A universal connector is an important concept in the growth of the elastic enterprise, so we’d better explain it. Here’s how we introduce the concept in Chapter 2 of the book, with reference to RSS:
Think back to the early days of the World Wide Web. Suddenly a small symbol or acronym began appearing on websites, particularly those that hosted original content. The acronym was RSS and for many people it is still a mystery.
RSS though is one powerful example of anonymized business relationships at work. RSS stands for really simple syndication. It means, with a few mouse clicks, allowing people to access your content in a stream direct from the content host’s servers.
Why was this important? Because it meant content owners could suddenly make a permanent connection with readers. Once a reader clicked RSS, the content creator’s content would automatically be sent to the reader, on publication. This was a new form of syndication, pulled initially by users.
RSS is a universal connector.
It is important not just because it allowed the web, as we know it, to evolve. It also allowed new businesses to scale at low cost. Think of the Huffington Post, built for the most part by aggregating feeds from other blogs. In a relatively short span of time it had 6,000 writers.
Something similar happens with APIs – application programming interfaces, another universal connector. An API does for software and data what RSS did for content. On the one hand it is a stndardised way for a software program or suite or data set to ‘open’ itself out to other uses.
Take for example the UK newspaper The Guardian. The Guardian’s website has an API that allows third parties to access different areas of the Guardian’s web content and repurpose it.
That’s close to RSS but not quite. The API enables content to be embedded and also to be analyzed or converted. for example one application at the Guardian is to create a new search engine that matches a reader’s shopping list with the Guardian’s recipe pages.
A step further over, the retailer Tesco has an API that lets third parties access its customer data.It doesn’t appaer to be particularly well used but that’s another story – making the ecosystem around an API work well is a new management skill, and an investment.
New types of universal connectors are emerging. Facebook’s Open Graph is a way for third parties to represent their content on Facebook and to collaborate with Facebook in tracking customer/user web behaviour. That LIKE button is part of a larger data acquisition strategy. Facebook already had significant APIs that allowed Zynga to build a business on the facebook platform.
Data strems are also universal connectors. They are a standardised way in which people share information, for example calendar information.
This practice of creating automated, standardised ways for assets to be opened up creates new business opportunities without the old fashioned process of belonging to the same club, knowing the same social circle, or proving credibility over time.
They are a revolution of sorts, a way to scale business without the friction that goes into traditoinal business building. We expect to see more varieties emerge as Cloud computing becomes the dominant IT infrastructure.
Small they may be. But their significance is huge.