sure the right things happen by reformatting data in the clipboard on the fly as needed. He shows another demo of pasting addresses from an address book onto a Web form.

This is a nice way of adding functionality in a way that users already understand. So far all the demos have been about bridging data between applications. What about feeds?

Three kinds of aggregators, standalone, online, and the browser. We're all disappointed that the RSS technology is a leading edge kind of thing restricted to technologists. Ray thinks there will continue to be a demand for aggregators outside the browser.

This creates a mess since there's no standard for adding feeds to aggregators. With the clipboard functionality, you can simply cut and paste the feed and the clipboard will reformat the data as necessary.

You can cut and paste, but that's static. Ray shows another icon that links one spot on a Web site to a tiny subscription to data on another. So, you can link two Web sites so that changes on one show up on the other. He demos this by linking his current location in his FaceBook profile to his current location as given on his blog. Going further, he pastes subscriptions to his friends locations onto the Windows Live map.

The bottom line: there is power in simplicity. The Web is a collection of really useful hacks. If we, as a community, decide to extend the power of the clipboard to the Web, then we can change how people work. Microsoft can put it on it's Web site, but we need everyone to help. Instructions will be on Ray's blog.