Why The Web Platform Matters: It Enables Innovation

from the watch-this-space dept

While I’ve been talking up the importance of “the web platform” for years, some folks here were a bit confused about my recent post concerning the launch of Google’s AppEngine. Some couldn’t see how it was different than basic webhosting and asked for clarification on why this could be a big deal. So I wanted to dive a little deeper into why a web platform really is so important. Just as I was starting to write this up, I spotted Rich Skrenta’s fantastic post on AppEngine where he says it’s (finally) the web equivalent to Hypercard. That’s the perfect analogy. Hypercard was a true enabling platform. It suddenly made it incredibly easy to create quick apps and be able to share them and make them useful. It bundled everything you needed in one system and made it all “just work.” It turned app creation into something almost anyone could do with a little training — and applications, ideas, companies and (eventually) industries grew out of that. The same thing can happen with a true web platform, but to an even greater level (and, I’ll state here that it’s too early to call AppEngine that true web platform, but it looks like it has the potential).

In a way, it’s related to the other holy grail we’ve discussed in the past: situated software. This is more personal software. Basically, it’s software that anyone can create for their special needs. It takes the programming out of the hands of the few and gives it to the many, which allows many new ideas to flow and totally unexpected and useful applications to come out in the end. When we first talked about situated software, we noted that it didn’t need to scale — but if it can also scale, then things get even more interesting. This isn’t to say that AppEngine suddenly makes it easy to program. Not at all. But, it’s heading in that direction. Purists will complain (of course they’ll complain) that this will lead to a ton of crap, but that’s the same argument made by journalists slamming bloggers. Of course it’ll lead to a ton of crap, but it’ll also lead to a ton of really interesting, fascinating and useful things that’ll rise up out of that crap. It’ll also lead to a lot of innovation and, potentially, totally unexpected and different ways to use the internet. And that should be exciting.

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Comments on “Why The Web Platform Matters: It Enables Innovation”

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Mark Murphy (profile) says:

On the path to Hypercard, maybe...

The problem with the Hypercard-Google AppEngine comparison is that it is too skewed towards solving the back-end problem.

AppEngine does indeed greatly simplify a lot of things you want in a Web application (database, authentication, etc.). But, at the end of the day, you’re still writing Python and generating Web pages.

That’d be like Hypercard minus the GUI.

Suffice it to say, “that dawg don’t hunt”. Slinging HTML around is still way outside the skill set of the “Excel is my database” crowd, possibly the closest popular analog we have to Hypercard for situated software, sad to say.

Now, if you take the JotSpot…er, I mean…Google Sites model, where people can edit pages and insert pictures and stuff using “normal-looking” tools, then let them drop down into AppEngine/Python “in-page” to perform the calculations that drive some on-page widget, then you have Hypercard for the Web: gradual complexity as you need it, vs. forced complexity at the outset.

Nathan Ekstrom says:

There are other web platforms out there

I’m trying to understand why what Google did with AppEngine is revolutionary. It seems like Media Temple has already been doing it for a while with fewer restrictions, of course it isn’t free. Then there is Sales Force and App Exchange, or Net Suite, or Bungee Connect. It just seems like the only reason that what they are doing with AppEngine is a big deal is because they are Google and not because they did anything new or particularly impressive.

David Hertog (user link) says:

Excellent post....

Absolutely. Eric Alterman, the founder of my company (KickApps), conceived of our product as a Web Platform from the outset. KickApps enables the wide distribution of applications—from social networking and UGC to widgets and programmable video players. By supporting all major plug-in standards, offering a full roster of APIs, and by supporting all application with media management, member management and reporting, KickApps has evolved into what we call a “container-to-go”. In short, KickApps provides a practical means by which any website can easily deploy their own applications, third-party application and our standard roster of KickApps applications.

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