Integrating web applications

We all use web apps. Google Maps or Mapquest, Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail, Basecamp and FogBugz. The ubiquity of these services has reached the point where it is increasingly useful to point to them from other applications, web or native. Mac OS X’s Address Book and Dashboard Yellow Pages both point to Mapquest.

Mac OS X Hints has a hack to point Dashboard at Google Maps instead, but what I’d really like is system-wide settings for important classes of web applications. My default search engine, maps, or photo management apps could all benefit from this.

Sadly, even on the desktop — where native apps can easily register for protocol handlers and play nice with others — the situation is often closed. The “Lookup in Dictionary” command in Tiger’s Safari is hard-coded to Dictionary.app, instead of checking what other app might have registered to handle dict:/// URLs. If dict:/// was replaced by http://www.dictionary.com/, it becomes even more extensible. But in Tiger, third-party developers who have a great dictionary application or web site are obsoleted without a user choice.

This problem will only become more exagerated over time. Every app that could potentially exchange data, whether web-based or not, should have an integration story. If the OS doesn’t want to help this effort, perhaps an open framework in the spirit of the original Internet Config can fill the need.