So far the primary theme of the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco seems to be openness and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), which I defined in our Web 2.0 Framework as “A defined interface to a computer application or database that allows access by other applications.” Web companies new and old are announcing APIs that provide access to the data that resides on their site.
ReadWriteWeb writes about the next frontier after ubiquitous APIs, an interview of Web 2.0 keynoter Max Levchin focuses on the implications of APIs on every application, and Tim O’Reilly in his keynote says that the paradox is that applications built on open, decentralized networks are leading to new concentrations of power.
In the last weeks I’ve been looking across what is available on APIs, and it is quite extraordinary. Driven significantly by the impetus of Google’s leadership, over the last couple of years the industry has taken a massive turn towards openness, making it hard to run online initiatives any other way.
I am finding myself completely staggered by the possibilities. There are so many ways that this vast trove of information can be used in new and innovative applications. ReadWriteWeb’s article provides a list of the ways APIs can be used. Some of the promising areas I see include:
Content aggregation. Despite the existing proliferation of blog and feed aggregators, there are many more opportunities to create highly specialized content aggregators, bringing together the web’s most relevant content in niche domains.
Collaborative filtering. The richness of information about people’s content preferences available from something like FriendFeed (or the individual feeds that go into it) make it possible to correlate taste across media and genres.
Latent social networks: Suggesting friends or connections based not just on profile or musical tastes, but an integrated view of preferences and activities. This could be particularly powerful in dating.
In short, the web is now laid almost entirely open. The tools to gather and bring together the information available across the web are readily available. Now, more than at any time in history, good ideas are the primary currency. When any idea can be easily implemented with almost no constraints, the quality of the idea wins. There will be no shortage of ideas on what to do with the Wide Open Web (WOW). As I wrote in Chapter 1 of Living Networks (just relaunched in an Anniversary Edition), in discussing the sexual life of ideas:
Ideas don’t like being alone. In fact they like copulating promiscuously with any other idea in sight. There is no such thing as a virgin birth in the world of ideas. Ideas are always born from other ideas: interacting, mating, and procreating. This often orgiastic coupling takes place in the fertile substrate which is the human mind. Our minds are hotbeds of unspeakable activities—ideas have a life of their own, but they need somewhere to carry on their flirtations and breeding.
Today the substrate in which ideas procreate is the web, enabled by the recent massive shift to openness. It is mind boggling to even try to imagine what will be born out of this potential for innovation. The next phase of the web will be driven by how we take advantage of the extraordinary world of the Wide Open Web.