Time for The Wren Gap

For those who remember where this conversation started, I used the term Four Pillars to describe search, publishing, conversation and fulfilment, and asserted that it was only a matter of time before enterprise software consisted of these four “pillars” and not much else. If you weren’t around at the start, reading this and this might help you. I’ve probably written a hundred posts on the subject as well, dealing with different facets and aspects of Four Pillars. [And, once I’ve finished cleaning up the categories and tags, you might even be able to find them!].

But in the meantime. I was doing my usual waltzing over the blogosphere, and got to this post by Dave Winer via Doc Searls. [Ever since I got myself a decent RSS aggregator, netvibes, I seem to do this often. Read person A and move from there to a story by person B before I’ve got to person B’s blog. Does that happen to you as well?]

Anyway, there is much I have to thank Dave and Doc for. There’s a crucial four-pillars point being made in what they say. And for now I want to call it The Wren Gap.

Let me explain. There’s a Guildhall in Windsor, the town where I live. This is what it looks like:


There were guildhalls in Windsor before this one. And there will probably be guildhalls in Windsor after this one, it’s a Guildhally kind of place. This particular Guildhall was built in the late 17th century and, following the death of the original architect, the work was continued by Sir Chriptopher Wren.  And at this stage let me pass you on to Wikipedia:

  • The story is widely told that the borough Council demanded that Wren should insert additional columns within the covered area, in order to support the weight of the heavy building above; Wren, however, was adamant that these were not necessary. Eventually the council insisted and, in due course, the extra supporting columns were built, but Wren made them slightly short, so that they do not quite touch the ceiling, hence proving his claim that they are not necessary! Whatever the truth of this story, it is undeniable that, to this day, there is a small gap between the columns and the ceiling.

And so the Wren Gap was born, as shown below:


And so to the point of this post. Dave Winer, in the post that Doc referred me to, has this to say:

  • Many years ago, when the Internet was still the domain of geeks, researchers and college students, the smart folks often said that the opportunities for new software companies were over, it simply required too much scale to compete in an industry dominated by Lotus, Microsoft and Ashton-Tate. Now it’s clear how ridiculous that was, even though it was correct. The next layer comes on not by building on the old layer (a trick, the guy you’re building on will eat your lunch), or re-doing what they did (what the naysayers correctly say you can’t do), but by starting from a different place and building something new, and so different that the old guys don’t understand it and don’t feel threatened by it.

My italics. My emphases.

The councillors of today want us to connect to the old layer. We need to understand this. They want us to connect to the old layer. We don’t need to, but they want us to.

The way they want us to connect to the old layer is often via that terrible space variously called DRM and IPR and licences; these badly-thought-out things form the cement and mortar they so badly need.

We need to be wise, wise like Wren. And create Wren gaps everywhere. Opensource software, open SDKs and frameworks, open communities, open licensing, all this is here and now. And we can use them to create the Wren gaps.

People, you will be told that your edifices will not stand up unless you connect to the old layers.

Balderdash and piffle. Time for Wren gaps.

A coda. I loved this story from Cory at BoingBoing, but via Smart Mobs: another example of my reading feed A before feed B.

Tagging things as DefectiveByDesign, using the tag tools provided by the retailer. Oh frabjous day.

[Note: Portions of the Wren story have appeared in an earlier post, but I felt it was appropriate to repeat it and expand upon it.]

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