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Aurora: What Is Internet’s Atomic Level?

For most casual web users today, the smallest thing on the Internet is a web page. This is the element that a user can recall via a URL, store in a bookmark or forward to another user. Sure, there’s sub-elements of a page such as the text or an image or an embedded video, but most users are not savvy enough to deal directly with these. More importantly, users typically don’t care to break sub-elements out of the context of their web page since the browser offers no compelling reason to do so.

For Aurora we saw an opportunity to change the browser’s focus from the page to the individual “object”. Giving users the ability to interact directly with the atomic parts of a given web page offered greater personalization of their Internet experience. As we see in all three of the movie segments users can tear off parts of a web page and store them for use later in their browsing. Sometimes those parts are recognized as people objects and sometimes they are discrete data objects. The objects can be combined with other web pages or other objects. For example, refer to the second segment where a calendar event (data object) is pulled from a web page and dropped onto a person that’s resting in the browser frame.

My favorite combining of objects is displayed in the first movie segment where rainfall data is styled to be more usable. The browser automatically recognizes that the data bound to the page is interactive and this data reacts visually when a second presentation object is dragged on top. The intersection of the data provided by the National Weather Service site and the preferred presentation from the user creates an information source that clarifies the rainfall trends for our actor.

At UX Week I was thrilled to see Jeff Veen present a similar idea in his session titled “Designing Our Way through Data“. Amazingly his example even uses rainfall over time as the data source. Here’s the five relevant slides (pdf) from his presentation:

During our brainstorming we envisioned that a marketplace could open supporting the creation of presentation objects. You don’t like the way that Google search results look but you like the underlying data? Well, just purchase Dan’s Fancy Results (only $9.95 for a limited time) and add it your browser. Did you create an amazing mash-up with data from Amazon and Last.FM plus your own visual design? Sell it in the presentation object marketplace!

Like many of the ideas in Aurora, objects are based on the extrapolation of current technologies. The semantic web is already recognizing and defining the atomic elements of a web page. The browser can sniff out these elements (microformats) via plugins like Operator. By default all modern browsers also present the existence of an embedded RSS feed to the user. Our notion is that data and presentation objects in Aurora are some evolution of markup, like XML.

A prototype was released by Mozilla Labs this week that tackles many of the same concepts. Aza Raskin describes the Ubiquity concept as “allowing everyone–not just Web developers–to remix the Web so it fits their needs”. Similar to Aurora’s data objects, this experiment relies on the ability of the browser to see information within a page as discrete elements. The atomic level of the web is reduced to something smaller than the page.

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