Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, March 31, 2006

Copy Structured Data Between Web Sites Through RSS: Ray's Live Clipboard Is Next

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A clipboard to "copy and paste" for XML-based structured data is Ray Ozzie, Microsoft CTO, latest idea and from a user viewpoint, a most promising one indeed..

Information that has been organised to allow identification and separation of the context of the information from its content it is called "structured data". It is the meat of RSS feeds and XML-based data structures like those we increasingly find in our web-based shared calendars, contact books, OPML files or in many other data-based services and tools in use today.

Photo credit: Microsoft

"What would it take to enable users themselves to wire-the-web?"

First introduced at the latest eTech, a few weeks ago, the hottest idea to hit the RSS marketspace is Ray Ozzie's killer RSS clipboard allowing transparent cut and paste of XML structured data between different web sites and services.

While only a working prototype at the time of this first announcement (developed in only three weeks after Ray's initial idea), the new concept has already been enthusiastically embraced by those most involved and attentive to RSS possible future development paths.

Photo credit: Laughing Squid

The object of fascination is a new live clipboard concept that can wire the web to allow end users to connect sites to enable the flow of structured data.

The Live Clipboard idea is rather simple: make it easy and possible for people to extend the "copy and paste" clipboard metaphor used across all computers and operating systems to the web.

A standard format for moving data between websites and from computers to the web and back. That is what Live Clipboard is all about.


With his structured data capabilities, lightweight JavaScript implementation and compliance with the standard publish and subscribe model, the Live Clipboard promises to be the truly innovative new plumbing for wiring the emerging mashed up Web.

For example, today we have user experience challenges as a result of too many web-based aggregators. Client aggregators and web browsers have a standard user experience for adding subscriptions to feeds as in the RSS icon, the familiar RSS or XML icon.

Unfortunately, no such consistent experience exists today for web-based aggregators. Web sites have become highly cluttered with a highly confusing variety of labels their pages with icons supposed to facilitate subscriptions for a specific web aggregator.

What Live Clipboard can do is to drastically improve this user experience and to get rid of all this visual clutter.

rss_icons_collection_from Ray_Ozzie.gif

Or let's say you have two sites both of which understand calendar data. I want to move an appointment from one site to another. In Ray's scheme, there's now an icon on each site, next to each piece of data that can be transported. The icon is a picture of a scissor. Bring site A to the front, click on the scissor and choose Copy, then bring site B to the front, click on the scissor and choose Paste.

"At first, you'd think it has to be some terrible ActiveX hack, but it's not -- it's a hidden text field and a bit of JavaScript that moves the data around."
(source: Dave Winer)

Technology-wise, a mini support application showing up as a scissors icon in the system tray supports non Web-to-Web Live Clipboard transactions. This mini-application is a bridge between the XML formats and native PC formats. In Web-to-Web, XML data formats are still supported without the need of the helper application.

The clipboard application in the tray converts between the Live Clipboard XML format that is used by the web control and native clipboard formats that existing Windows apps understand.

But to better understand what the Live Clipboard is all about, please read what Ray Ozzie wrote on March 7th, the day of its Live Clipboard presentation at eTech:

"In the PC world, whose pre-GUI history was experienced through various flavors of MS-DOS, one of the greatest user benefits first delivered pervasively by the GUI was the radical concept of running multiple applications simultaneously and, more importantly, using them concurrently and inter-operably. Through rigorous style guidelines and standard controls made available to application developers, suddenly users had the power to interact in ways that bridged divergent applications.
And what was the most fundamental technology enabling "mash-ups" of desktop applications?
The clipboard. And a set of common clipboard data formats.
In its simplest form, the clipboard enabled the user to simply grasp the concept of moving a copy of the information from one application to another (i.e. by value).
In its most advanced form, the clipboard enabled users to set up "publish and subscribe" relationships among applications - dynamically interconnecting a "publisher" with a "subscriber" (i.e. by reference).

Unfortunately, as Ray correctly points out, the web of today is enabled by a very simple user model based on URL addresses, hyperlinks, go Back, go Forward, Home as well as by a few "in-page" models which have emerged over time. Home page access via clicking on the logo appearing top left on a site page, reference links, about and contact links placed at the bottom, and more.

But nonetheless of this growing number of web conventions and standards, each site remains an island by itself. There are no enforced navigation or layout standards used across different web sites.

"Structured data" on any site, such as the one contained inside contacts, address books, individual profiles, calendars or shopping carts is often coded and structured in dissimilar ways. While microformats seem to be an intelligent emergent solution to this there is yet no way to externalize structured data from different web site in a reliable and consistent way.

"So, where's the clipboard of the web?

  • Where's the user model that would enable a user to copy and paste structured information from one website to another?

  • Where's the user model that would enable a user to copy and paste structured information from a website to an application running on a PC or other kind of device, or vice-versa?

  • And finally, where's the user model that would enable a user to "wire the web", by enabling publish-and-subscribe scenarios web-to-web, or web-to-PC?

Just think about that last scenario. It's a mess today.

RSS feeds have much larger potential beyond the syndication of news, feeds, and blogs. RSS is increasingly becoming the internet's answer for most "publish and subscribe" scenarios and is now being used to connect data and systems in new, innovative and unanticipated ways.

RSS has great potential to allow end user to start self-wiring this increasingly interconnected web.

Some applications

"Copy/Paste a photo from Flickr onto a blogspot blog. Copy/Paste a movie from a laptop onto YouTube (this is in a fantasy world where we have bandiwdth comparable to modern Western countries). Copy/Paste an MP3 from iTunes onto a gMail message."
(source: Ryan)


Live Clipboard serializes Live Clipboard XML data into a JavaScript object. "The XML data that was used in the demos screencasts showcased here below may be harmless, but despite Microsoft's claims to embrace XML, the XML-based Office formats are a little bit... opaque to third parties."
"If people can seamlessly cut and paste between their desktop and the Web, what will they be cutting and pasting? It'll largely be Office data - bits of Word and Excel, primarily."

"If this is widely adopted (included in IE7, and integrated into every Web publishing system that Microsoft controls), it'll actually make the Web *less* readable in a non-IE browser. The specification for how you cram big gobs of Microsoft XML onto the Web would be open - but the XML itself will be a huge problem for third-party browsers to render and deal with correctly."

"Microsoft could encourage people to use this *open* standard to paste blobs of *proprietary* Office XML into web applications, and that this might only work properly for IE/Office users."
(source: Ben 1 and Ben 2)

Could this be a strategy for further Microsoft lock-in via the open-route of RSS/XML?

Windows only?

Matt Augustine, who is on the team that developed Live Clipboard at Microsoft writes in a comment he has posted to Dave Winer's Scripting News: "The clipboard application in the tray converts between the Live Clipboard XML format that is used by the web control and native clipboard formats that existing Windows apps understand."

Ray references in his original post are also all about "PC" and "Windows" applications only.

Watch to understand: the Live Clipboard at work

Check them out:

Blog subscription (2' 27")

Website to website structured data exchange (4' 50")

PC to web structured data exchange (5' 03")

Piping data website to website (6' 49")

Piping data website to PC (4' 44")

Note: interestingly enough the screencasts demonstrating the Live Clipboard concept from Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Ray Ozzie were all recorded while using Firefox.

Live Clipboard: Web-based demo page

If you are interested in how this works or if you would like to add the feature to your site, please read the Live Clipboard Technical Introduction.

If you are a developer join the Live Clipboard mailing list.

Live Clipboard has been released under a Creative Commons license allowing others to share and contribute back to this idea.

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posted by Robin Good on Friday, March 31 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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