Crème vision, social agents, and a sidenote about Skype

Apr 26, 2010

I haven't posted anything here for a while. One reason for that is that I treat my life as a journey. There are twists and turns along the journey, as with any other journey. I can share some of those twists very soon.

Crème's three goals

One thing that I continue to work on, though, is Crème. I started the project with three goals. One of them was to learn about iPhone OS engineering, which in my view is one of the two winning mobile platforms. (Android is the other one. The rest are blah. If you are working on a mobile platform today that is not iPhone OS or Android, make sure your resume is lined up and ready to go.)

The other goal was to advance the state of the art of Twitter apps. Everybody keeps hyping Tweetie like it's the holy grail, done, and complete. I don't think it's that great. Sure, it's a good app with some good engineering. I respect that, and have borrowed some of their design ideas. But is that what Twitter should really be like on a mobile device or on your desktop? Is that the end, the culmination? I think we can do better. Crème is not there yet, but we are catching up, and skipping some of the useless material as we go. I have the benefit of being able to learn from others' mistakes and paths that didn't take them anywhere. Based on Crème users' and reviewers' feedback, we are on the right track. We might not get there soon, or ever, but we continue.

The third idea that I have that is more vague than the above two, but also more intriguing, is the idea of your "social agent." I didn't invent this word, I took it from Chris Messina. In fact, here are three posts/videos that sum up the idea.

So, your social agent is something that helps you interact with the various information streams, manages your identity, and helps you curate and share the interesting pieces.

Twitter as a social agent platform

Crème is ways away from being a true social agent, but that does not concern me. It is a personal long-tail research project, meaning that I put a little into it every day, with the expectation that I'll be spending quite a while on it (months, if not years.) It may or may not work out. But I am happy how it has worked out so far with Twitter as a platform. Here's why.

  • Twitter is a new protocol. A lot of what you see in Chris' social agent talk is repurposing and retrofitting the current web, whereas Twitter is built from the ground up with all these ideas considered.
  • Twitter understands distributed identity. I applaud their hard cut for basic auth and moving to OAuth. More people should be this ballsy.
  • Twitter has native curation tools. Scobleizer favorites is an example. Native retweet feature is the other. I've paid a lot of attention in Crème to supporting these well. Twitter lists are a wonderful idea that is tragically underpresent on twitter.com, Tweetie and most of the other apps. In Crème, lists are first-class citizens.
  • Twitter has a hard content size cut. This is unique to them; in marketing terms, their USP. Neither they nor other people understand and promote this enough. Human capacity for content consumption is limited. By having a hard cut on the size of an object, I am able to consume far more content on Twitter than with, say, RSS where I am sometimes subjected to mile-long useless ramblings and ugly photos. This puts Twitter in a very good place for being a global metadata/curation platform for any other human-oriented content. Twitter Annotations are another piece of this puzzle. I absolutely love that they have a hard cut on the native annotation object size, both for technical efficiency as well as forcing people to think in terms of metadata and linking, instead of cramming everything into one object.

The Crème plan

OK, well, this is all fine and good, but it does not tell you what the Crème vision is. Well, here are my plans.

  • Keep working on the details. We have had lots of user feedback about other stuff they'd like to see in Crème, plus there's a lot that's not yet done that's just good engineering practice. A random list: saving and restoring UI state, better efficiency on startup and saving, external app support (Boxcar, Instapaper), rich media posting (photos, video). A great experience is defined by many small details, and I expect to continue spending a lot of time to building all these details.
  • List management. Lists are a curation tool in Twitter, and they are currently under-utilized. As a minimum, you should be able to add and remove people to/from lists.
  • Cloud sync. This is an important one. Twitter is already a pretty good cloud tool, but Crème maintains a lot of info that Twitter API does not support, such as your read/unread tweets and what pages you have added. If we want to branch out to different iPhone OS devices (iPad) and other platforms (Android, desktop), this is an absolute prerequisite. My vision is that you sign in to Creme, and then you're synced, and can keep jumping devices and platforms as you like. Maybe you have a MacBook and an Android phone, and there's no reason why Crème can't sync across these. I think it's horrendously stupid to have to read the same tweet several times, unless you've explicitly bookmarked it. So I plan to spend a bunch of time this summer to figure out this cloud sync piece, most likely to be based on Twitter's oAuth Echo.

A sidenote about Skype

I keep injecting these random Skype notes here and there because I care about this company. I know many good people there, and also it's important for Estonian economy and self-image that Skype does well.

Skype has been absent from all these social discussions; in my view, they are thus far a write-off in the identity and social/sharing space. They have been hiring a lot of senior people and presenting at conferences and other events; I was glad to see them on stage at iPhone OS 4 presentation. This has not yet translated to anything that social agent activists would care about.

Skype being a write-off in the "public" social space, though, does not mean to the slightest that it is a write-off to me as a product. Two important data points.

  • I give them lots of money every year and I use them every day for international long-distance calls and frequently video and hi-fi voice too. Skype has been a lifesaver with my loved ones, and in all these social discussions, there's a space missed: the "family agent." To me, Skype being a great friends and family agent with products like desktop, SkypeToGo and great int'l calling plans is far more important than it being a social agent that all the techcrunches and other blah sites talk about daily.
  • The TV thing, or Skype being on your TV-s and other non-computer devices (iPhone OS), is important. This is absolutely the direction computing is going. Skype is in a good position for being a great cloud app for these devices, as it maintains your contact list, profile and such important details. I don't know what this means in the long run, and what relation the "family agent" and "social agent" will have on these devices, but I'm glad to see them investing in this.