In a recent CACM article the authors Kai A. Olsen and Alessio Malizia argued that modern mobile devices should allow user to work with files, to let them experience the technical aspects of their devices. This – according to the authors – leads to informed (and empowered) users that know how their handle their data and are able to control their data; given that all devices can be mounted as external filesystem.
However, the file metaphor is more and more disappearing on devices like the iPhone or the iPAD. The data of users is sandboxed within apps and users can only access their data through their apps. This approach hides files from users, making the file metaphor obsolete. I his book “you are not a gadget” Jason Lanier also argues that files should be a thing of the past:
The file is a set of philosophical ideas made into eternal flesh. The ideas expressed by the file include the notion that human expression comes in severable chunks that can be organized…and need to be matched to compatible applications.
I fully agree to get rid of files. But, and that is the catch with the approach of getting rid of files, vendors like Apple use this as excuse to completely lock in the user. Users get their space on Apple’s iCloud servers and Apps upload the data of users to the cloud. All this happens transparently for the user: the user has no access to files and thus looses the control over the data. This is also pointed out by the CACM authors as main danger of getting rid of files. Again, I fully agree. But their approach of keeping files is not very attractive, because the file concept after all goes back to – in terms of computer science – ancient times and is a concept backwards.
I propose a two level approach (a big thank you goes to Christian for the input on this idea). First of all, users create their own stream of semi structured data objects like text, video, audio or even small programs. This is the content reservoir on which the user later operates. Each of the semi structured data objects must provide a standard way of accessing them, preferably in a manner so the user can share these objects easily with others. After creating the content, the user can organize it “semantically” and add it to the stream again, thus creating a stream of hierarchical mashups of the content.
In doing so, I make use of a diary metaphor that lets the user create a stream of diary entries. These entries (pages) can be combined to new pages and added to the diary again. I’m putting these ideas to a test with my ongoing editor project for the iPAD which should be completed in the next weeks.
your ikangai teamTags: iPad, Text Editor