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Open the Silos

First we connected terminals to mainframes in a hub and spoke model.
Then we connected the spokes.

But the connectivity was highly limited–sending files, accessing an application, maybe accessing a central database in the old client-server model.

Then came the web and we went back to the hub and spoke model, but on a different scale and with different user interfaces.

Then came peer to peer software, where you could connect directly to me without a server in between.

But in each of these, there were technologies, data, applications, and data in silos: each limited to activity within its own container, with perhaps limited connectivity.

Then we came to the current but unfinished phase of converting from closed silos to interconnected ones on a per application basis, largely through APIs, and now evolving to interconnectedness through sets of open APIs that open the door to discrete functionality within the apps.

Much more data is available and accessible. Access to the data is much simpler, though many tech companies keep that access to a restricted level, afraid of how an open approach might undermine them.

In many cases, we call the connectedness sharing. It’s a great word–it implies generosity, but there’s reciprocation in sharing. On Facebook, we share our networks, which can then interact without our management of the connections.

On Soundcloud we share music files.

On Twitter we share pithy sentiments, links, photos, much like Facebook.

Looking at our personal data, we can now share our credit card transactions. I’m not sure why anyone would do this, but it opens up the credit card info silo, which can be very powerful for analysis and influence marketing.

It will take another decade, perhaps, to get to the point where any silo exists by choice, not by poor design or technological limitations.

It will look much more like this, where each function is available, each piece of data could be grabbed and paired with another and then processed by each function, organized not just by its owner, but by the interconnected crowd which might remix it into something entirely new.

Maybe call that creative reuse. We can’t re-use or re-purporse what we can’t access.

We will optionally share every activity and piece of data on our smartphones, which will no longer be called that in all likelihood.

Any device. Each device could also share its processing resources, like SETI, and perhaps we’ll enable that in exchange for lower bills.

The technology is already there (see node.js for iOS); the adoption is not universal.

The company with the highest market cap is Apple. It’s also one of the most closed. I don’t have access to your iTunes songs from another app. I can’t really design an app that accesses that, or your usage a la Spotify.

Google is selectively siloed.

Microsoft is highly siloed, but is progressively moving to a more open model.

And Oracle, Oracle is taking Apple’s lead, and slowly but steadily reducing its participation in the open source world and limiting more, not less.

There are all highly profitable companies–the biggest in the tech world–and there’s something to that. Just because you can open up everything doesn’t mean it will make you money.

Are they in danger of being overtaken by the open, interconnected world? Sure–as long as the new disruptors serve their customers better–and make the path to adoption much easier.

So what’s still in silos that once opened can inspire entirely new generations of open, interconnected applications? And why would you do it?

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