Another tenuous analogy dreamed up during insomnia and served up during holiday dead time…
There’s a funny little phenomenon in biological evolution that makes it possible for very cool things to happen. And most people have never heard of it. I’ll introduce it using mitochondria.
Mitochondria are the power packs of your cells turning oxygen into energy. Without them, getting out of bed in the morning would be impossible. They are rather self-contained and even have their own DNA (which you only get from your mother’s side). The mitochondria enjoy the comfort and reproductive advantages of the cell while the cell gets a boost that would put Red Bull to shame. It’s a cosy arrangement but it raises the question of how it evolved, since of course it DID evolve. Current thinking suggests that rather than the mitochondria popping into existence inside the cell via mutation or crossover it actually had a previous existence outside the cell and was swallowed up at some point. It’s one example of the major transitions in evolution.
Evolution by sticking simpler things together rather than messing up complex ones.
I just installed the Firefox plugin that integrates my favourite ToDo list app with my favourite webmail app, Remember The Milk and Gmail respectively. When I say ‘integrates ‘ I mean seamlessly. If Google themselves had just added this feature they would have renewed my respect but the fact that it comes from two guys and a monkey demands awe. The juxtoposition of the ToDo list with the inbox is blastingly obvious with hindsight being as that is a major source of tasks and now I can’t see myself doing without. Clearly Google needs to extend this gift to all users (regardless of browser) but how?
Flickr shows an alternative to a straight acquisition. It has always been deficient of any photo-editing tools such as the excellent Picnik. This was until Flickr did the smart thing and integrated them. Picnik now gets a bunch of exposure to be converted into premium accounts and Flickr gets slick editing functionality without much extra work. This is a fascinating approach to building complex applications that is distinct from parasitic ‘mashups’. Two standalone applications which complement each other are brought together to major effect.
You might argue that what RTM manages by hacking and Picnik gets from partnership is freely available on the Facebook platform. For example, the Scrabulous Facebook app — sucky though it is — is actually more usable than the mother site in my experience and so I was forced to induce my Scrabble-fiend mum onto Facebook in order get a game. The only contribution of Facebook in this case is that it forced Scrabulous to streamline its interface. It doesn’t add any actual functionality in itself. It’s an environment rather than an organism, albeit an adaptive one. I’ll avoid a huge tangent by pointing you at The Triple Helix by Richard Lewontin here…