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Tue, 25 Oct 2005
It's all about the workflow

Last week was interesting for applications. Apple announced Aperture, and Flock launched their eponymous browser. I think that the two applications demonstrate an interesting contrast (at least for me) around what makes for a compelling application. The dimension that sticks out the most to me is around the notion of "workflow", the pattern of interactions with the functionality embedded in the application.

Aperture has a bunch of functionality related to working with photographs. Considered by themselves, these pieces of function are interesting, but not compelling. I've read a number of lukewarm reactions to Aperture, which seem to be based on looking at the list of features as opposed to watching the movies on the site, which demonstrate how the features combine into workflows that closely mimic the way that photographers want to work. I as I've mentioned before, the Aperture workflows correspond very closely to workflows that I want to use.

Flock is basically Firefox with extensions to support blog posting, bookmark management and tagging via del.icio.us, an interesting interface to Flickr, and a few other features, like a full text index of your past browser history and a shelf that can be used as a parking place for information found during browsing. Flock is its own browser for non-technical reasons. The difficulty that I have with Flock is that it doesn't really augment the workflows that I actually use when dealing with web data.

The problem pretty much starts at the very beginning. Flock assumes that the browser is the center of your experience when dealing with the web. That's no longer true for me. The RSS aggregator (specifically NetNewsWire) is now the center of my web experience. So from the get go, Flock is a poor match for my workflow. There's nice support in Flock for creating a blog post from the current page. Except that when I create a blog post from a web page, that page usually got delivered to me via NetNewsWire. I wasn't in the browser at all. And I can send that web page right to Ecto, which I prefer because I can save the drafts and work off-line.

How about bookmarking? NetNewsWire doesn't do bookmarking, but it does have AppleScript, so I have an AppleScript which takes the current post and sends it to del.icio.us. It ends up in Firefox, so I have to switch apps, which is a pain. It would be nice if there was a deli.cio.us style bookmarking interface built into NetNewWire.

I'm doing a lot with photography now, so it seems like Flickr support would be something to get excited about. I'm taking lots of photographs so I want a good way to get them into Flickr. I also use Flickr as a source of ideas or inspiration, as well as for keeping up on what my friends are up to. So let's look at my workflow for Flickr. The creation workflow involves using FlickrExporter from iPhoto, or posting a picture via Ecto. The consuming workflow just involves RSS. I created a subscription group in NetNewsWire and dumped a bunch of Flickr feeds into it. All that photography goodness is just part of my daily river of news.

There are two pretty nice features that Flock has that I wish NetNewsWire and Firefox had. The first is the free text search of your browsing history. On the Mac, this could (and should) be integrated with Spotlight. The other nice feature is the shelf, a place to drop content that you find during your session.

Even if I use a browser, I use it in a very different way than I did a few years ago. Today, stuff ends up in Firefox if I need to bookmark it, del.icio.us it and so forth. I also end up in Firefox if I click a URL in Mail.app or some other part of the system. The other time I end up in Firefox is when I use the Google search bar. Oh, and printing. NetNewsWire can't print yet, but Brent is working on that.

On the whole, I'd be perfectly happy if I could live inside NetNewsWire. Even as just a tabbed browser, I've found it to be much better than any other browser on my system. I can open up 600 tabs, and NetNewsWire keeps going (although it does slow down). I can quit with those tabs open and when I restart, the tabs will all be restored.

When I look at Flock, I see a grab bag of small UI improvements. Nice blog posting than a regular web form. Nice integration with del.ici.ous, and nice support for Flickr. But what I don't see is how it streamlines my web experience.

Streamlining or enabling new workflows saves me time and makes me happier. Good desktop apps do that. The promise of web apps as platforms or API's is that we can hook them together and create new workflows or automate the ones that used to be manual. So, you see, it really is all about the workflow.

[00:20] | [computers] | # | TB | F | G | 4 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
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I work at the Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF).
The opinions expressed here are entirely my own, not those of my employer.

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