Browsarity, Rapportive, Etacts: game on for browser apps

18Mar10

First Internet Explorer made browser addons a focus for their v8 release, then Chrome launched their own application gallery. And we’ve seen several startups launch browser based products in the last few weeks: Browsarity (give to charity while you browse), Rapportive (simple CRM on top of Gmail) and then Etacts, having previously launched their ‘personal CRM’ web application quickly followed it with their own browser addon.

Why this growing interest in browser applications, even from Google,  when all functionality is supposed to be moving to the cloud?

The power to modify

One common attribute of all those recently launched products (and indeed WebMynd’s own search applications) is that they use the power of browser-based applications to modify pages. In the case of Browsarity, they re-write links to be affiliate links. The WebMynd, Rapportive and Etacts applications modify the right hand sides of search and webmail pages to incorporate new content.

Etacts' Gmail application

But what’s the value to the user having that power through these apps?

Get it ‘to go’

It’s hard enough to get users to come to your site in the first place, let alone come back again and again. Most people can only remember to go to a certain (small) number of urls, and will only tolerate a certain number of emails saying a friend has poked them. One of those they do remember is Google, so if you are high up in either the organic or paid results for a term your target audience is searching for, you’re fine. For the rest…

What if you only had to get your target audience to visit once and then they could take the information and functionality and use it where they already are?

That’s what browser applications offer. Like with food, some apps are takeaway only: WebMynd, Xobni, Browsarity and Rapportive are in this camp. Others like StumbleUpon, Delicious and Etacts are web applications in their own right with a browser application component.

Middleware for the web?

So it saves users from remembering to go back to your site or you having to remind them by sending spammy (or should I say, ‘viral’) emails. That’s great, but it’s not the full story.

Like with enterprise applications in the ’90s, the web is full of application and data silos – Gmail and Facebook just for starters. Integration is either non-existent, since the application owners want to lock-in users by holding on to their data and keep them on their site. Or point-to-point, like LinkedIn including Tripit and Twitter information.

Of course it’s perfectly possible for Google to let you search Gmail on the right-hand side of their search page, or get Twitter and LinkedIn data on the right-hand side of Gmail messages. But if you want that anytime soon, you’re going to have to use WebMynd, Rapportive and Etacts. And why, when I’m looking on Yelp for somewhere to eat tonight, am I not reminded that a friend sent me an email to my Gmail account recommending me some places 6 months ago? Such a personalized web experience isn’t possible without integration of my personal data silos.

Middleware is software that glues together application silos. So could these browser apps be the start of a distributed middleware for the web?  What integrations would you like to see?

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3 Responses to “Browsarity, Rapportive, Etacts: game on for browser apps”

  1. Great thoughts — I completely agree. The web was designed in a way that was supposed to give users control over the way they saw websites. For example, a user can override a website’s stylesheets with their own. However, somehow that got lost, and people forgot that the *user* owns the browser. Custom stylesheets aren’t really used other than for accessibility.

    It’s understandable that site owners should want to control every aspect of how their site looks and behaves. However, we’re now seeing a shift of power back towards the users. I think that’s a great thing. Users should be able to choose the way they see the web, and how they interact with it.

  2. As it happens, Unspace is actively working on this “distributed middleware for the web” as you call it. We use different words, but we’re talking about the same stuff (actually, there’s more to it… but loose lips sink ships in this case).

    If you’d like to take a look at what we’re up to, drop me a line — pete at unspace dot ca. We’d love to get your input.

  3. Shift of power back to the user, with the data-mining and data-gathering capabilities of organized social web smart algorithms are going to redefine the experience of interaction on the web.

    Also you can add Zemanta to the list of applications in this category – we try to improve content creation (on blogs, etc) with similar methods.

    However I don’t know if middleware analogy is the right one. I prefer ‘personal assistant’ analogy – the software that serves the person and uses data from wherever it resides and puts it into a new context. Siri is a similar type of application in mobile setting. Computers are becoming assistants and not merely tools. They not only multiply our productivity, but qualitatively change it.

    Andraz Tori, CTO at Zemanta



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