Back at the Internet Week HQ, Eric Skiff from Drop.io spoke about pluggable culture and the web. Pluggable culture, according to Eric, is technology broken down into small piece that can be easily assembled to create different items. The best part about pluggability is that one doesn’t need a technological background to implement complex systems (much to the chagrin of a blogger with an engineering master’s!)
Eric introduced the idea of pluggable culture by looking at the history of open source hardware (such as the Arduino platform) and cloud computing (describing the evolution from server rooms to Amazon AWS and the resulting commoditization of server hosting.) One of the benefits of pluggability is that adding components adds diversity. This diversity yields additional providers (e.g., more server hosts competing with Amazon) and infinite replicability.
Pluggable culture on the internet is reflected largely by the prevalence of APIs. These APIs allow you to solve complex solutions with simple code that’s understandable by non-developers. For example, instead of building a new system for sign-ins and social graphs, one can now just use Facebook Connect. Other services can be implemented using APIs from Twitter, Scribd, Twilio, and others. Aggregated lists of APIs can be found easily online. Building a site or service with pluggable pieces makes for a more inexpensive process with a shorter lead time than if one were to try to reinvent the wheel (or at least redesign the car, to use Eric’s metaphor.)
What is the risk of using APIs? You are dependent on the performance of the services that you are plugging in, so you will experience a loss of service, for example, if you have a Twitter plug-in and Twitter is overcapacity. Still, with the capability to nest and stack simple programs to create complex services, pluggable culture is an appropriate one to use for web development.
When Eric asked audience for other examples, I offered WordPress (which I use for this site and my Social Media Coffeehouse site) and its ability to build a site just using themes and plug-ins. Many of you have likely used this kind of service (or something similar like Drupal) and should feel good about being part of pluggable culture.
Eric is developing a blog on the subject if you want to learn more. In the meantime, start plugging!