When Croquet is a success, what will it be? Really? Forget about the applications, what will Croquet itself actually do?
The other day I was sitting on my back porch. Resting comfortably on my lap was all the resources I needed to do my high-tech computer work. The box also played my favorite music, and when my wife asked about the lyrics, I was able to look them up in the greatest library the world has ever known. We checked our calendar, and printed a custom map to the next day’s event. And so forth.
Not so very long ago, it would have been very hard to imagine this, despite having had it all spelled out for us by Vannevar Bush or by Douglas Englebart on specific dates in 1945 and 1968. For any given technology, it seems to be very hard for most of us to fully imagine our future with it. I think the reason for this is that when the future comes, it’s all about the applications. The music player. The information index and specific song lyric libraries. Calendars, directions, and the tools for my work. We live in applications. We buy applications. Applications make or break a technology. But these applications don’t just happen because they are good ideas. They happen only (and not always) when there is a suitable enabling technology. It is rare that we think about what the enabling technology really is, fundamentally.
In the case of the World Wide Web, we have the unification of three concepts:
- A means of indicating any participating computer resource resource, worldwide –URL.
- A means of accessing that resource – HTTP.
- A means of expressing content to be accessed –HTML.
In addition to the fundamental technology, we had a useable reference implementation. Being asymmetric, the early Web had a large number of, e.g., Mosaic browser users, and a smaller number of servers.
No applications. No vendors. No products. No official distributions of software. If you wanted something, you built it.
The W3C was founded in 1994, about three years after the first available reference implementation and public description of the technology, and about a year after the Mosaic browser. This consolidated the idea that the core technology was open. You could build your own applications and even other implementations of the core technology, and you could sell them. You could cooperate with others though the W3C or other organizations, or you could choose not to.
I’m going to be lazy here and just assert that the combination of application-independent core technology, open reference implementation, and open organization, were all key to the success of the Web. I’m going to further just assert that given the pure aptness of the ideas, these three were sufficient for success. Well, OK, that’s sort of tautological. But the point is that the applications came without Uncle Tim having to write them. The people who wanted the applications wrote them. The people who wanted support got it.
Now, I want to be very clear here: I do not intend to merely build a cool conferencing app or some such and be done with it. I intend for Croquet to be the basis of a phenomenon with as great an impact as the WWW. I think the model for it to be successful is quite similar:
- Fundamental technologies for:
- indicating collaborations (e.g., to join them directly or though a proxy, and both for obvious access as when you visit a WWW page, and internally as when that page embeds a separate resource)
- accessing (e.g., using) them collaboratively
- expressing the content of the collaboration so that it can squeezed though a wire when you join, and persisted when the last person leaves and turns off the light
- An open reference implementation.
- A consortium to reinforce these ideas, guide their development, and facilitate cooperation among those who choose to get involved in this particular way.
Each of these is quite a complex subject by itself and worthy of separate discussion. My point here is to frame that discussion in terms of these high-level success factors, rather than as having folks look to U.W. or anyone else as a vendor supplying a particular application distribution.