Web Apps – Useful Outside the Box

An article by David Brooks on May 26, 2008


I’m typically skeptical, seriously. I’m usually not the first to adopt something new, but thankfully I’m certainly not the last to latch on to new technologies. When I do start working with something I don’t talk about it so much, usually favoring to just casually ease into it with friends.

You can usually count thousands of articles, professional and not, that cover the subject better than I could. I don’t like being the first to write about something because unless you’re on the inside circle it’s difficult to get a good perspective about things. But even then, you can speculate, you can assume what will happen, but you can’t predict the future. When something first launches it’s hard to know if anything will come of it or how people will use your product. For me, I like working with things in ways that weren’t anticipated by its creator. That’s what I like to write about because, to me, the strength of an application is in what people will do with it that you might not have imagined.

But I’ll use the example of Twitter (I could have named plenty of other web services). But like I said, I was skeptical, but I saw potential in Twitter. When I signed up I did so because some of my friends were already using it. So I tested the water and it seemed pretty calm. So here I am months later, reading about how others are starting to use Twitter in “out of the box” sorts of ways. The three that I read recently had distinctly different uses of Twitter, all amazing.

The first example is the case of a guy who Twittered his way out of jail. Now obviously that’s an interesting thing to think about. Using Twitter, this guy was able to send a message to his friends indicating that he had been arrested by Egyptian police. While I’m writing about new music I like or what I’m doing at work he’s using it for something really important, saving his own life.

The second example goes along with the Mars Phoenix project at NASA. They have been updating the Mars Phoenix’s account on Twitter to tell about the progress of the mission in real time. At the time of this writing Phoenix has 4, 438 followers on Twitter, people who may never have paid much attention to the official headlines that NASA sends out. At Twitter it unfolds minute by minute, it’s almost like being in the station waiting for things to happen, except all the visuals aren’t there.

Now, I’m not crazy enough to think that the Phoenix is actually updating from Mars, but it is possible. There’s nothing that would keep someone from updating their Twitter from outer space assuming they were already connected to some source of internet connection. (Mission control counts!) Obviously, the fact that Phoenix is a robot is obviously the first reason to suspect that there is a human involved in the updating of the Twitter account.

I nearly forgot about the third example where, apparently, people have figured out a way to make your plant update Twitter. I’m just geeky enough to think that it’s really cool, and really useful. I have killed way too many plants by not watering them, had this been in place it could have let me know how to save it. This is yet another case of using Twitter for something that I doubt the creators ever considered.

But nevertheless, the point is this: you can’t anticipate what people are going to do with your web application once it launches. You can, however, hope that you’ve created something that people will use so much that they expand on your ideas of what it should do. It doesn’t have to go interplanetary, but a little outside the box is a great thing. As I mentally prepare myself to launch something at Asbury Seminary next week that’s exactly what I’m hoping will come of it.

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About David Brooks

David Brooks is the owner of the small creative studio, Northward Compass, based out of Orlando, Florida. He writes electronic and ambient music as Light The Deep, and fantasy stories about a place called Elerien.

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