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Can a computer learn to work the way you do? The open-source Mozilla Foundation thinks so. This week, it announced Ubiquity, a service within Firefox that allows users to easily combine data from different Web pages in useful ways.
These fusions of existing Web services are known as mashups, and in the past, they've been cobbled together by trained developers. Ubiquity puts that power directly in users' hands. If you're e-mailing your friends about a nearby restaurant, and want to add a map and a review to your message, you simply call up Ubiquity and tell it to do so, in plain English. (Check out Mozilla's demo.)
This is radical stuff. We already know that it creates value, because professional mashups are everywhere. Zillow, which aggregates real estate data with maps and user-generated content, is perhaps the most popular mashup on the Web, but it's hardly alone. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Finance ties news stories to stock charts and tickers. Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) knitted maps, calendars, and contact info into its online Mail service.
For me, Ubiquity stands apart for its potential to transform the browser into a tool for personal aggregation. You can bet that cloud computing giants such as salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM ) and NetSuite (NYSE: N ) would love such an advantage. It would allow their suites to be at least as interactive as on-premises alternatives from Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) , SAP (NYSE: SAP ) , and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) .
Mr. Softy, in particular, has for years made it easy to share data between applications in its Office Suite. Think of a PowerPoint presentation that pulls in data from an Excel spreadsheet. Mashups in a cloud-computing setting could take this same idea further.
Say you're interested in investing in Google. Assuming Ubiquity works as advertised, you could open a Google Docs spreadsheet, then populate it with data from any Web-connected source: financial statements from the SEC's new EDGAR, selected research-report commentary from your broker's site, a Motley Fool CAPS rating, and so on. And, of course, you could publish your findings to a Web page, since you'd be using Docs.
Computers, on the whole, are pretty dumb. You're the smart one. You have to know how your system organizes information in order to craft work routines that take advantage of how your PC and its software functions. Unless, that is, Mozilla makes good on Ubiquity's promise.
This is a rebellion worth watching.
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