local URIs … mashing up the desktop

I’ve worried for a while about desktop URLs.

Within the web it is easy to link things together. If I want to refer to my home page I just add a link like this. However, on the desktop things are not so simple and I end up copying chunks of mail messages into the notes field in iCal rather than simply being able to link to the mail message where I arranged the meeting.

Links from the desktop to the web are easy … just use the URL … many desktop applications including mail clients and word processors will allow you to embed clickable links. Indeed it is often easier to link to a web page than to another object on the desktop! However, things get more difficult if you want to link the other way round, from a web page to a local file or resource. In my browser’s favourites I have several links to local files, but you cannot easily do the same if your bookmarks are in a web service like del.icio.us or even my own Snip!t. It is hard to seamlessly weave your desktop into the global web.

A couple of events brought this issue to a head for me.

First at the CHI workshop on PIM entitled the Disappearing Desktop, I asked if anyone knew of work in the area and I heard from Leo Sauermann that they had made some progress on this as part of the Gnowsis project. Their proposal for a Desktop URI Scheme (edited by Leo) is targeted principally at the first of the scenarios above, being able to link between things within the desktop.

The second event was at the AVI workshop on designing multi-touch interaction techniques for coupled public and private displays. During discussions abut touch-based interactions such as the Microsoft Surface or Apple iPhone, we considered scenarios where peole got together for a meeting (as we were) in a hotel bar (where we split for small group discussion) and had screens on table tops and walls, laptops, tablets, phones … and wanted to seamlessly move material between devices. Clearly an essential requirement for which is some way to identify resources across ad hoc collections of devices.

Finally I was in Athens working with George Lepouras, Akrivi Katifori and others. George had developed a Thunderbird extension to allow Snip!t to snip from mail messages … but while we could snip the text there was no way for the Snip!t page to link back to the mail message. We need full round trip URIs that link desktop and web with no distinction – URIs that can be embedded in a web page and (assuming you have the right permissions and are in an appropriate place) can be clicked and the appropriate mail message, calendar entry or whatever is opened.

Based on this and discussions we had, I drafted a discussion document on globally accessible local URIs. Any feedback very welcome.

Over the summer we hope to put together a demonstrator / reference implementation – if anyone is interested let me know.