What is the most popular use of computers? No, it is not for email or web surfing or even chat. It is for playing video games. The gaming interface provides a real-time snapshot into the world in which we immerse ourselves when playing a game. In the words of Ramesh Jain (co-founder of Praja), it is an experiential environment, where the query and presentation spaces are the same, thus providing a more wholistic picture. It is, therefore, not surprising to find three-year-olds learning to play games with ease. Video game interfaces provide natural environments, with their real-time, interactive display.
The Digital Dashboard for the Enterprise needs to do something similar provide a real-time state of the enterprise, showing information relevant to what one is doing currently, and providing the necessary interfaces to dig deeper, if necessary. It builds on the management by exception philosophy propounded by Vivek Ranadive (of Tibco, and author of The Power of Now). The Digital Dashboard is the user interface to the Real-time Enterprise.
The Digital Dashboard needs to become the new desktop. When one switches on the computer, there is no need to show a collection of icons entitled My Computer, My Documents, Network Neighbourhood, Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. What users in the enterprise need to see is an integrated information screen, which has events/news, or even alarms from different sensors. More than Icons, whats needed are Insights. More than Applications, whats needed is Assimilation and Value-Added Aggregation.
Information has become always on it needs to tell you when it has changed, instead of you asking. Writes Kevin Werbach in Release 1.0 (December 2001): Even though real-time computing involves machines, it becomes valuable only when it can get information to people who can make use it through good monitoring systems.
This is where the Information Bus and the publish-subscribe concepts come into play. Subscription and Syndication are the two key concepts to build the digital dashboard. The RSS feed with the weblog work as the integrator. An RSS Aggregator can collect all the events from feeds that one has subscribed to. These events are published on to the information bus. Publishers can be news feeds, other weblogs, Mail, or the enterprise applications. Each of the event entries can be annotated and posted on to weblogs and redistributed (syndicated, again via RSS).
It is important to understand RSS. This is the real innovation in publishing in recent times. WebReference provides an introduction:
Rich Site Summary (RSS) is a lightweight XML format designed for sharing headlines and other Web content. Think of it as a distributable “What’s New” for your site. Originally developed by Netscape to fill channels for Netcenter, RSS has evolved into a popular means of sharing content between sites. RSS defines an XML grammar (a set of HTML-like tags) for sharing news. Each RSS text file contains both static information about your site, plus dynamic information about your new stories, all surrounded by matching start and end tags. Each story is defined by an tag, which contains a headline TITLE, URL, and DESCRIPTION.
RSS thus provides a mechanism for creating an information flow across websites. WebReference, once again:
RSS, is a natural for layering on additional services. In addition to displaying news on other sites and headline viewers, RSS data can flow into other products and services like PDA’s, cell phones, email ticklers. and even voice updates. Email newsletters can easily be automated with RSS. Even more compelling, affiliate networks and partners of like-minded sites (say a collection of Linux sites) can harvest each other’s RSS feeds, and automatically display the new stories from the other sites in the network, driving more traffic throughout.
Tomorrow: Digital Dashboard (continued)