Ubiquitous Data

The title is a play on Ubiquitous Computing except I don’t necessarily want devices interacting with each other, I want me to be able to interact with all of my data sources. Recently I realized that general purpose desktop apps are becoming more irrelevant for me because they do not have an online and/or mobile access point. By way of example, here are a few desktop apps that I have traded in over time for online counterparts:

NetNewsWire is a fine feed reader for the Mac, but I gave it up for Google Reader the instant that there was a viable version of Reader. I found that I spent too much time trying to reconcile the feeds that I had read online, on my phone and in NNW. Google Reader gives me one place to manage and access them all.

After the initial coolness factor of scanning barcodes via iSight in Delicious Library it soon became clear that Delicious was just another island of personal data that I couldn’t use in the way that I needed/wanted. I exported the book information from Delicious and imported it into the very fine (and then fledgling) LibraryThing and never looked back. LibraryThing liberated my book info and provides both online and mobile access to my data. I would love to find a ‘LibraryThing for music’ where I could upload/synch my iTunes music info and be able to browse and search it on the go.

StickyBrain (now SohoNotes) was a handy utility for capturing random bits of info from the web and other desktop apps. Same problem though — I found myself wanting to have access to the data on the go but there was no good option. Granted they did have a Palm conduit that you could export notes to which was great if you carried a Palm device. I have begun using Google Notebook more and more for this type of data collection because I can get to the notes when I need it. SohoNotes would be 1000% more useful to me, if it could synch with Google Notebook and thereby provide mobile/online access.

I almost bought OmniFocus when it was discounted during the beta. But again I found that it’s lack of an online capability was too much of a limitation for my purposes. RememberTheMilk has been a great GTD solution for me over the years. It is simple to use and does everything that I need it to do without being tied to desktop app.

The next step is to move beyond the apps and get straight to the heart of the matter — the underlying data. The ideal model is that the data is online and available via a common set of services in addition to a lightweight UI. Another bonus would be if the data is also stored in a format that allows it to be repurposed beyond its original use (XML?, RDF?). Consider the possibilities: Mashup your own data. Have a unified set of tags across all of your data.

Granted there will always be things that you want to do on a dedicated app (edit photos, video) but for ‘everyday tasks’ (schedule, todos, bookmarking, contacts, notes, presence, etc) it just makes sense to be able to take that with you. And ‘taking it with you’ could be as simple as desktop apps having the ability to export/sych information into your online personal data hub. Until the personal data hub becomes a reality, there is still a great deal of value in exporting to existing web applications.

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