Thinking once more about state and synchronisation


When I registered some years back it was for a project to allow synchronisation of RSS aggregator/reader state across a number of systems. I never wrote any code because things got overtaken by events. Firstly I discovered RSS Bandit, which had a mechanism to sync state via a WebDAV server (and a number of other means). Then along came Google Reader. At first it kind of sucked, and I kept on using RSS Bandit, but a year or so later I switched to Google Reader and I’ve never looked back.

But now state synchronisation is once again looming as a problem. I want to read ebooks, listen to audiobooks and watch videos on a range of devices, and I want to be able to pick up where I left off – regardless of which device I last used.

Despite knowing that ‘it’s a trap‘ I ordered a Kindle 3G a few days back, which should be delivered by the end of the month. I’ve accumulated so many O’Reilly ebooks recently that I reckoned it was worth having a dedicated device for them. But what if I get going on a novel using it, and then decide I’d like to read a few pages on my iPod touch, or my Tablet PC, or the Android phone I’ve yet to buy?

I recently got a bunch of audiobooks from Audible via a free promotion from a UK newspaper. I’d never tried the format before, but I kind of like it – I listened to a few chapters of Matter on the way to/from a reunion event at the weekend. The Kindle should pay those books too, so how do I start from the right place without laboriously writing down the chapter and time stamp?

I should also take this opportunity to moan about Windows Media Player’s lack of a ‘resume’ function. I like to watch videos on way train ride home, but I don’t always get to complete a whole episode. If I pause an episode then I can pick up again – provided that the machine hasn’t been restarted (which happens all too often with Windows). It’s also feasible that I’d start watching a video on my laptop, and want to finish it on a media player at home, or an iPod or whatever.

The answer to all of these questions is a bookmark service in the sky.

Of course it’s never that simple. People need to agree on APIs and data formats, but it’s also not rocket science. Just to make things a little more tricky though I’d like something that isn’t trapped inside a proprietary content/player silo.

Anybody out there interested in giving this a push forward?

7 Responses to “Thinking once more about state and synchronisation”

  1. Some say the answer is ACAP:
    …others have been ignoring it since 1997.

    Apparently it can store bookmarks but it seems to be flexible and (more) useful for all sorts of other things that you might want to keep in sync between mobile devices.

    • 2 Chris Swan

      Thanks @ndy. ACAP does indeed look like a good place to start.

      • Somebody mentioned ACAP? My word.

        ACAP does work (I’ve been using it constantly for various bits and bobs since around 2003). But really, you’d do better by building something on top of pubsub-onna-jid in XMPP, if you want to do something now.

        It’s not that ACAP is a bad design, but I think you’re much more likely to get traction with something XMLish and XMPPish.

        BTW, I refer to this kind of little portable data stuff as “microdata”. Partly because its My New Word, and partly to distinguish it from documents and media (which you might also want to take with you, but probably need a different solution).

      • Thanks Dave.

        You’re spot on with the “microdata” label. This is all about references to larger documents and media that you’re already carting around on various devices.

        Something XMLish – probably, as that lets you inherit a whole bunch of pre-existing design work, especially around how to do schemas. It does introduce a parsing overhead, but that’s probably tolerable given how sophisticated the clients and their native software stacks are these days.

        On PubSub I’m more inclined towards AMQP than XMPP, but that bias almost certainly comes from being on the periphery of the AMQP community. I’m not sure that this needs something like PubSub though; WebDAV would almost certainly be enough.

        Thinking about it namespace management is probably just as important as any schema or publishing mechanism. If you can encapsulate the document/media being referenced uniquely into a filename then the “microdata” for the bookmark becomes little more than a timestamp.

  2. 5 Matt Gillard


    I solve this problem by being happily locked into apple ecosystem. Ebooks/Videos remember bookmarks between iPad/iPhone/PC.

    Would be nice to have a crossplatform solution I guess ..

    • I like the way Apple have done their bookmarking – it’s almost exactly what I’m asking for. I just don’t want to sell my soul to Steve to get it.

      Anybody know if it works on Apple TV too?

  3. It seems that I’m not the only one thinking about this problem. Open Bookmarks is seeking to address the issues that I raise (and a little more besides). For a full description take a look at this blog post on the topic.

    Let’s hope that it doesn’t take too long for the Apples and Amazons of the world to step forward with support.

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