Tuesday, December 28, 2004


How to doom a great idea

From Robin Good's site found a link to an interesting Web visualization tool, Omniscope. The software offers something I've been long interested in: the ability to make "dynamic queries" (to see the change in query results simultaneously as one changes the query.) I wrote my Master's thesis partly around this topic, and it is great to see a potentially mass market product out there fill this need. To enable dynamic queries, Omniscope makes use of "alphasliders", an innovation developed at the University of Maryland in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, the implementation of Omniscope requires a special downloaded plug-in to read the "IOK" files. I can't understand why anyone would take the effort these days to develop a product that requires yet another "free viewer". Users don't want to download something they won't use but occasionally. The marketplace is littered with failed free viewers. Not even the might of Sun can compel people to download Java if it isn't preinstalled. The hassle of downloading aside, every third party plug in is yet another opportunity for one's computer to become burdened with bugs and system conflicts.

Iokio, the makers of Omniscope, have a demo on their site created in Java that doesn't need a viewer. They should have stuck to open source, even if it took more thought on how to make money from that approach.

Sure, if you want your experience limited to clicking in a browser and looking at the results, an applet will do fine (Iokio offers applet publishing in its Server version). But that's not what Omniscope is about. It's not just a 'free viewer' but an application which, when activated (starting at $79) let's you import your own spreadsheets, connect to a database, export to XML, browse pictures, navigate maps... If anyone can show me how to do it all in a browser, I'll eat my keyboard.

Nobody complains about having to install Excel, and even using IE to look at applets requires a 'free viewer'; what do you think IE is? Bottom line - you want heavy duty functionality on your pc, you'll have to grit your teeth and install an app. Deal with it.
Thanks for the comment Edward. I have to admit, I am a little confused about the positioning of Omniscope. You are correct it can be a desktop application, and as such, using a proprietary file would be no problem. But it also prominently advertises "publishing to the Web" which requires a plug-in to read IOK files. "Publish as an IOK file which can be opened in the free viewer." I would suspect most people exposed to Omniscope are browsers, not publishers, and think most users don't want to download another plug-in just to read something. Yesterday I was just cleaning up my hardesk, deleting various webmapping and startree type plug-ins that at first sounded great, but fell into disuse.

Perhaps since my original posting, Omniscope are announcing a "lightweight" Flash FeatureFinder that is coming soon. They say: "The created Flashâ„¢ SWF file is easily embedded in a web page and does not require software installation." Which was my point exactly. I wish they every sucess with it, as I love the concept, just not the orginal implementation.
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