Thursday, 5 July 2012

Applications, files and the new normal ...

Files. Working with computers used to be all about files. Creating them, modifying them, deleting them. The horror that autosave hadn't been enabled and that your laptop had just run out of battery. Opening a spreadsheet and getting complete junk.

All things of the past. First of all you had google apps always saving changes to cope with the uncertainty of the cloud. Much better to save lots of time than have someone lose work because they lost their connection.

And then there's iPad and Android apps. You don't save things. Or Office Live - no save button, just close and walk away when you're done. Or evernote - your item is just there.

For example I'm writing the first draft of this using Write Space, a text editor that's an application that sits in a chrome browser.

Incredibly lightweight and enigmatic - data is saved somewhere. No menus other than the standard browser select keys.

You get your text out by selecting and copying it to paste into something else.

Or look at textedit on android. It does a little more, it actually lets you save files, but you don't have to - it remembers what you were working on last, and you can email the text should you want to.

Now we all know that they are really using files underneath - ones with strange odd names known only to the application. It's the content management approach where you create content and the system looks after it for you and finds it for you again absolving you of responsibility.

Want it as an evernote note - just copy and paste. Or a blog post.  Or a word document, or paste it into an ide.

Let the system save it and open it up on a different machine different operating system.

Now if you've been doing this for years you can either get all starry eyed about this or incredibly paranoid about having to trust an application to look after your data. I personally swing both ways. Too many years of open (fred, ">fred.txt"). On the other hand no more incantations to connect remote file systems and no more finding that you can't connect to that resource from here.

The more interesting question is about the iGeneration, the kids that just grow up with this and think its normal to share documents and just save them somewhere.

It's got advantages. No more USB drives lost somewhere. No more traumas moving between platforms and machines. And sharing notes and documents is a whole lot easier

It's also got challenges. What is individual work in the age of sharing? Why should I use a particular application when I skip between platforms. And probably a lot more besides.

It also finally breaks the concept of files. What we now have is documents and content. We don't have directories any more - we have labels, tags, a user created organisational folksonomy that we can search for.

We have a big pile of stuff, just like we used to. But we can search and find things, even if we don't quite know where they live ....

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