Tuesday, October 04, 2005

24 Hour Laundry (24HL) Uncovered

I had the good fortune to be selected as a beta-tester of 24 hour laundry just a few months ago. If you haven’t heard of this organization, 24HL’s co-founders include Marc Andreesen and there was a great deal of speculation about the organization not too long ago. Their product / tool / concept: Ning.

So what is it? It is a development / computing platform for delivering social networking applications (examples of social networking applications are Flickr, ePinions, etc.) What is the best way to generate a lot of content? Create it yourself? Nope – just create a Flickr and let the unwashed masses create millions of pieces of content for you. How do you create and index all content? Let unwashed masses of developers create web apps that the truly unwashed masses then go to for content creation. As a developer I can create any content type (restaurant, photo, pet, piece of electronics, hotel, anything) – then I can create insert/update screens for all to use and share. All content is taggable / shareable / searchable - very sweet.

I believe that 24HL has the potential to be the CPAN (Comprehensive Perl Archive Network – basically the organization that manages just about all Perl libraries) of networked apps – and not just an archive, but the platform on which these are actually deployed. If you see an application (not content – an actual complete running web application) you can clone this application (creating a copy in your own development workspace) – customize, improve, activate – and you’ve now created your own Flickr.

During the beta I wasn’t certain if the 24HL team even understood the ramifications of what they had built – it could also be considered a real-world topcoder platform – build the best app you can, someone refines it and makes it better, repeat indefinitely. In the past, I believed that one of the biggest factors stopping the advancement of mainstream web applications and web services was that the average kid / developer doesn’t have access to the computing resources, programming libraries, etc that only the best funded startups might have access to. But 24HL removes this barrier to entry and now makes this a commodity.

What could be really cool about this? The ability to trace the genealogy of a piece of code. I write an AJAX chat client and web service (did I mention that they have designed Ning so that you can deliver not just HTML, but XML content), someone takes it and makes it something else and so on, until someone takes it and builds the next Flickr out of it… Cool. While seeing the genealogy of the code is not yet possible today – the folks there have given this a great deal of thought, and I have no doubt that what they have created has the possibility to change the framework in which web applications are created and delivered.

Downsides? I’m a Java developer, and the primary interface for Ning is PHP – but, PHP is not rocket science, and soon there will be thousands of sample applications from which to build your own idea.


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