Developers are the New Decision Making Elite of the Digital Economy

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Jeremy Allaire's picture
Jeremy Allaire on August 2, 2012

Ever since the birth of interactive Web applications in the mid 1990s, we’ve been on a path of convergence between content and software platforms. This evolution has continued for the past one and a half decades, giving birth to new labor markets centered in software development and overall raising the importance and role that developers play in a society driven by the digital economy.

Back then, the Web browser ushered in a document-centric view of software applications, which was in response to end user’s preferences for content-centric experiences offered by the Web browser paradigm.

What do I mean by content-centric software? Well, back then it was the evolution of software from traditional desktop software applications which were based on monolithic forms-based user interfaces into document-based interfaces with richer, more content based experiences.

That shift toward content-centric software gave birth to new labor markets built around Web design and development, establishing new disciplines like user-centered design and user experience design, and elevated the importance of content and design in the creation of good software.

Much of this was in response to an overall elevation of the role of software in society, and required the creation of new programming languages and models that could open up software creation to many more people. These were the inspirations behind ColdFusion, with the introduction of a human-readable and writable programming language that was tag-based and declarative just like HTML, and had the ability to dynamically generate content and apps on the fly fusing all types of media with data and logic. This shift toward page-based scripting such as ColdFusion, ASP, JSP, and PHP created a revolution in software development that is of course still very much playing out.

Fostered by the rapid adoption of broadband and Wi-Fi, this fusion of software and media continued in the early stages of the Web 2.0 era as well. Back in 2002, platforms like Macromedia Flash emerged with the vision of combining media (text, images, audio and video) with interactive software (a richer JavaScript-based object model than the browser offered back then) and communications (e.g. Web services, REST-like XML interfaces, and real-time communications protocols) to enable a new class of Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). This model drove forward workflows that combined media creation, UX design and application development. And other somewhat similar approaches to software on the Web also started to emerge. such as Ajax and jQuery, and of course the mega-movement towards JSON formats.

This further fusion of media and software gave rise to entire new online industries, everything from casual and social gaming to rich media advertising to user generated media and the entire online video industry. And it parallels the rapid rise of “Software as a Service” (SaaS), where nearly every category of business software was re-envisioned and re-implemented in a rich, browser-based interface with a more content-rich user experience and the ease of use of the browser.

Then nearly a half decade later another transformation gave rise to an even deeper fusion of software and media, and that was the introduction of the iPhone (and clone devices and software environments that have emerged in its wake) and the App Store model for software. In this case, software itself became content, and gave rapid rise to an incredible range of content-rich and content centric software application experiences.

As both new device platforms and SaaS models grew, the race to bring richer forms of content experiences into the browser and onto these devices also accelerated, and the industry galvanized around HTML5 as the next-generation of content-centric application authoring and delivery.

The Continued Revolution in Global Software Manufacturing

At the same time that we’ve seen the rise of the iPhone and SaaS, we’ve also seen the rapid proliferation of cloud-based computing and application models. Specifically, by leveraging highly available and affordable hosted computing resources, more and more functions are being made available as cloud services that developers can build on. The first component of this shift is in “infrastructure as a service” offerings like Amazon Web Services and EC2, Google App Engine, Microsoft Azure, etc. These layers abstract the complexity of hardware, storage, networking, databases and other fundamental infrastructure needed to operate online software.

The second component of this shift is most often referred to as Platform-as-a-Service offerings. These PaaS offerings abstract a significant set of functions and data-models into collections of coherent APIs that can be easily used by developers to rapidly construct rich applications. Examples of this include Force.com for customer management centric applications, Facebook’s open graph APIs for adding social features to applications, as well as dozens of more discrete functions like mapping and geo-data, push messaging, search, ad networks, analytics engines, and many other fundamental building blocks of rich, content-centric consumer facing software.

The third component of this shift is the continued proliferation of open platforms for developers to participate in the evolution of software through open source SDKs and open collaborative platforms for software distribution (e.g. GitHub, Google Code) and knowledge sharing (e.g. Stack Overflow).

At the core of all of this is an ongoing revolution in the economics of software manufacturing, with richer and richer building blocks available as inexpensive pay-as-you-scale utilities for millions of developers all around the world. And, the explosion in new device platforms is driving organizations around the world to grow their appetite and investments into software that takes advantage of these services.

One of the results of these shifts is that as Internet software grows in importance to organizations around the world, the technical leaders and contributors (read: developers) are becoming the decision making elite of the digital economy. The platforms and applications that gain traction with developers are disproportionately becoming those that are being adopted by consumers and organizations.

As the role of software in society continues its inexorable expansion, it is an amazing and inspiring time to be a developer. Never before have so many powerful tools and technologies been so accessible and affordable, which is critical as we move into a world of not 600,000 Apps but 60,000,000 Apps.

Further Fusion of Media & Software

All of these shifts continue to drive a deepening fusion between media (content) and software. Organizations of every size and scope are seeking to create software in the form of web applications, phone and tablet applications, smart TV applications (soon) and Facebook applications. Every potential or existing customer (or constituent) of any company or organization expects to be able to have content-rich application experiences on all of the devices that matter in their lives.

And this fusion of rich media and software will gain another significant boost as leading platforms like Apple iOS find their way onto HDTV screens, creating a model of software that spans the hand held touch-based experience with the rich immersive display of the HDTV (note: I’m not talking about Internet video on the TV set, I’m talking about dual screen apps that users interact with using touch devices, though video-enabled TV Apps will certainly be one popular category of apps -- see my recent article on Apple TV & Dual Screen TV Apps).

This continued shift is forcing organizations to rethink and reconsider the entire model and architecture that they use for publishing content and data and how they create rich, content-centric application experiences around that content. Content of all types needs to be easily defined, published, stored, transformed, discovered, delivered and analyzed and shaped into a multitude of app experiences.

Legacy, home-grown and installed content publishing models are giving way to SaaS and PaaS models, giving birth to new software categories like Video Platforms and App Platforms and myriad of standalone API services.

What are we doing about all of this?

Brightcove’s mission is to publish and distribute the world’s professional digital media. We believe deeply that rich content and media are at the center of value creation for all types of organizations in the digital economy. To accomplish this mission, we want to empower millions of developers, designers, producers and innovators in organizations all over the planet to easily take advantage of the tectonic shifts described above.

It’s with all of this in mind that helps to contextualize some recent and strategic moves from Brightcove.

First, last month at our annual user conference, Brightcove Play, we announced and launched App Cloud Core, and associated Pro editions. App Cloud Core is a free and open source development platform for creating rich, cross-platform (iOS & Android) native apps using HTML5 and JavaScript. It includes powerful developer tools, SDKs for things like using native device APIs, rich UX libraries, data services for things like offline content and data, and powerful testing tools that everyone in an organization can use. It also includes free and unlimited cloud-based app compilation. With App Cloud Core, developers can use the existing Web development tools that they know and love.

We also launched a suite of additional cloud-based services for push messaging, dynamic app updates, real-time analytics, and in-app monetization, available for starting at just $99/month on a month-to-month contract.

Second, last week we announced our acquisition of Zencoder, the industry-leading cloud-based encoding platform and provider of the popular free and open source HTML5 video player, Video.js.

We’re incredibly excited about this acquisition, and you can read a bit more about it here and here.

Additionally, however, this acquisition underscores several things that are increasingly core to Brightcove:

  1. We are serious about empowering developers all around the world with rich, API-based utility services focused on media and content. There are potentially millions of applications that will need to ingest, transform and deliver rich media content, and we want to empower developers with an affordable utility to accomplish their dreams.
  2. We are serious about taking video playback to the next level through open and free SDKs and players that can be easily and broadly adopted and extended by developers all around the world. Video.js is an important piece of this puzzle and we’re going to have a lot to share in the future about what we’re doing here. Again, millions of applications need seamless and cross-platform video and rich media playback, and we intend to provide the free infrastructure needed for anyone on the planet with that need. This builds on our App Cloud Core open source SDKs and free cloud development tools.
  3. Increasingly, we see the world not through the lens of video, but the the lens of rich content that is published, packaged, distributed and consumed on a myriad of new consumer facing app and distribution platforms. We are going to lead the industry in this shift.

I am excited as I have ever been by the ongoing fusion of media and software. I’ve been pursuing this problem for more than 20 years, and to be honest, it really does feel like we’re just getting started. Media and software are coming together like never before, and the underlying architecture of all of it is changing rapidly, empowering millions and re-shaping our economy and society.

We’re all about it at Brightcove, and we look forward to continued collaboration and learning together as we explore this exploding medium.

Oh, and BTW, we are hiring aggressively -- if you are smart, nice and get things done, please tell us about yourself!

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