Teaching Your Browser to Fetch

Photo: Flickr member Natalia Buckley

A lovely thing is on the horizon between Google and Mozilla’s Chrome and Firefox, respectively: a new way to handle common actions to help websites communicate. At the onset, you, as a designer will more than likely not care at all. The concept is abstracted almost entirely away from what you have to do… Sorta. Sooooo… Why am I bothering to tell you?

Bear with me here. I’m gonna nerd out a little bit.

There are a lot of basic, fundamental operations all browsers need to perform to communicate with websites, and all of them suck at it. So Google and Mozilla are creating a repository of “intents” (if you’re Google) or “actions” (if you’re Mozilla) to make those actions more universal and seamless. The names may be unique to each company, but the repository is a collaboration between the two. Right now, this will only apply to Chrome and Firefox, but I’m fairly certain others will follow soon.

Think about spoken languages—they’re a lot like coding. If you’re a writer—and many designers quite enjoy the wordplay—you’ll understand the differences between identical concepts in differing languages.

Consider the French. When new words need to happen in French, the speaker could string together existing concepts into a new compound concept, and that string of words become the de facto word. For example, when the Spanish introduced the potato to Europe in the 16th century after their galavanting around South America, the French called it the pomme de terre. That translates to the rather poetic string of nonsense, apple of the earth. The term may get the point across, but it’s a semantic wreck, because the speaker has to always consider potato in relation to the translation’s constituent parts—apples—even though apples have not the slightest thing to do with potatoes.

Now, frame this same thing in terms of what a browser needs to do with, say, Facebook. Every browser needs to be able to embed a Facebook “Like” button. To do that, the browser needs to perform a lot of operations. It needs to display a button sitting in an iframe. That button triggers JavaScript, which then communicates back to Facebook’s servers, which then updates the count of how many clicks the button’s gotten, returns the result to your browser, updates the visual count, and cheerily tells you that all of your friends have liked something, why haven’t you, you loser? Click it already.

When your browser has to perform all of those different steps, it’s effectively using a gazillion words to translate to one simple concept. Why not create a new “verb” for the browsers so they’ll all understand what “Like Button” means for them to do? Why force them all to go through their own convoluted series of tasks, defined on their end, over and over and over?

So basically, intents or actions will become a one-stop vocabulary resource for actions like this. A dictionary of common tasks. Every browser will be able to reach into this “dictionary” and pluck out the steps to like something, pick an image, whatever else is defined. This is conceptually related to microformats, especially as implemented on Google Recipes. Twitter already lets you use them to perform common tasks from their service.

So what’s this have to do with you, the designer? Easy: it’ll let you standardize, or redesign if you wish, those frigging share and like buttons we all hate.

And now you’re glad you read this far. :)

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