I have been writing about the writing process and improving the teaching of writing for the past few weeks. You do not see this work at present because most will be incorporated into the summer revision of our textbook.
This focus has led to deeper examination of Google docs. I use the service constantly, but do not investigate what new capabilities are available unless some activity prompts me to move beyond my immediate personal needs. One of the new ideas that I have been exploring in greater depth is the provision to supplement the basic tool (docs) with add-ons. This capability is new to docs, but familiar to those of us who have been extending browsers with plugins and extensions for years. The hierarchical nature of this situations strikes me as interesting – plugins within docs within a browser.
Anyway, the idea of tools within tools seemed worth a blog post.
I remember when there seemed to be multiple levels of tools for a general purpose. For example, I remember when a software company would offer simple and advanced products for authoring web pages. Then, it seemed, the lower end and less expensive tools seemed to disappear. What remained were expensive and bloated (for most purposes) tools. The tool within a tool category seems to me to be a return to a simpler time with an improvement. There is now the real opportunity to expand core tools (say Google docs) to meet specific needs. This seems a great opportunity especially with the tools and plugins are free or inexpensive.
A related interesting opportunity is the similar process of merging tools. Again, using a Google example, you can kind of expand the capabilities of hangouts by adding docs. Now you have a setting capable of powerful discussions (via hangouts) around a common, shared document.
Here is what I have observed as a down side. It may sound like a complaint, but you really should not complain about free.
The motivation for those who generate the main and the supplemental level tools often differ (in other words some are third party providers) and this can cause incompatibilities when improvements are made to the main tool. The case that continually brings this to my attention is my use of Last.FM. This product might be promoted as a social, music discovery tool, but for me it is primarily a way to track my listening habits over time. I can account for nearly all of the songs I have listened to since 2006. When I listen to music on my devices or my computers a record of my “listens” is sent to Last.FM. This is a process that has been named scrobbling. I have never understood the origin of the term. Anyway, I pay Last.Fm $4 a month for a pro membership. For a service and the reason I use it, this is a lot of money. I assume Last.FM is motivated to make improvements to maintain my interest and my payments.
In order to scrobble my plays from my android phone, my iPads, my multiple computers and from many different music sources (iTune, Pandora, Google, Amazon, Grooveshark, YouTube, etc., etc.), it is necessary to rely on plugins (extensions, etc.) that must often be tuned (ha, ha) to the different music sources. I pay for none of these. I seem to have to constantly search for new plugins to fix what used to work. I attribute this issue to the differential motives of Last.FM and those who contributed the multiple supplemental tools. The base tool is being improved to attract my money and these enhancements seem to “break” the add-ons. Last.FM is likely not big enough to offer multiple plugins because the “scrobbling” feature is not perceived as the main role for their product.
It seems to me this situation is likely to create much more inconsistency than we tend to expect.