One of the companies that I advise, Metavine, is on a path to seriously disrupt the application development market in several ways. Such a disruption is not a new idea. Ever since third generation procedural programming languages (3GLs) like COBOL and FORTRAN gave way to the 4 GLs, we’ve been looking for faster programming and better programmer productivity and for decades we’ve come up empty. The fault lies in the paradigm for application development and the very idea of a programming language.
As long as our model consists of writing line after laborious line of procedural code our development will be slow and have error built in. Whenever humans run into this kind of roadblock we turn to automation—we build a machine that standardizes a process, which enables us to stamp out huge numbers of whatever product we want. Automation drives cost reductions too. So that’s the paradigm we’ve been searching for, a way to automate the software creation process.
There have been many partial success stories along the way but every time we’ve gotten close a new challenge cropped up and the goalposts moved. Generating code turns out to be only one of several challenges that a software automation paradigm needs to deliver. We also need efficient ways to fold in third party and legacy apps, build in support from essential accessory apps such as social media, generate running code for multiple platforms and operating environments, and we need to face the reality that our apps need to harmonize with those of other development modalities. It’s a tall order and no wonder we haven’t gotten further toward the goal in the last few decades.
No coding environment or generator can do all this by itself what’s needed is a platform that inherently supports these diverse functions. There are several platform solutions that have gotten close recently though most of them build high walled gardens around themselves that require users to more or less get any color they want as long as it’s black.
The solutions on the market are quite good and they deliver on the basic need for software automation. But most haven’t cracked the nut on distribution and I believe distribution is the element that will push us into a new paradigm.
Conventional automation still produces running apps that customers buy or usually subscribe to. You might think that there’s nothing wrong with this, and there isn’t, but it raises a couple of caution signs. Increasingly we’re discovering that markets for generated software are rather thin, there aren’t that many possible customers or we’re discovering that markets are potentially huge but that the prices we can charge start at $0.99 and don’t go up much.
In the latter case there’s a great deal of risk in developing an app that will sell for 99 cents because you’ll need to sell quite a few to break even. On the other hand, if you are building a simple app to support a small need in your company, you might not sell any but you’d really like it if every little app your people dreamed up didn’t have to come from IT. Ideally you’d like to buy something for the equivalent of 99 cents.
This is where a new paradigm for software, based on non-procedural specifications can be valuable. A specification can be traded, perhaps for other specifications, so that a lending library of capability builds up and a take-one-give-one culture emerges.
Trading app specs through a standards based community removes the need for money and creates a commons in which the members measure their “wealth” as common resources.
That’s the full-scale idea behind Metavine. It’s a non-procedural application automation environment with a community of like-minded people involved in supporting each other. Metavine’s community resembles the community culture growing up around 3D printing. In that world, people trade specifications, tweak them for specific needs and generate one-off products.
This seems like an important new direction in the software industry where the cost of products continues to shrink even as demand rises. This commoditization will only be accelerated by further improvements in automation and business models. So I invite you to examine Metavine’s development approach and experience its community. You can get started by clicking here. Please let me know what you think.
(Cross-posted @ Beagle Research Group)