On March 21, 2007, David Berlind made a series of excellent points in his post "Dave Winer vs. CNET, platforms of personal expression (PPEs), and why Grandma matters". The title gives you a clue about the wide range of things David takes on in this single post! His post is a bit of a rant, (something I'm fond of doing too) and it's rather lengthy by some standards, but he makes some great points that I've been meaning to bring to your attention for a while.
David's post might be a bit technical for some, but his points reveal some profound trends and patterns that I believe are of high interest and relevance to everyone here on OCOT. (Off Course - On Target)
I'll leave you to read the first part of Berlind's post on your own, which brings attention to someone I really respect—Dave Winer—who has pioneered a long a long list of technologies (RSS, for example). Back in about 1999, David created one of the first (some would argue the original) blog technologies with a program called "Userland Radio", along with the whole notion of a desktop aggregator. I started using Radio around 2001, and discovered just how powerful the concepts of blogging and aggregating were, and how they contributed significantly to mass personalization.
Not only that, but Userland spoiled me early on with easy web page creation AND the ability to work equally well online or off. This ease of use is something we still don't find that often. In fact, I lamented about it in a previous post about the whole online/offline issues.
Pioneers rarely get their due, so I was delighted to see Dave Winer receive some long overdue and well deserved recognition for his contributions. However what I really wanted to bring your attention is found halfway through this long post when Berlind makes the great observation:
"Everyone seems to be violating the golden rule of ecosystem supremacy: He (or she) who turns Grandma into a software developer wins. Period. Have we not learned anything from Visicalc, Lotus 1-2-3 and Excel—some of the first pieces of software to do this? Think about it?”
And " ...particularly about the hard work it takes and the challenges in avoiding confusion—that is the Holy Grail. That is what it takes to turn Grandma into a software developer without her knowing it (blogging tools already turned Grandma into a Web publisher without knowing it). That is why people like Grandma are drawn to a platform of personal expression. That is why people like Grandma will stay with or leave a PPE."
I like that! "Platform of Personal Expression" It gets to the heart of mass personalization and the whole Snowflake Effect that I am so fond of ranting and raving about. I like this notion of being "Grandma friendly" and providing "Grandma glue" as a fun way to bring attention to the critical difference between invention and innovation. Invention is when something is first created, whereas innovation is more about timing—when an invention catches on and is put into mass use.
As history shows, success often does not go to the original inventor, but rather, to whomever can bring the invention to the masses. And in some cases this is a matter of when the masses are ready!
Later on in the post, Berlind notes how those who take their eyes off the prize of mass adoption usually falter and fail. Even as fabulous as Userland Radio was, you'll notice that it was not adopted by the blogging masses. I suspect most people these days have never even heard of it. Berlind also notes some recent examples of companies that appear to "get Grandma" such as yourminis and Netvibes. I strongly encourage you to check them out.
Which leads me to Berlind's key point :
" the idea behind yourminis is that anyone can build a similar Grandma-friendly widget that abstracts an API (or APIs) and share it with the other members of the yourminis community. In other words, to the extent that MySpace, Typepad, and other turnkey platforms for personal expression should be including a directory or palette of widgets from which to choose (and drag n drop), yourminis is now just such a palette, albeit a third-party one."
Netvibes and yourminis are more examples of the power of mashups. In particular they focus on the use of widgets which are little "mini apps" that typically appear as an icon or simple graphic. You can drag and drop or otherwise assemble these into a "just right" collection of functionality (a mashup). VERY Grandma friendly, and no coding required!
Even better, in terms of mass adoption, as Berlind puts it:
".... the idea behind yourminis is that anyone can build a similar Grandma-friendly widget that abstracts an API (or APIs) and share it with the other members of the yourminis community."
This killer combination of being both Grandma-friendly and sharable creates an ever expanding cycle of growth and improvement. This cycle is behind the truly revolutionary kinds of exponential growth and change we are seeing around us. I also find it noteworthy that the yourmini widgets work equally well when you drag them to your desktop OR a web site or blog! Let's hope that soon we will no longer have to make this distinction (web versus desktop) at all! As they summed it up on the recent TechCrunch post Yourminis Delivering Triple Widget Play:
"Today, with the assistance of Adobe's Apollo platform and some clever thinking Yourminis delivers a triple play of widgets: online personalized desktop widgets, actual desktop widgets and blogs widgets."
While I realize that some find it too simplistic, I'll continue to compare all of this (conceptually) to the power of a meta-model, which resembles Lego blocks wherein everything is made up of very small self-standing "blocks" that can be "snapped" together to create an infinite number of unique solutions or assemblies (aka mashups). The key characteristics of this meta model include:
- Small as possible, but not one bit smaller. Two tests determine if this "just right" degree of smallness has been achieved:
- Do the "blocks" stand by themselves as functional units?
- Are they "useless" by themselves?
While they could be used alone or by themselves (the first test of self-standing), you probably never would. As with Lego blocks, the individual blocks are as small as possible (we don't want to melt them down to liquid plastic, for example), but by themselves they are "useless". We are unlikely to ever use just one block.
- Low-level standards. With Lego blocks, the "standard" is the pins or nubs on each block. By maintaining this one absolute standard for all Lego blocks, the manufacturer has ensured that regardless of the block size, color or type, regardless of when they were made (old or new) and regardless of what specific set they might be from (space travel, undersea, medieval, etc.) ANY block can snap together with any other block.
In my experience, whether we are dealing with content, code, people (skills, knowledge, abilities), hardware, manufactured goods, or just about anything else, establishing and maintaining this Lego-like meta-model enables solutions to have the infinite scalability, and mass contribution that is at the heart of mass personalization and the Snowflake Effect.
Note, however, that this new era also brings with it a need for much more direct involvement and experiential learning, a.k.a my favorite form—learning by doing! So PLEASE do everything you can to spend as much time as possible having some "serious fun" trying these things out for yourself and with others around you.
Software should be and will be a form of personal expression, and I could not be more delighted or excited about how rapidly this is happening and how it is ushering in the Snowflake Effect of mass personalization at a truly global scale.