When you realize that almost every damn thing we do on the internet today is a vaguely e-mail-shaped object, the idea of a web browser really starts looking obsolete.

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(Wikis and other reference material are really the biggest exception to this, just about everything else that's actually used fits into the e-mail-shaped model, if you can add a discovery mechanism to the e-mail-shaped UI.)

I'm wondering how a phone with no web browser at all, but robust server-assisted RSS reading (including retrieving the entire referenced article and all comments, and threading it all) integrated into an e-mail-like client would work.

Basically, I'm thinking... the Zen of Palm effectively says that a lot of things shouldn't be done on a palmtop at all, just provide a way to collect info so the user can do it at home on their real computer.

I'm wondering if web browsing (that is, going on the web to discover content) is actually one of those things. Use AvantGo-style preprocessing of web content to make existing streams of content readable on the go, but maybe don't even try for discovery.

There are email-shaped objects, wikis, and television-shaped objects. All three are pretty amenable to lazy loading.

Email-shaped objects are well-suited to store-and-forward (and even centralized ones have at best eventual consistency anyway so the same mechanisms can be used for offline-first systems the way SSB does).

Wikis need to be synced periodically but probably can be heavily compressed. Codebases are the same.

Television-shaped objects (video series, podcasts) are RSS-like in that they have an order and periodic updates but their size makes them a little harder to handle -- and they're pre-compressed non-text.

Video games are a different problem but I don't think it's common to play MMOs seriously on portable systems with unreliable connections.

@enkiv2 Eh, there's various MMO architectures designed around those limitations - Pokémon Go comes to mind.

And I hear the kiddies are playing MMOFPSes lately on their phones...

Right, but I was interpreting your idea as offline-first, like SSB or Avant-Go -- i.e., content gets updated on the mobile device only during user-controlled periodic syncs.

This makes sense for store-and-forward and for subscriptions, but online games with high interactivity are going to have problems with day-long pings.

@enkiv2 I'm thinking always syncing when a connection's available, but keep working with whatever's been obtained when disconnected, and have the expectation of a low-end device that can't handle the modern internet and needs server assistance to pre-chew content for it. (Think... less performance than a Raspberry Pi 1.)

Basically, apply the ideas from the once-daily-sync era to a device with modern connectivity. So, you don't have to wait for sync time, but it still works like those devices.

Makes sense. The goal is to ensure that even in fairly extreme cases the user still basically has what they want though, right? So it doesn't make a lot of sense to imply that, say, an online button-mashing fighting game is possible.

MMOs are more complicated in how they deal with this kind of thing, so maybe they're actually better suited.

Like, an MMO is almost a wiki-style syncing problem to begin with: multiple users have copies of an initial state, which is processed locally, and they make changes that are merged on the other side in a way that ideally can be synced back without people noticing unexpected glitches -- and the longer the lag the more obvious the glitches. Since it's mostly noncompetitive the glitches are merely annoying.

Counterstrike would be very different.

@enkiv2 I don't think this exactly aligns with my goal - I think it's OK to say "sorry, you can't connect right now" to something that actually requires real-time connectivity.

The goal is really more to make the functionality that actually matters for smartphones possible on a far simpler, cheaper, and longer-lasting (both in terms of device longevity and in terms of battery life) platform.

If you want to play a game on it that requires being constantly connected, be my guest.

@enkiv2 But, fundamentally, the focus is... enable the communications that people do with their phones, with as little on-phone resources as practical

Some of that's inherently realtime - I mean, making a phone call, the supposed core functionality of a smartphone, is realtime - and some isn't.

@enkiv2 I was actually counting the television-shaped objects in the e-mail-shaped object set, although there are differences in presentation.

(Fundamentally, a YouTube video is the root of an e-mail-shaped thread in my vision, just with the body being a video instead of text. Playing a video does require vastly different UI and has different data requirements, though.)

I'd distinguish them only insomuch as there are hugely different data requirements.

With any comment system, it's conceivable for any user to preemptively archive all the content the user is likely to want to read. I can put all of wikipedia and all of project gutenberg on my phone. I can't do that with the whole archive of one longish-running podcast.

However! Also, we can distinguish based on primacy of comments.

Video responses to youtube videos aren't given the same primacy as text comments to youtube videos, and text comments aren't given the same primacy as recommendations or subsequent playlist entries, and this might not be a bad thing. Seeing it as a series of media objects with one author, and with comments being separate and connected by references, makes sense with the way people consume it.

@enkiv2 That's an interesting thing, how threads are connected, too.

Anything that feels like a natural stream of content feels like the thread UI works well for it... but sometimes elements within that stream can have their own sub-threads. (e.g. YouTube videos could be a stream, but each video has its own attached threads. Fediverse timelines are streams, but have parts of threads interspersed within them.)

Yeah. I think of podcasts & youtube videos the same way I think of series on a streaming platform: a sequence of media objects with a specific order, where new elements are append-only.

Some of these things have other second-order things hanging off of them too, like comment threads, but the way I use them I don't actually end up looking at them.

This is an rss vs email distinction, too: is there one entity that controls each sequence, or is a sequence non-centrally controlled?

@enkiv2 I think the way to do it probably ends up looking like this:

The pre-chewing server implements a hierarchy of where things come from. So, you have an e-mail hierarchy, an RSS hierarchy, a Fediverse hierarchy, a YouTube hierarchy, a Facebook hierarchy, whatever, really. APIs and screenscraping are used to construct the hierarchies and the feeds.

There's also views of this content, based on various heuristics. (The master Inbox is basically where things deemed important go.)

@enkiv2 So, essentially, you take content from all over, and a server under your control (or an account on a server you're paying for) gives you the sequences however they came, reformats things to be usable without a web browser, and also resequences them for you based on what it thinks you want (I adored Gmail's Priority Inbox when I used it, I want more of that tbh, but not controlled by Google, controlled by me. Make it work for RSS, too!)

Ahhh. OK.

I was thinking of this in terms of trying to categorize stuff for the sake of organizing synchronization & distribution, assuming that basically all technologies would be reinvented for it anyway.

If you're thinking of an email-inbox/rss-reader style periodic-syncing local-storage interface for existing things, that's a pretty different situation -- one that's a little easier to implement but harder to guarantee good performance from.

@enkiv2 Note that a lot of performance issues can be solved by throwing a modern desktop computer or rackmount server at the problem, instead of trying to do it on the phone, though...

(That said, that's no excuse for not writing tight code, but it means that techniques that are only barely practical on a modern smartphone application processor can be done on a server, letting the smartphone have what would be considered a microcontroller nowadays.)

Yeah, just preprocessing to remove embedded markup will help considerably, since all parsing goes away.

@enkiv2 I think about how much more hardware we have nowadays, to do the same things we did in the past with phones.

Fundamentally, I'm reading articles, IRCing and IMing, e-mailing, watching the odd video, and doing things in between those tasks.

I was doing the exact same things on a 312 MHz XScale 10 years ago, as I am on a quad-core multi-GHz Qualcomm ARM chip today.

Granted, it didn't work as well back then, but a fair amount of that was just bad implementation, the hardware could do it.

I think @drwho might be worth bringing into the conversation since he already has a framework for pulling down content he's subscribed to and preprocessing it. From what I understand, the processing isn't optimized for making it easier to handle on lower-spec machines, but maybe some ideas are applicable to low-connection and low-spec machines.

@enkiv2 @drwho Oh, and another element of this is... I'm kinda in a mood to kill the web - suck its brains (content) out, put it into another form that's easier to work with.

Of course, I realize some issues here - web-style search actually is a very common usage model for mobile internet, for starters. (People do use phones for up-to-the-minute unpredictable reference material - "is this business near me open?" as an example. That's not something you can easily cache on the device.)

@enkiv2 @drwho And, another model that I just thought of that phones are used for: commerce.

That could be contorted into a threaded model (here's a stream of the products available), but wow that would be ugly. And, store-specific apps won't happen (critical mass needs to happen for that), and sucking brains out of something handling payment information is questionable, so... shit, I think there does have to be a web browser.

@bhtooefr @drwho
Is that a bug? Because, that sort of sounds like a feature :P

@enkiv2 @drwho The problem is, I think for a lot of people, it would make the platform a non-starter, not being able to shop for or buy shit.

(And note that comparison shopping while in brick and mortar stores is a common use case of smartphones, too.)

And yes, even people on here. After all, lots of us buy things off of eBay, or give to people's Patreons, ko-fis, or GoFundMes, and probably do it on the go, too.

@bhtooefr @drwho
What I mean is: if this is an overall better mobile device, and it's used by people who also have home computers, discouraging impulse purchases on the go & providing no mechanism for advertising and in-app purchases are probably features.

Purchasing things on a phone is often an accident. Looking at prices can be distinct anyhow. If somebody does their window shopping on their phone and then makes the decisions at home, that's probably good for a lot of people.

@bhtooefr @drwho
And on the other hand, if this is a single app that simply does 90% of what we want to do with 10% of the bloat, people will still be able to switch out of it when necessary.

@enkiv2 @drwho I agree, but that still requires a web browser, ultimately, and it's a *huge* use case of smartphones (also the research case, which is something that the web legitimately does well).

Basically, the /ultimate/ point of this thread was, "how can we kill the web browser on the phone, to enable much lower-end phones".

I think in practice, we can't. We can certainly reduce its usage, and I think we can reduce its performance requirements (apply the Opera Mini approach to Firefox).

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@strypey @enkiv2 @drwho Now that's an interesting point.

So, another use case for phones that is quite common is... I'm going to call it mapping, although that's a really broad, multi-layered category.

You have the problem case of, "I want to get from point A to point B", that navigation apps solve.

You have the problem of "where is point B?", that many navigation apps also solve.

But then... "what is point B?" is another question that's commonly asked.

@strypey @enkiv2 @drwho (And that's the question that you're asking.)

That's... clearly reference material, not threaded streams. Myself, I end up using sites and apps like Yelp (I know, I know) for this. Google also tries to push into this space quite hard.

I'm wondering how this translates into a rigid model, really, because it's such a hyperspecialized use case, but it's such a common one, too.

It's pretty suitable to pre-loading though.

Maybe what we're missing is a second mechanism of access. We have threading, but what we need is search (wherein search produces a new pseudo-thread based on available material -- either already downloaded or filled in as necessary)

@strypey @drwho

@enkiv2 @strypey @drwho I'm thinking of this first and foremost in terms of UI - the back end can follow a good UI.

Search constructing new streams is... actually that's something that was half-floating around in my mind too, so that might be it.

And, then, it's just a stream/thread of places (each with their own discussions (reviews)), and some metadata (menus and such can be presented as attachments).

@enkiv2 @strypey @drwho Mind you, I feel like this isn't a communications task, so even if it uses the same standard threading UI widgets (although with adaptations to the different dataset - rating, price, and distance are things that are irrelevant to the communications application, but highly relevant to this), it shouldn't be in the communications application itself, but rather inside of a navigation application.

@strypey @enkiv2 @drwho I feel like this is a huge shortcoming of legacy mapping solutions - at best they can give you whole categories of things, sorted purely by distance, and with no ability to filter beyond "is this a restaurant"?

OpenStreetMap seems to spend way too much time copying legacy Garmin/TomTom-style mapping, resulting in Google Maps providing a vastly superior experience...

@bhtooefr @strypey @enkiv2 That's true. And most people aren't invested in building their own "Google Maps works-a-like" maps for their neighborhoods.

@bhtooefr @enkiv2 I've done it with a bot that renders HTML into text and shoves it into an Etherpad page (github.com/virtadpt/exocortex-) but the problem there is you lose all text formatting. Problematic to skim through at best, requires re-editing later for legibility. I've since migrated to Wallabag (github.com/wallabag/wallabag), which is much more friendly.

@enkiv2 @bhtooefr Hi. o/

The processing of data isn't optimized for lower power machines specifically, it just works out that way because I do have it optimized for BLUF (bottom line, up front), and I track down the full monty if it's important.

@drwho @bhtooefr
You're mostly using jabber but would what you have be suitable for an email/news-style threaded message interface?

@enkiv2 @bhtooefr Honestly? For that use case I use e-mail. For lower priority stuff (like news precis) the data gets e-mailed to the account my mobile is hooked to, and I scan through it when I have time (or dump it if I'm out of gift a shit).

For higher priority stuff I use XMPP, and for crash-priority stuff I use Pushover or speech synthesized phone calls.

@bhtooefr @enkiv2 Average humans find hierarchies mystifying though. That may not be your target market, of course.

@strypey @bhtooefr
I think this is sort of the reverse, right?

Email-shaped objects in this sense are things that can be interacted with through a newsreader-type interface.

@mathew @strypey @bhtooefr
A problem with email is that anti-spam measures have restricted federation to the point that email is basically centralized now.

@enkiv2 @strypey @bhtooefr Yes, you need e-mail with identity via SMIME or other crypto. Which is probably better and more easily done by building something new that works like email but is secure to start with.

@mathew @strypey @bhtooefr
What I mean is, if you send an email from a server not owned by Google or Microsoft chances are it'll be dropped or filtered at destination.

@enkiv2 @strypey @bhtooefr As a workaround you can use your Google account to send the e-mail and avoid that problem.

@mathew @strypey @bhtooefr
Having Google in the loop, even if they aren't privy to message content, isn't ideal.

Of course, it's possible to use the mail protocol and abuse blacklists and whitelists to have a totally distinct network...

@strypey @enkiv2 @mathew @bhtooefr Actually I have introduced a web framework in upcoming release of Salut à Toi/Libervia exactly for this reason: creating different kind of apps based on XMPP.

See goffi.org/b/96207aea-9bd8-4333

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