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Google Web Intents Promises Better Online Sharing

Chrome developer feature makes communication between different online services a lot easier.

One of the most compelling features available to Android developers, Android Intents, is finally available to Web developers, through a project called Web Intents.

Web Intents, like its Android-based antecedent, is a framework for client-side service discovery and inter-application communication, to use the boilerplate description provided by Google developer advocate Paul Kinlan.

Kinlan first announced the project in December 2010. Google said it would integrate Web Intents into Chrome last summer and also said it is working with Mozilla to integrate a similar Mozilla-backed effort.

[ Have you had trouble finding great Android apps? Read 10 Android App Hidden Gems. ]

Web Intents arrived in developer versions of Google Chrome earlier this month. The project aims to simplify the process of sharing data and services across apps. This isn't particularly difficult for Web developers, if the sharing is done through a standard protocol, like JSON. But if you want to hook your Web-based messaging system to Twitter, for example, you have to do so through Twitter's API. And for each subsequent integration of this sort, you typically have to write code for a different API.

This need to customize connections between apps is why you see websites festooned with buttons that provide similar sharing services on different websites.

It would, of course, be easier if functions like sharing could be made generic. You could then use a single button to share to Facebook or Google+ or any social network at which you maintained an account. That's what Web Intents intends.

But Web Intents goes beyond link sharing. Kinlan's goal with the project is to allow Web developers to create apps that can communicate with each other without specially tailored code. Some of the use cases he envisions include: allowing browser users to select a custom search engine without a specific plug-in (Chrome and Firefox offer 10 or so pre-installed options); a print button that could deliver files to any cloud service provider or remote printer without a specific driver; and the ability to easily add photo-editing capabilities from one Web service to any other Web app.

The default set of Intents includes the following actions: Discover, Share, Edit, View, Pick, Subscribe, and Save. Eventually, it could include options like Purchase, which would allow websites to work with a variety of payment processors, without the need for vendor-specific implementations.

Web Intents can be tested using with Google Chrome's Developer or Canary builds, by entering chrome://chrome/settings in the browser search bar and checking the Web Intents box. The Web page at http://demos.webintents.org/ offers examples of Web Intents in action to those with the appropriate version of Chrome.

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