Techies and startup dreamers, how about another Friday distraction?

Please enlighten me if any of these exist. This is just a brain-dump of half-thoughs I’ve had over the past year.

Pluggable, Context-aware Help System (Updated again, 02/21)

Many web apps don’t have an integrated help system, or help docs at all. The system I’m imagining would make use of AJAX and JavaScript to add context-sensitive help to a web app that would otherwise not offer much assistance to its users.

Say you’ve got an online store and you’re inputting products, but you don’t know what a certain field does … if the app had context-aware help you could click a “Help” link and be shown information relevant to the page you’re on, and the field in particular. Even better if clicking “Help” showed the help content in an overlay without navigating away from the current page.

Or even better, the help system would attach little question marks to relevant areas on the screen for which it has information.

Think there’s a market or need for it? Maybe as a disqus-like service (but at a cost)?

Decentralized Social Services (not in the government sense)

Related to the disqus model … what about removing disqus as a middleman and applying that model to social-network functionality? I’m talking about the ability to track the following on our own servers:

  • Following and followers
  • Favoriting, or liking/disliking a piece of content
  • Ratings (5 star)
  • Comments, maybe

This also takes some ideas from the Google Tech talk about help RSS to be more real-time, more push-like.

You’d run a service on your server (or subscribe to one … think openid providers and that associated mess … but that’s another topic) that keeps track of the people that are following you in whatever capacity/medium (twitter, blog, new-fangled thing). When you create some new piece of content, your server alerts those that are following you. Maybe your server alerts each follower’s server which takes care of deciding whether to notify said follower.

The goal is to remove “twitter is down” as a problem, to give more control to users and content publishers (bloggers, tweeters, flickerers, etc), and to uncouple common social functionality from the individual sites and services. Because I’d love to have more control over when I’m notified about tweets and facebook comments.

There’d be a published, open API for servers and client software to adhere to. It shouldn’t be limited by the current capabilities of services (twitter, facebook) … when the next facebook comes along it should function as well.

The intent is not to remove the need to visit facebook, but rather to serve as a funnel for some common online social interactions.

Might I mention, that it would make it harder for Facebook to maintain a database of your tastes in order to serve up targeted ads. But maybe there’s room for a new revenue model, where users can get paid for their “taste information” (whatever it’s technically called).

In-browser, CSS Editing Tool

Maybe a plugin, or a service, that helps you navigate complex CSS files, and make changes. Sometimes it’s hard to know where a certain color is coming from.

But more importantly, when you want to change colors and fonts, this tool could present a short-list of CSS rules that pertain to color/font that you can easily edit. When you’re done it’d give you the complete CSS to save, upload, whatever.

Maybe some of the better pieces of WYSIWYG software (Dreamweaver?) do this sort of thing, I don’t know.