inessential by Brent Simmons

Idea for an app

Here’s an idea for an app I’ve had for about a year. But we’re not going to do it because we can’t make the economics work (for us, that is—it may work for you).

Also: it’s possible there’s an already an app that does this, but I just don’t know about it. (If such an app exists, please let me know what it is!)

The problem

If you’re in an office or at a conference, making files available to other people can be a pain. Yes, you could use the built-in file-sharing or Apache, but there are too many steps for setting this up—and there are too many steps for people who want to download your files.

(I was reminded of this idea at Daniel Steinberg’s session on Rendezvous at the OS X conference. He mentioned at one point that someone emailed him a file just to get the file 20 feet across the room. I’ve done this many times myself. It’s dumb, but it’s easy.)

The solution: user interface

The problem here isn’t that we lack file-sharing or web servers or networking: the problem is purely user interface. It’s just plain too difficult to access machines that you don’t access all the time.

So I imagine something very much like iChat’s Rendezvous buddy list. It would list people—people with files you can download—who are available via Rendezvous. When you select a person, you see a list of files that they’ve made available. Double-click a file to download it to your desktop. (You might also have a file-centric view instead of a person-centric view. And a search field, of course.)

You might also add some kind of special thing for URLs—because how many times have you tried to spell out a URL to the person sitting next to you, or pasted it into an email and let it fly around the country before coming to the person sitting next to you. It should be easier!

Under the hood

Whether this is just a front-end to standard file-sharing or Apache or something custom is something you’d have to work out. It’s the least interesting part of the application, but it should be done well, of course, with security very much in mind. (I’d make the file-sharing read-only, so you can’t put anything on someone else’s machine.)


Something like this is useful only if pretty much everybody has it.

It would have to be free for use at conferences, and you’d probably want to make it free for home and non-profit use, too. You could charge for business-office use—but the problem with that is some people just wouldn’t pay, or it would be a popular app everywhere except for in offices.

However, my take on the economics could be all wrong—or someone might like to do it as a for-glory thing. (It might make a cool open source project, and it could be an app about which people say, “Look, sometimes open source projects do have great user interfaces.”)