Category Archives: ajax

speed dating sophie

Last Tuesday I was formally introduced to Sophie. Our first date left me dazed and confused. She is a powerful multimedia application from New York, well funded and growing under healthy cosmopolitan influences, while I am a digitally challenged graduate student with a dreadful Third World education. Despite the obvious mismatch, Sophie was surprisingly responsive. For a program that is still a month away from even entering beta purgatory, to freeze up once in a while is perfectly normal. My reaction, on the other hand, was childish and immature. I protested out loud, argued with developers, worried about details, and became permanently infatuated. Now I can’t stop thinking about Sophie.
The problem is that she lies at the core of everything I want to do. During the next couple of decades I would like to participate in the collaborative development of multimedia ecosystems. Ok, that sounds awfully pretentious. What I really want is to work and play with a bunch of friends in a huge toy factory. My favorite toys are multimedia creatures.
For a while (and halfway-tongue-in-cheek) I have been training myself to think about all kinds of cultural artifacts in evolutionary terms. When I play around with a good old printed book, for example, I try to think about it as a potentially feature-rich creature that, so far as I am concerned, is working very well in frozen text mode. All other noisier and flashier possible forms of behavior have been muted, so to speak, in order to maximize the cultural value of the reading experience.
I think Sophie fascinates me precisely because her future depends so much on achieving a creative balance between simplicity and complexity. If everything goes well, Sophie will be able to handle very intricate tasks in rather plain terms. The program already has an unobtrusive but intuitive interface that would allow first time users to assemble rich multimedia documents in a matter of minutes. A highly sophisticated Sophie document can be embedded as a whole into another Sophie document. Placing an entire library of interconnected multimedia artifacts in a corner of a page within a Sophie “book” would only take a few mouse clicks.
An open source multimedia assembling program is always welcome. Sophie will be particularly good at doing difficult things the easy way, and that is a bonus in an industry cluttered with “advanced” applications that seem to be going in the opposite direction. Given the proper planetary alignment, a nurturing community could grow around the development of extensions and additions to the program. Eventually, Sophie would be unrecognizable, and that is the best thing that can happen to an evolving living thing.
Did I mention that the application has also been conceived as a platform independent application for collaborative multimedia assembling? That’s right; Sophie would eventually allow people to join efforts in authoring and managing complex documents over a network. These are my kind of toys: evolving multimedia artifacts, born on a network, raised by a virtual village, and assembled with a tool that is being develop along similar principles. Very cool stuff.
Strategically speaking, however, the development of Sophie, and the model of collaborative multimedia creation in general, could be better implemented using the notion of software as a service. Downloading an application that would reside in the desktop and then using it to handle files over a network is relatively cumbersome. This model requires periodic updating of the program and a high volume of general traffic up and down the servers.
Under the current paradigm, Sophie is being developed just like Microsoft Word but I would rather work on something more along the lines of Writely. An Ajax-based version of Sophie within a regular web browser like Firefox would maximize the networking capabilities of the application. Full assembly functionality could be hard to achieve this way, but in a tradeoff between fancy multimedia features and wider potential for collaboration I would tend to favor the latter. The evolutionary success of a networked book will depend on the qualities of the network rather than the features of the book.
Online collaboration can be achieved more efficiently by sideloading rather than constantly uploading and downloading files. In an ideal world we would only need to upload original raw files, and only once. Everything else would happen at the server level. Every user would have access to every file and any combination of files at every step during the assembling process, from any computer connected to the internet.
This late in its development, altering the nature of an application like Sophie at this radical level is too difficult. Perhaps the best way to go about it is to release a beta version of the program, in order to broaden its community of developers, and hope that a team of Ajax-savvy people decides to create a browser-based alternative interface for Sophie. In the meantime she should consider setting up a series of dates with the guys at Ajax13. I promise I won’t be jealous.