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Wednesday, January 5, 2005

My 2005 prediction

There's no real need to make a set of New Year predictions when Adam Rifkin already said it all in his pre-Christmas posting on Weblications. This beautifully crafted weblog posting is itself a demonstration of its central theme; that simply linking together chunks of capability from a variety of sources is frequently far more effective than building something discrete and whole that stands alone.

Adam, a distributed e-commerce expert with a distinguished track record that includes being a co-founder of KnowNow, makes his point by bringing together a wide-ranging collection of musings from other sources. Here's a concisely abridged sampling:

  • He starts off by quoting from Paul Graham's book, Hackers and Painters: "... Because web-based software assumes nothing about the client, it will work anywhere the Web works ... Users will like you because your software just works ..."
  • Then he makes the connection that Adam Bosworth was writing much the same thing back in 1998: "... simplicity and flexibility beat optimization and power in a world where connectivity is key ..." He notes that Adam added a crucial second point: "... HTML had the serendipitous effect of forcing application designs to partition the application ... the lesson is that applications should be loaded in coarse-grained chunks."
  • Adam switches back to another quote from Paul Graham that some may find contentious but which is a prediction that I for one will happily stand by, even put money on: "For much ... of the work IT does, IT is like children building sand castles on the beach and watching the tide roll in. That tide is highly customizable web based solutions, today, perhaps Talaris tomorrow ..."
  • At this point, Adam inserts some commentary of his own: "I believe Adam's journey represents the evolution of the software industry over the last two decades ... to collaborative applications available to anyone from anywhere on the Internet, leveraging an increasingly-connected and ever-faster world. The web is the platform that subsumes the others."
  • Then he's back to his synthesis, now quoting Jason Kottke speculating about the Google operating system, or 'GooOS' for short: "Who needs Windows when anyone can have free unlimited access to the world's fastest computer running the smartest operating system? Mobile devices don't need big, bloated OSes ... they'll be perfect platforms for accessing the GooOS ..."
  • From there he segues directly into Charles Ferguson writing in MIT Tech Review: "... Google now operates a global infrastructure of more than 250,000 Linux-based servers of its own design ..."
  • And then he's soaring: "... in less than two years Google will have a million-node computer operating as a single, optimized operating system for web-based applications. Google gets it ... 2004 is the year that Google led the charge in making applications that showcase The Web Way -- using just the simple and flexible mix of dynamic HTML, JavaScript, style sheets, and a DOM-capable browser -- respectable and cool and (most importantly:) useful enough ..."

There's much, much more in Adam's posting — several more lengthy quotes, from Joyce "troutgirl" Park, Jon Udell, Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah and Slashdot, discussing what Google has demonstrated with GMail and Google Suggest to show what can be done in a browser client with some smart client-side Javascript and a well-primed server. So in the end, Paul Graham's remark in the opening quotation about "the lameness of web pages as a UI" is shown to be no longer the case, and Adam is able to conclude that "we've turned a corner, and that more 'only obvious in hindsight' web-based application tricks will be developed in the years to come -- thereby solidifying The Web As A Platform."

What I found fascinating about Adam's essay is that it mostly consists of other people's writing ... at least 85 percent of it aren't his words, and if you really want to explore the ideas in it, you'll end up following links out to other articles too — and that that's a kind of writing that couldn't exist before the advent of weblogs. Try and publish an article like that in a magazine, and you'll be accused of plagiarism if not copyright infringement. Yet we take it for granted as a totally acceptable form of writing on the Web, one that — despite the apparent paucity of original content — does indeed make a valuable and original contribution in the way that it synthesizes those other elements and then stands on their shoulders to move the debate to a new level.

No doubt there are still people who will argue that this sort of writing somehow isn't 'real writing', that assembling a compilation of excerpts from what other people have published can't possibly add any new value of any consequence. Similarly, I'm sure that lots of other people in the year to come will vehemently argue that linking together discrete lumps of web-based functionality to create new applications somehow isn't as valid as writing 'real software'. My prediction is that, by the end of 2005, there will be practical applications out there we can point to that will prove them wrong.

posted by Phil Wainewright 8:29 PM (GMT) | comments | link

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