Deconstructing the LEGO Internet

Earlier this week Jesse Stay, the man behind the Twitter service SocialToo, wrote a rather interesting post suggesting that in order to move the web forward to that mystical 3.0 version we need to start looking at as a bunch of building blocks. His feeling is that in order to move beyond the current web as a platform idea we should be getting the foundation of the building block web stabilized.

For Jesse it is a matter of taking the foundations being but together by services like Twitter, Facebook, and Google off in new directions by adding new blocks that build off of those foundation blocks.

When I think building blocks I think Lego bricks. Each one has its own unique size and shape, and when you take the basic lego bricks you can add your own, making something unique and powerful. The web, as a whole, is evolving towards this state. We see Twitter, with its open platform enabling others to share in ways they were never able to share before in their own applications. We see Facebook and Facebook Connect enabling businesses to incorporate Facebook activity, relationships, and more right in the bounds of their own brand (Jeremiah Owyang suggested we might call this “farming”). Recently, we saw Google Wave producing ways for users to collaborate in ways they were never able to before, and embed these in new ways into external environments.

Shortly after Jesse’s post another smart blogger picked up on the thought with a post of his own. In The Lego Internet Dan Morrill at TechWag says that the idea might make a lot of sense except that potential ramifications of building out the new web based on what is hoped to be stable services provided by the foundation.

The idea makes a lot of sense when it comes right down to it, but with all the problems with back end data providers lately and how this is taking a toll on the public perception of cloud computing (no matter what the issue is, the popular press keeps on pinging cloud computing for this) and the worry that all that hard worked data is going to suddenly get vaporized is going to slow down the adoption of any building block internet.

Dan goes on to point out the underlying problem that we experience even today that could slow, or kill off any chance of a building block web.

Which brings us to the one thing that will kill the Lego building block internet; it will be all about service and how service is perceived by the end user. Would anyone have trusted Facebook Connect four years ago and would anyone trust a MySpace connect now? If a service provider (and if you are providing a widget or an API, you are a service provider) fails, then it becomes a problem for the entire ecosystem that is build around that service. If the service becomes unreliable, then people will flee the ecosystem. Even a hint that a service provider is not reliable will cause adoption issues.

The biggest problem behind this idea of a building block web can be evidenced even today with the widespread outage experienced by Twitter. It was an outage that lasted for most of the morning during which time any services that relied on Twitter were basically toast. You can’t build a longterm stable business on top of that kind of thing but it is only the most recent of many examples of cloud based systems taking a crap all over the place (Microsoft/Danger/Sidekick anyone?).

When even a company like Amazon can experience an outage as they did when their S3 cloud went down in February or Google’s Gmail can cause havoc every time it goes down for even an hour for whatever reason how can we say we have a solid foundation to build on.