Most web developers are familiar with handling integration with other applications using APIs and messaging protocols, but we could be in for a major shift in how we connect applications with the emergence of web intents. Some demos were released earlier this year to explain the concept, which is now undergoing development in W3C for a new web standard.
Briefly, the web intent approach relies on the browser acting as a broker between websites. Each website can offer to register itself to provide a particular service for the user, such as sharing photographs. When another website wants to allow users to make use of such a service, it creates an “intent” containing the type of service to be used, and the payload data. The browser can then offer the user with a choice of which service to use.
For example, if you use Flickr and Picasa, you might allow your browser to register these sites to provide the “share image” service. If you use a drawing widget, it could then have a “save” button that uses an intent. When you click “save”, you would be offered the choice of using Flickr or Picasa for saving and sharing the image you created.
The same approach can be used to share links and clippings as well as media.
The benefits range from minor things such as reducing the clutter of “share” buttons on sites, to potentially opening up services much more widely as developers no longer need to implement integration points for services directly. This means that rather than defaulting to a few widely-adopted services, niche service providers could also fit into the ecosystem alongside the well-known brands. In higher education, for example, specialised image collection and research link management tools could have the same effective level of integration as Flickr and Digg; likewise academically-oriented reputation and recommendation services could have as ubiquitous access as the Facebook “Like” and Google “+1″ services.