Just a good little pointless thing?

Lavalamp
Photo by Wahj

Robert posted a comment on my BrainCloud post saying that "its a good little pointless thing thats always fun". That’s a pretty fair description for what it does right now, it’s basically a lava lamp for the internet. So why am I so interested in the technology behind it?

The promise of the implicit web is based on knowing information about your users without requiring them to manually enter it. It seems silly that you have to type in all your friends to Facebook when your email inbox makes it pretty clear who most of them are. If I knew which products you’d bought, or which sites you’d visited, I could figure out which to recommend in the future.

There’s a pretty wide consensus that there’s lots of interesting applications we could write based on data like that. The trouble is security concerns make it almost impossible to gather it unless you’re the owner of a well-used site. Amazon can offer recommendations because they have information on all their customers buying habits. No startup can build that application or anything like it without the data, so there’s a barrier to entry that favors the big incumbents.

One approach to get over the barrier is breaking out of the security sandbox with a browser extension. Medium is taking that route, and offering some interesting new search tools thanks to all the data they can gather. It’s really, really hard to get people to install anything though, which makes it a time-consuming and expensive route to follow.

That’s why my eyes lit up when I saw Mike’s social history hack. For the first time, there’s a way of gathering some implicit data without either being a big site owner or requiring installation. There isn’t a killer app for it yet, but I’m hopeful once we all poke at the technique’s limitations, we can figure out some compelling uses.

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