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48 Hours: The Clipothèque™ Beta

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Actually there's no beta to Clipothèque™. We don't do betas here. We find it rash to rush to write software and only after the fact actually sit down and see if any of it actually works. That's how most people work and that's downright stupid. Worse still the thought of employing unskilled users to test things when they by definition have no clue what to look for. It's a good way to get out the word about a new app but that's it. And also it's a bit devious so it's not on our table period.

Clipothèque™ is the result of an idea that was germinating for a long time. And now after the fact when the paint is already dry it's still hard to figure out what this application is. Several phrases come to mind such as 'Web 2.0.1' and 'bringing it back home' but unless you've seen the app and played with it they won't do much to give you further clues.

We've amassed 675 YouTube clips over the past year. Some people download the FLVs and then burn a ten metre high stack of CDs and then build an annex onto their houses to archive them all. Gimme gimme gimme. The cute thing about server side is the server does the dirty work and sweats the details and keeps the storage.

But there is a downside to server side and it's management. For all YouTube is - and it's a lot - your ability to manage your own personal collection of clips is a bit unwieldy. Couple this with our temporary solution - a dedicated webmail account with one line messages with subject lines and URLs - and you begin to get the picture.

The initial idea - and we're only talking ideas here and not code - was to make a simple CLIX/Xbase type of database manager with two columns of data to describe the clip and then the code itself. YouTube uses a very simple system.


Your clip code goes after that. Much like the ACP Web Services. You need but concatenate the clip code and off you go in your browser. [And in fact you can make an ACP Web Service like that but honestly it won't do you much good if you think about it.]

So a database manager then. With two columns. 'Clip' and 'Code'. And in fact the working title was 'Clipcode' for a while there. Put anything you want in the 'Clip' column and put the YouTube code in the 'Code' column. Then find some way to surf to the URLs when you want to. This gives you the advantage of having your collection of YouTube clips in one handy file which is a lot easier to manage than the web interfaces you'd otherwise have to deal with. A sort of 'Web 2.0.1' and 'Bringing It Back Home' [or 'Bringing It Back In-House'.]

So like a tennis ball the idea got tossed about and swatted back and forth for some time and in multiple directions. And nothing happened. It was on a shelf.

The actual work - when it finally took place - took less than two days. Again: this is because we use 'incremental' development here. We test as we go. We add on in small increments and test each increment thoroughly before proceeding. Perhaps a lot of people work that way but you wouldn't know it looking at their results. Our stuff comes out working because we know it's working when we release it. We test it all along. Beta testers? We don't got no beta testers! We don't need no steekin' beta testers!

But beta testers are good for design issues. We're using them now. ACP users are smart people. They're often soft spoken and 'humble' in a superior kind of way and when they actually do utter something it's most often refreshingly illustrative.

Back to the app. It's not just a simple database. That could have been enough but something happened as the time for coding grew nearer. We suddenly thought of all these other things we 'might' be able to do.

1. Clipothèque™ windows look like CLIX windows or Xbase windows. They're the same size. But you only see one column at startup and at best you can make one more column appear.

2. You add and edit entries as with CLIX and Xbase. You prune redundant records the same away too.

3. The CLIX command sheet lets you edit a command and then run it; the Clipothèque™ play sheet lets you edit a record and then 'play it'. When you click that play button your browser will open and take you to the URL in question.

4. The 'Code' column contains only the YouTube code. Not the URL. There's a special place that URL is stored. And as it turns out this is providential.

5. At any time as you're browsing through your vast collection of YouTube clips you can select as many clips as you want and then hit ⌥⌘P and scoot away in your browser to open all clips at once! This is especially cool on a good browser that opens all this in tabs. As YouTube doesn't really load that much heavy stuff it's not that much of a burden on the system (relatively speaking) and it goes rather fast. And it's got to be tried once just to see it work and to watch Safari dazzle. On a quick test with 24 URLs Safari had all 24 tabs open in less than half a second. So this is very cool.

6. The 'settings' sheet. It's here you put in your base URL ('http://youtube.com/watch?v=' for YouTube) and also a preview 'embedded' code for the same website. On YouTube in Clipothèque™ it looks like this.

<object height=Y width=X><embed height=Y src=http://youtube.com/v/@ type='application/x-shockwave-flash' width=X wmode=transparent></embed><param name=movie value=http://youtube.com/v/@></param><param name=wmode value=transparent></param></object>

There's a reason for those funny characters in there (if you can see them).

7. Adding new clips to your database is a breeze. When you have a clip you want to save you just select the URL in your location bar and drag it to your Clipothèque™ window. Clipothèque™ automatically opens the play sheet with the URL already inserted; you simply add a descriptive text of your own (YES YOU DO HAVE TO KNOW HOW TO TYPE) and click 'Save'. And it's done.

8. Now things start to get interesting. For one of those last minute thoughts was 'put up a preview window'. And there's a preview window there. The preview window uses your clip codes together with the preview code in your settings sheet to show your clip in a miniature window above your ordinary document window.

9. But here's the cool thing: you can drag this sucker to any size you want and your YouTube clip will follow along. Suddenly it's possible to use your YouTube clips in any size you want. And all you have to do to get the size you want is drag your mouse.

10. It gets better still. For this very same preview window will also open files on your local machine. Whatever Safari would understand this preview window will too as they're essentially the same thing. You get HTML files, image files (GIF, JPEG, PNG, TIFF) as well as text files - the sky's the limit. Or as one of the developers said: 'infinite flexibility'.

11. It gets better still. Naturally you can connect to more clip sites than YouTube; but you can also develop archives for sites like Flickr too. People suspect this will also work well with MP3 collections, QuickTime movie collections, and so forth. All you need to figure out is what preview code to use and all you need to remember is to use but one media type per file. There are obviously different ways to go about this (archive complete embed snippets and so forth) but this is the one we tried.

12. It gets a bit better still. For you can use Clipothèque™ to simply save URLs. Select them and surf to them automatically or open them individually and get there - or use the preview window. Using the following preview code gets you a page and lets you resize it automatically.

<iframe border=0 height=Y src=@ width=X>

13. So far you can archive, collect, preview, and play YouTube clips - with more clip sites coming - as well as image (GIF, JPEG, PDF, PNG, TIFF etc) and web page collections. And you put nothing on your local machine (your hard drive) except these miniscule property list files run by Clipothèque™. And as Scott McNealy said: 'the network is the computer'.

14. Your caches are automatically destroyed for you on exit. You don't have to worry about finding a menu item or remembering to do it yourself - Clipothèque™ takes care of it for you.

Clipothèque™ will first be available to ACP users later this month; then Xfile users; then as a 'standalone' to the 'general public'.

Clipothèque™: it's clean, it's simple, it's mostly drag and drop, it's (according to rumours) 'infinitely flexible' - and yet it took all told less than 48 hours.

Clipothèque™ artwork by Dali Rău. Copyright © Dali Rău and Rixstep. All rights reserved.

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