Levers and Fulcrums: Where Does the Rock Stop?

As I was eating breakfast here in Paris, I was thinking more about Jon’s theory of Levers and Fulcrums. Originally, I’d been thinking about the appeal of AJAX vs. its capability to create a really smart client experience. But Jon got me thinking in a different direction.

AJAX is surely one of many levers. I’m not sure what the fulcrum is. Nor am I sure what we’re trying to move with all this Archimedean machinery. AJAX is simply a technology that makes it a bit easier to have Web experiences more closely approximate smart client experiences. It’s interesting because it is flexible, ubiquitous, and, thanks to a plethora of frameworks, not too hard to program. Google is simply a service provider that makes money off of advertising. (OK, Google is a bit more than that, but bear with me.) So putting AJAX and Google together means that developers can put together Google’s services with other data sources to create new experiences — everything from http://www.googlism.com to http://www.chicagocrime.org.

But. It’s interesting that people can do this. It’s interesting that they can share their results relatively easily. But how is the sustainability going to work? Software ecosystems are some of the most complex business interactions around. Yes, on paper they look simple, but the success of any ecosystem (its growth and sustainability) is ultimately based on a combination of business and technical factors. On the business side, there needs to be a balance between making money and allowing tinkering, between making money and optimizing for growth, between making money and letting others make money. On the technical side, there needs to be some kind of roadmap — a technical direction — that takes into consideration things like feature requests/needs and versioning (the bane of any software ecosystem: compatibility vs. innovation).

So while it’s interesting that you can hack Google maps with AJAX, I’m now wondering how that ecosystem becomes self-sustaining. Or maybe it continues to be a “creative commons” as Jon alluded to in an email to me.

Update: I just noticed a Slashdot post from June 8 saying that Google was asking people who’ve created some of these Maps sites to take them down for violating the Google terms of use.

In any event, I get the fulcrum and the lever now. But where will the rock stop once we’ve dislodged it?

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