Yesterday eBay made a series of announcements regarding new APIs and developer tools, calling for the company to rebuild the technical guts of its site as a series of modular services, rather than a single, unified application. Today, David Berlind chipped in with an interesting analysis of web based APIs from Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and eBay becoming the new platform providers in the way that in the desktop era it was the operating systems of Windows, Mac and Unix that provided the primary platforms for applications.

In a sense what he is saying is that if we compare the API providers to Windows, or Mac, then the next step in application development is the user interfaces that are being built on top of those APIs. Microsoftware.

the Holy Grail for companies like Salesforce, eBay, Amazon, Yahoo, Google, et alia: to be in the infrastructure business but to let developers be the ones that drive adoption through innovation. Sure, if you’re one of those or other API providers, it helps to provide prototypes or something that’s minimally functional to get new users started. But when I look at where Google is going with Google Apps (of which Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets are only a part), my sense is that there are innovators out there that will come along and build user interfaces on top of Google’s APIs that are far more compelling than Google’s native interfaces.

So where does that leave the nonprofit looking to leverage current trends and forthcoming trends? For a second stop thinking of the organisation as single unfied organisation based on a single platform. Start thinking of it as a technological enabler for a cause. The tools to enable that cause are developed and then the constituents are given these tools to develop their own version of the tools on top of them. In the way that Excel allows you to develop your own spreadsheets, rather than in the way that eBay releases a new API. If your constituents are savvy enough, you can always give them an API as well.

btw if you read through to the end of David Berlind’s article one can not help but think that he is arguing that the business to be in is the business of creating a better UI. I think Joel may agree.



June 2, 2007

Micrsoftware, nothing to do with Microsoft, refers to small discrete bits of software that rely on an established piece of software or an API. A classic example of this is Joel Spolsky’s copilot project. Its a small discrete piece of software that uses the open source VNC project as its core. A piece of software that uses an established API can also be seen as microsoftware like Agent Earth which allows users to browse real-estate data by location in Google Earth. Even TubeMogule which allows users to track online video analytics across online video sites including Google Video, MetaCafe, MySpace, Revver and YouTube can be seen as microsoftware.

Developing microsoftware ensures that you have a ready audience for your product. It also often means that the heavy work is already done by the parent product and that your microsoftware is adding value via either a different interface, a mashing of two or more data sources, simplifying an existing process, adding a new process or creating new data based on the parent product. Plugins, software dependent on APIs, toolbars, widgets and software that gives the parent product a new UI can also be seen as microsoftware.