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What is Pancake?
Pancake is a new Mozilla Labs project in which we're exploring the following questions:
- How can we make it easier for people to quickly get to the content and information they care about?
- Is there value in modeling and structuring web navigation in new ways -- rather than bookmarks, history, windows and tabs, what if navigation was organized by topic of interest, or things recommended by people of interest?
- If navigation is modeled by topics and people, what would be possible in the area of intelligent recommendations?
- What opportunities are created by touch interfaces to make using the web more productive, engaging and fun?
- Can we use HTML5 to create a web navigation experience that works on all of the devices in our lives?
We've started to investigate and develop some of these ideas by building an iPad app backed by a web service. We call it Pancake.
Pancake combines an iPad app with a web service to create a different way of navigating the web, making it easier and faster for you to get to the content you care about. We're still in the earliest stages of the project, however, and the initial version of Pancake will be both a prototype of an app and a platform for future experimentation.
Ultimately, we want you to be able to use Pancake on every modern platform that supports HTML5, giving you full access to and control over your web, everywhere.
The initial version of Pancake focuses on:
- Making better use of your search and navigation history to make it easier to find things on and navigate around the web.
- Integrating your social streams (Twitter and Facebook) to make your socially shared content part of your core web experience.
- Optimizing your searches so a single search returns results from your navigation history and your social streams, as well as from the web as a whole.
While we have an initial version of Pancake, our work has really only begun.
First, we're going to spend a lot of time talking to users and doing usability studies so we can better understand what's working, what's not, and how our initial assumptions are being challenged. We'll use this information to further tweak the existing app and to devise new experiments.
Next, we're going to start experimenting around the ideas of social and discovery -- search is useful, but we're increasingly relying on our social networks, sharing, and recommendations to find the stuff we're really interested in on the web. How can we make that easier, simpler and more fun?
Beyond that we're going to explore more broadly around what else is possible when your data is in the cloud and part of the fabric of the web itself. What happens when the web can shape itself to fit your needs and become something that learns and changes to become intensely personalized for you over time? And what does it mean when that personalized web is as ubiquitous, accessible and portable as your email?
Then, in the longer-term, we want to start thinking about what will be possible if we have the anonymized aggregate web data of a large number of users.
Current experimentation themes
Some of the themes & ideas we're already starting to explore are:
- Your web, everywhere you are
- You should be able to access an optimized version of your web on every modern web-enabled device and platform, whether it's your phone, your tablet, your laptop, your desktop, your TV.
- Improved searching
- Search is overly complicated and fragmented. We want to simplify search by combining results from the web, your navigation history and your social streams, as well as making those results context- and content-aware when possible.
- Simplified social sharing
- Sharing content on the web should be fast and simple regardless of source, medium, or platform -- you should be able to quickly and easily share an article, photo, or video with any number of people across any number of services, from any device.
- Content & context awareness
- Pancake could potentially optimize your view of the web based on the nature of the content you're viewing, your location, or the time of day.
- Reunifying the web
- All of your browsers and apps and devices should feed back into your personal data store, giving you a single unified web history. And your web should always be exactly as you left it so you can simply pick up where you left off, regardless of location or device.
- Magical device-to-device interactions
- You should be able to do interesting things between your devices, and between your device and someone else's. For example, you should be able to easily and intuitively use your tablet to drive the web being displayed on your TV, or send an article to someone sitting across the room.
Future blue sky ideas
The ideas above are just a few examples of what might be possible given a single person's data. Things get even more interesting when we start thinking about what's possible with the anonymized aggregate web data of hundreds of millions of users:
- We could build an insanely powerful content discovery & recommendation engine -- maybe even bringing serendipity back to the web.
- We could build a "people discovery" engine and help people connect who would otherwise have never known about each other.
- We could evolve "social" to be more meaningful, more real, and more useful.
- We could develop smarter pathfinding and navigation based on where people have been before and how they really use the web.
- Similarly, we could give users "skip ahead" options based on what we know about routes and pathing, making web navigation much more efficient.
And so forth -- the possibilities are endless, really, and we've barely scratched the surface.
We won't necessarily do all of these things, and there are dozens of other potentially revolutionary things we could experiment with that aren't on this list. This is what Pancake is all about -- leading edge experimentation and exploration in a world of where the web is everywhere.
About data and privacy
Storing user data can be a controversial subject, and this is something we understand and respect. Mozilla has six core privacy principles that guide our handling of data. We apply these to any activity that involves collecting, using, or retaining personal data from our users, employees, and contributors. For more information on how we arrived at these principles, you can read our blog post from January 12, 2011: Mozilla's Privacy and Data Operating Principles.
Pancake is a wholly opt-in system and anything we do with your data is entirely in keeping with Mozilla's strong stance on user sovereignty, security, and privacy. Pancake's online functionality requires that we store and use some of your data. That data remains yours, but we are exploring new ideas and ways to use that data to give you an amazing web experience.