Googler Gregor Hohpe is convinced a grassroots revolution is happening among the millions of application developers whose work powers the internet - and he's not about to get in their way. As one of the internet giant's leading software engineers and developer advocates, Mr Hohpe used a speech at the JAOO conference in Sydney to spell out much of the reasoning behind how Google sees software being delivered across the web using a concept known as cloud computing.
Delivery of applications over the internet is an area of keen interest to businesses because it offers the potential to reduce costs dramatically by circumventing the need for big capital commitments such as buying hardware and up-front software licensing and maintenance fees.
One trend Mr Hohpe is backing is the so-called copy-and-paste development, whereby thousands of smaller developers upload their creations to the equivalent of social networking websites so they can then be downloaded by interested parties who use them to construct their own customised applications.
Even though many developers have sought to protect the copyright on their creations, Mr Hohpe said that people were now willing to openly publish the internal workings of their creations (called source code) so they could be widely cloned.
One reason for the shift is that developers can gain much faster access to a far broader audience willing to try out their creations, a process that quickly establishes what the merits of, and real demand for, software features and functions could be.
"How many clones you have [is] a measure of the quality and popularity of your code; it's [both] a marketplace of source code and a social network, which is really, really cool," Mr Hohpe said.
Another test that online businesses face is that websites built on user-generated content or information (such as Flickr, Facebook and MySpace) are being challenged by consumers who push their own innovations and improvements back onto service providers.
Users are also shying away from putting applications on their own machines, preferring to keep their programs as a simple internet address.
"If you have to install it or download it, it's already yesteryear," Mr Hohpe said.
One user-generated application, or mash-up, which Mr Hohpe said took him about 30 minutes to construct was an RSS alert feed that scoured Amazon.com for comments posted by shoppers about his book.
"It means I don't have to go there all the time. When it happens, I get it," he said.
But the outbreak of democratic-style citizen developers appears unlikely to overthrow established business-software stalwarts like IBM, Oracle or SAP in the near future.
Most businesses will not allow such new web applications to harvest their internal data to make them work.
Another issue is that citizen-coding remains largely unregulated because is not maintained, standardised, secure or auditable - factors Mr Hohpe said meant it was regarded somewhere between ad hoc or opportunistic to toy-like.
"If the tools are simple enough, there is a payback," Mr Hohpe said. "There is return on investment on a [micro-economic] level."
Fairfax Business Media
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