12.15.2008

Social scripting: Try CoScripter out with this free Firefox plugin


by Tessa Lau, IBM Research Staff Member, Intelligent User Interfaces


We're witnessing an emerging trend online towards more social tools. People are sharing photos, videos, and music online. Friends are even sharing minute details of their lives on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Yet one aspect of people's lives --- what you do while sitting in front of your computer --- has yet to migrate to the social realm. With our CoScripter project, we aim to change that, through the idea of social scripting.

At first glance, CoScripter looks like a personal automation tool. You can create scripts to document and automate web tasks such as uploading a photo, checking your bank account balance or looking up a zip code. Each script contains step-by-step instructions to complete a task, using simple language such as "click the Search button." CoScripter can automate these scripts to perform the task for you directly in your web browser.

But what makes CoScripter more than just a personal automation tool is its built-in support for sharing. By default, scripts are saved publicly to a central script repository. Of course, you can hide your scripts by declaring them as private, but the default encourages you to share your knowledge with other CoScripter users.

How can social scripting help? Because what might be obvious to you might be interesting and informative to one of your friends. For example, I was setting up the online registration system for a conference last month. One of the repetitive tasks I had to do was create complimentary registration links so sponsors could register for free. I created a script to do this, saved it to CoScripter and used it several times. The following week, one of my colleagues noticed that I had created that script and asked me about it -- it turns out that he was using the same registration system to manage a different conference and wanted to know how to do exactly what I had just done! If I hadn't made that script, he would never have known to ask me about it. But because I created that script, he not only learned how to do something new, he also learned that I was a local expert in that topic.

The idea of social scripting was inspired by the phenomenon of social bookmarking. When sites such as del.icio.us first appeared, people used them primarily as a personal bookmarking service. However, an interesting side-effect arose from the fact that people were saving their personal bookmarks to a central server. That central repository started to become a tagged, categorized repository of interesting stuff on the web. And people started to take interest in what other people were saving to the site. I
believe the same phenomenon will happen with social scripting. At first, people will use it for personal scripting. However, as more and more scripts are added to the repository, it will become a centralized repository of how to do stuff on the web. What started as a tool being used for personal productivity becomes a social tool with network effects.

Nearly all the work we do with our computers is invisible to everyone else. While not everything we do should be shared, I think there's a lot of useful information inherent in the websites we visit and the tasks we do online. Too many of us struggle on our own with navigating web sites, or figuring out how to accomplish something or even knowing that such a thing is possible. When we can learn from each other, everyone benefits. Together, we can make the web a friendlier, more social place.

Try CoScripter today at: http://services.alphaworks.ibm.com/CoScripter

Then tell us what you think here on the blog.  We're listening.

5 comments:

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  2. How is it different (in concept) from greasemonkey and the service provided by userscripts.org?

    ReplyDelete
  3. @Pras, there are a couple differences between CoScripter and Greasemonkey/userscripts. The main one is that CoScripter is targeted at non-programmers, while GM does require some JavaScript skill to create custom scripts. CoScripts are also designed to be easy to read and transparent to operate -- you can see CoScripter in action as it automates a website, whereas with a GM script you have to trust that it does the right thing unless you want to read the code carefully.

    On the other hand, GM is more about customizing web pages and CoScripter is more about automating process flow through web applications. So GM has more features related to removing or adding content from web pages, whereas CoScripter is more targeted at form-filling and navigating through a sequence of pages.

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