Rant time. I downloaded my Google data using takeout a few days back and was surprised to find my online order history kept neatly in jsons in a directory Purchases _ Reservations. Of course it's not really surprising since I have seen buttons like 'Track Order' in the gmail web ui, which means there is a sort of parsing happening and I should expect the output to be present in the takeout.

Looking closely at a lot of online tech products, you will see these 'web automation' plugins served as sides (or the mains). Not only are they useful for the users, they are really valuable for the companies since any sort of monitoring on the information flow pays off real quick.

Now I can't blame anyone for doing what is rational, but it gets annoying when I see these simple solutions not democratized enough. This is specially bad in mobile phone ecosystem. Want to split a bill after getting bank SMSes automatically? Write your own parsers, then do a few nasty hacks since no other app can be programmatically controlled. Or just install a new shiny app which either asks for your data or money, usually both.

1. Plugins

The idea of having user-built features on the internet goes back to the semantic web. Maybe the whole project was doomed because of too many strong assumptions about the way things work for people in general. But probably we were just too slow to accept milder versions of those assumptions compared to for-profit firms. We always stay so ideologically driven that it gets hard to see why the real world is not composed of triangles and squares. And then some realist stands up and says "I want to make money, quickly".

The annoying part is that some of the new features are up there somewhere in someone's ~/projects directory. But that's it. Nothing is going to beat marketing, which is obviously inertia based. Add to that the closing-up of softwares for plugins themselves. There is also a security concern here but I don't know if we have given it sufficient thoughts in the not-so-vulnerable settings.

To be fair, there are a few non-profit projects which allow creating and sharing unencumbered plugins and have what it takes to be successful among the common users. But they are either going to be out of date (vlc/local media, non mobile applications), restricted by the popularity of environment they run on (KDE etc.), or are just going to perpetually play catch up in the general user segment (GNU/Linux). There might be deeper causes for these but I am not going to think right now.

2. Users

Talking about the users themselves, there are two ways they come across and accept plugins/features:

  1. Someone else telling them, or
  2. they themselves wishing for that feature

Til the time the first reason is dominant, there is no escape from the fact that a for-profit entity will just market itself into power. The only consolation is in the second reason but you would be a fool to buy into this since

the users themselves don't know what they want

So it goes.



just kidding