My friend Kevin Anderson, over on the other side of the pond, pulled back the curtain today on Open Platform, "a service that will allow partners to reuse guardian.co.uk content and data for free and weave it 'into the fabric of the internet.'"
The Guardian now joins the BBC and the New York Times in offering what developers call an API -- an application programming interface. This transforms those organizations from simply providing products into providing platforms.
A platform is a foundation on which others can build.
And what will they build? We can't possibly know.
The point of an API is that you don't know exactly what others will create, but you're sure they will create something interesting if the tools are available.
This is uncertain territory, and uncertainty can be unpleasant. Lawyers and accountants and managers don't like uncertainty. But it's exciting, isn't it?
Already today on Twitter I've seen a couple of suggestions float by, and Forrester Research web strategist Jeremiah Owyang has has half a dozen suggestions.
I'd love to have the resources the Guardian, BBC and New York Times have to create these open interfaces. I don't, of course, but I'm heartened that Dries Buytaert gets it. Dries launched the Drupal project, which led to the software we're using to rebuild our news websites. At last week's Drupalcon in Washington, he dropped a few provocative concepts into his keynote address. "We need to start thinking of the Internet as one big machine," he said. "It started by linking machines, then linking pages, now we're moving towards linking data."
Drupal already has many platform aspects, of course, but it will be getting more, including better support for Open Auth standards and real-time messaging (XMPP). You might think of real-time messaging as something for humans -- and it is, of course; Google Talk runs on XMPP. But it's also a generalized real-time information router that can be used to move all sorts of structured data among applications.
What will we do with this? I don't have a clue where this is going ... and that's OK.