As the Digital Revolution Matures, Daily Tasks Take Center Stage
by Geoffrey Bock
Almost twenty years into the digital revolution, we now live in a world where our mobile devices are always on and always available. GPS and other on-device sensors ensure that our smartphones and tablets provide a constant stream of data about where we are and what we’re doing.
This shift is giving rise to a new generation of applications that focus on the tasks of our everyday lives, rather than the anonymous streams of information we routinely encounter. And “next generation” content-centric platforms, like Drupal, are making it ever easier to develop these task-centric applications by providing flexible and extensible underlying application-level services.
Let’s highlight a few examples of what developers are already delivering.
Matchmaking for Custom Designed Items. One of my latest finds is CustomMade, a start-up backed by Google Ventures, which matches makers—designers and craftspeople—with buyers who want custom-designed jewelry, furniture, and other kinds of fine art items. The firm structures match making around the stories that connect buyers with makers.
Buyers upload photos and design sketches. They tell their stories about what they want and why the prospective items are important to them. Makers respond when they are interested in the commissions and describe what they can deliver in ways that appeal to the buyer’s feelings and tastes.
The site, CustomMade.com, is designed for either a point-and-click or a tap-and-swipe control. There is a web browser experience that also works well on tablets and smartphones. The site concentrates on the match making tasks.
Behind the scenes, CustomMade.com mediates the conversations by managing the various content types and messages.
• Buyers have a visual experience to describe their wants. The site stores their designs and generates messages.
• Makers receive automatic alerts (via email or SMS) when prospective commissions are posted. They can respond to inquiries from their mobile devices, provide links to their portfolios already stored on the site, and discuss how they would approach making a piece.
What counts is the flexibility of this web application, and how it supports the different content types and messages. Leveraging rich media channels and associated web services, CustomMade.com manages the content for an ever-expanding set of matchmaking offers.
Dispatching Taxicabs. Another example is a taxicab dispatch solution, rolled out over two years ago by Green Cabs in Madison, Wisconsin, and developed by Promet Source, an Acquia partner. This solution uses Drupal as the web application server to manage and store content, as well as to communicate with iPads installed in taxicabs and iPhones for riders who want to request cab rides.
The Green Cab solution blends three sets of tasks.
• Dispatchers communicate with taxicabs, schedule telephone requests from riders, and manage the fleet.
• Taxicab drivers respond to ride requests and notify the dispatcher about their progress.
• When they want to do it themselves, riders can book rides directly from their smartphones.
There’s a desktop browser-based experience for dispatchers, an iPad app for drivers, and an iPhone app for riders. The task-centric application manages the structured messages and content types associated with such varied activities as:
• Dispatch a taxi for pick up
• Save a ride request
• Update drivers with new information as they fulfill requests, or cancel a request altogether
• Display the location of vehicles on a map
The dispatch solution exchanges these structured messages between the Drupal-powered repository and the iPad app for drivers, as well as between the repository and the iPhone apps for riders. Moreover, this is an extensible environment. Developers can easily add new features to the application, such as calculating wait times or requesting pickups from predefined locations, by defining the additional content types.
Targeting Content for Tasks. So here are the key insights for developing task-centric applications and mobilizing them when needed.
• Start by defining the basic tasks that your solution requires.
• Identify the content and messages needed to accomplish the tasks.
• Define the right content types and the relevant metadata to organize content by tasks. Remember to include location-aware metadata when relevant.
• Rely on a content-centric platform to manage the various tasks and to mobilize the experiences.
Drupal already functions as a content-centric platform and provides many of the underlying application-level services for task-centric solutions. Most important, Drupal at its core automatically manages content as content types. With Drupal, it is easy to maintain both the content and the associated metadata needed for mobilizing experiences and focusing on tasks.
With the release of Drupal 8 scheduled for next year, things are only going to get better. Among other new capabilities, D8 is going to include enhancements for mobile apps, better support for native web services that simplify integrations with third party applications, and WYSIWYG editing. D8 will provide even better support for content chunks, making it easier to develop task-centric solutions.
Stay tuned. With D8, the digital revolution accelerates.