John McCann

Internet enters Lego Era

In Content workers on April 7, 2006 at 12:06 pm

An article in the New York Times titled "Software Out There" opens with the statement that the Internet has entered the Lego Era because of the nature of the tools now available to people building software that runs on the Internet. Here is the essence of the argument made in the article:

Indeed, blocks of interchangeable software components are proliferating on the Web and developers are joining them together to create a potentially infinite array of useful new programs. This new software represents a marked departure from the inflexible, at times unwieldy, programs of the past, which were designed to run on individual computers.

As a result, computer industry innovation is rapidly becoming decentralized. In the place of large, intricate and self-contained programs like Microsoft Word, written and maintained by armies of programmers, smaller companies, with just a handful of developers, are now producing pioneering software and Web-based services. These new services can be delivered directly to PC's or even to cellphones. Bigger companies are taking note.

Being in the Lego Era means that people can construct new applications by piecing together existing components and services, a process that is much quicker than writing all of those components and services from scratch. Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's Chief Technology Officer, is quoted in the article as saying that this is leading to a power shift.

"For years, vendors like Microsoft have put huge resources into tools to build composite applications," he said. "With mash-ups, the real power becomes the people who can weave the applications together."

My interpretation of this statement is that the Lego Era is part of the Participation Age: many people can now participate in the world of software development by simply mashing-up the work of others to create something new.

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