I wanted to post a response to John Dowdell's recent post, but I thought it would be of more value to respond as a full blog post as opposed to a comment. Here is the original post on Browser Divergence.
I had this exact experience today with an audio player, yet it was more from the perspective of a combined experience rather than one offering. While I was working today, I was trying to keep up with the Olympics. The Canadian Women's hockey team was playing in the gold medal game, and I wanted to know how it was playing out.
I put on our local sports radio stream The Team 1200, They were not broadcasting the game live just giving updates here and there. So to try and keep up I also had CBC's live online Olympic coverage up. It is done as a blog that gets updated whenever something of signifigance happened. (As an aside, the live olympic coverage has been less than satisfactory online from all content providers I have visited, but I will save that issue for another post.).
While following this coverage, I was also working on a Flash Web Application called PermissionTV. I was adding and debugging features for most of the day, and when my radio coverage of the game got boring or they started to talk about baseball trades (I'm Canadian, hockey first!) or what have you, I switched over to listening to the latest TWiT Podcast in ITunes.
All of this activity was taking place in my browser of choice "Firefox"(except for the podcast) all at the same time.
My stream was running in one popup window that I allowed, while ITunes ran in another window. the olympic page was in a tab in my main browser window and everytime I wanted to see if anything had occured in the last minute I would flip to the page, press refresh, and sigh with disgust with such a futile system for something so simple. Next was an instance of the PermissionTV web player running from a local staging server, and sometimes a second instance running in another tab of the application running from a live staging server.
So keep in mind that what I am actually doing is trying to develop a Flash application in and amongst all this. I have Flash Open, and it has about 5 actionscript files open for editing, I have the source control application VSS open as well, and to top this off good old Outlook is running in the mix as well, cause you got to keep on top of your clients and in touch with project managers.
So basically it is tempered chaos running on my machine throughout the day. This is one reason I hate popups; if it takes up slots on my taskbar when it doesn't need to I usually get agitated.
Tabbed browsing was an awesome innovation. Firefox does it nicely, and I can easily have a few sites, or a few pieces of media going at once and save valueable space in my taskbar. However, when I was trying to listen/maintain the content in the midst of my whirlwind of compiles and tests of the app I was working on, I kept closing browser windows by mistake, duplicating them sometimes, etc.
I actually did get frustrated today with all this, and that is why I decided to write this long explanation of something so silly. I didn't really feel that I had control of my experience the way I wanted it. While many modern browsers today offer alot of customizability through extensions and the like, experiences on the web are locked into a document centric paradigm, and documents don't really play very nice with each other.
I am a power user of the web, and I am more concerned with the cumulative experience of many offerings than I am with individual offerings most of the time.
Browser divergence is an issue that is related to the original poster's problem but the bigger issue at play is the fact that browsers do not facilitate a combined experience very well.
The reason he wants to put his audio in a popup is simply because he is putting himself in the user's shoes and imaging a likely use case. That use case is an experience that will most definitely be a combined one. Not many people sit at a screen staring at nothing while listening to audio, and that is definitely truer the longer the audio.
He wants to give the user the ability to listen and at the same time go about their usual business. Due to all of those people that have abused the only mechanism available to achieve this, by throwing us up unwanted ads on viagra or poker, we have lost the ability to really facilitate a credible combined experience.
So now you see efforts like Songbird. An interesting idea to mix web browsing with listening. Good shot at the combined experience. I support the effort, yet in this case I think there is a little to much effort on being "Alot like Itunes"(Way too much alike).
How about efforts like Flock? Now that is more like it. Full on browsers being built to focus on the need for combined experience and targeted at a specific user type. This to me is brilliant, viewing web browsing vertically rather than horizontally.
So again, the top of the pile for me is Adobe/Macromedia Central. Divergence?, how about redefining the browsing experience. I still have stuck hard behind this product and it's vision as many people that read my posts know. I still think that when Tim Orielly is done defining the Web 2.0 movement, and the browser vendors start piecing it all together in their software, they will realize that it looks alot like this little application browser released in 2002-2003(?) that everybody crapped on.
It is really what I want though. I want an enviornment where I don't have to rely on some up and coming web developer to remix the olympic radio coverage(however scarce) with the olympic scorecard into something that makes usable sense, because my browser will easily facilitate it for me. My browser will hopefully be focused on delivering me a service and not a document. As a developer I can focus on building my application as well as offering it's functionality up to play in a combined experience.
So bring on the divergence, the more divergence that occurs the faster we will get to the result that we really actually want.
The reason that divergence feels so bad is because the document paradigm has beaten us all into submission. The majority of web content is published as documents and not as "content" and the end user has very limited control over their web browsing experience. We as web developers have always felt like the entire experience was under our control.
Browser vendors are working for their users to give them what they want and that is more control. Right now that begins to make life hard for traditional web developers. More and more developers have to accept divergence and design accordingly, slowly letting go of the control they once had over the experience.
--I keep adding to this as I go --
Divergence is also at the heart of the remixable web. What about RSS or deeper even, XML? RSS/XML does not suffer any setback from divergence. Web Services (SOAP/XML RPC) also do not lose value in a world of divergence. In fact they thrive and grow with it in focus, and promote more divergence to occur.
Pointing back to efforts like Songbird and Flock, I must say that I am excited about these efforts because they will help push traditional web publishing into the Web 2.0 future as is. These efforts will quickly highlight all of the major flaws in the HTML "document" approach and prompt a change in best practices that will hopefully fix many of the problems I was experiencing earlier today.