Modular Software… Or Modular Communities?
from the not-really-there-yet dept
If you’ve been around software for any length of time, you’ve heard about the concept of “modular software” (or one of the many other names its gone under). This is because it’s been talked about for almost as long as software has existed. The idea is that programmers would create basic software “components” that others would then take and clip together like legos to build their own offerings. The problem is that this has almost never worked. Sure, maybe a few components here or there, but despite repeated promises, developers often found it was easier in the end to just build things themselves. Of course, more recently, this has taken a web twist — with what was formerly called “web services” having been given a shinier, more marketing friendly name in the form of “Web 2.0.” The NY Times is now claiming that the age of Lego-style software is finally upon us, as this new revolution in software and software development is set to change the entire industry.
It sounds nice… but is it really true? The “changes” in software development that the article notes really have almost nothing to do with modular software. Instead, things like distributed teams and the ability to work from home have a lot more to do with always-on, high speed internet connections and free open-source technologies (which don’t quite fit the mold of modular software, other than setting up the stack on which to develop). There are very few examples given in the article of companies that are really building actual businesses out of these sorts of software “mashups.” It seems like the Times may be missing the point here. It’s not that the software has become easier to develop thanks to open APIs and such, but that software can now connect into online services with much more ease. It’s those services that are not easily replicated. In other words, the challenge isn’t about being able to easily reuse software, but to use the connectivity to tap into resources that can’t just be built (such as communities or large data stores). The problem in the past was that, when it came down to it, the need for modular software was never that great, because it was often easier/better/more flexible to just write your own software. What makes some of these newer offerings more interesting (though, admittedly, the interesting ones are often mixed in with an awful lot of junk) is that they’re able to tap into actual communities and build on top of them. So far, though, there’s been a lot more talk than real businesses to come out of this realm. So, not only is the Times article declaring the wrong thing, it seems like they may still be a bit early.