Musings on open-ness, extensibility and the writeable web

For me, it is increasingly the case that a lot of the best software is open and extensible, at least to an extent. The inspiration for this post came when I was playing with the photo sharing software and service from Jalbum last week, but it is true for a wide range of companies, from blogging platforms through social networks to enterprise plays like Salesforce.

Blogging/CMS software from WordPress.org (not WordPress.com) is for me perhaps the best example out there at the moment – the code is open source, which is about as open as it can get, but more significantly the architecture enables themes, plugins, and widgets which radically alter the look, feel and functionality of sites built with WordPress.

Plugins and themes are built by anyone with CSS skills who wants to add something to the WordPress community or customise their own site.  Then people like me find them either via the wordpress site (a very important search and discovery mechanism) or via the open web.

We upload them to our blogs and can alter the code ourselves to further customise/extend the functionality.

For example I have been building a site this week dedicated to promoting the cause of European venture capital (of which more later) and I chose from themes – determining the colour, the number of columns, the use of images and many other elements in the site.  I looked closely at probably 15 different options of the hundreds available before I made my choice.

Next I will customise the site via plugins which control the way comments are handled and the site can be updated, among other things.  Then finally I will get my hands a (little bit) dirty by adding some code to customise the appearance a little bit further – e.g. by adding some logos.

Many of you, and certainly any hackers out there, will be wondering what is new about this, and maybe noting that the open-source community has been operating in this fashion for a long time now.  Well, the new thing is how easy this is becoming.  I would say it is approaching mass market easy.  In the refresh I did of this blog last week I was able to accomplish twice as much in half the time as when I last did an update around nine months ago.

Indeed the way people customise their Myspace profiles is arguably a mass market version of what I have been doing on my blog.

Which brings me to the writeable web.  As software all software comes to be delivered online open-ness and extensibility leads us naturally in this direction.  So much so that I am starting to think of the writeable web as the sort of meta-trend I would like to get some money behind.

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  • I think the more recent changes to making software more accessible have been in the degrees of involvement. Previously it was picking a template style – or – hacking one together from scratch. No inbetween, no learning curve, just high level or low level involvement.

    Now, you can pick a style, tinker with the elements, add widgets, dig into the style sheet (much easier to tweak than editing ALL the templates for example), connect to other data feeds, re-use the outputted content in other software or sites …all the way to digging into code.

    This smooth transition from shallow to deep involvement, even if you break things and have to reinstall on the way, is really enabling many more people to ‘do their thing’ now. It’s great!

  • I think the more recent changes to making software more accessible have been in the degrees of involvement. Previously it was picking a template style – or – hacking one together from scratch. No inbetween, no learning curve, just high level or low level involvement.

    Now, you can pick a style, tinker with the elements, add widgets, dig into the style sheet (much easier to tweak than editing ALL the templates for example), connect to other data feeds, re-use the outputted content in other software or sites …all the way to digging into code.

    This smooth transition from shallow to deep involvement, even if you break things and have to reinstall on the way, is really enabling many more people to ‘do their thing’ now. It’s great!