Recently I got the chance to leave Knewton’s Union Square office for a couple of hours and walk a few blocks to the headquarters of Internet Week NY 2010. Internet Week is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Tech and online companies (mostly startups) get together for talks, presentations, and demos. It’s a totally nerdy kind of fun — so of course it’s perfect for Knewton.
But some of the fun had to wait. I wasn’t there to see the five-foot-tall iPhones (which I must say was pretty cool — check out the working touchscreen in the picture above!) or the 3-D open source printer Makerbot creating small objects out of plastic before my eyes.Â I was there to see a talk on “Pluggable Culture” by Eric Skiff (software developer and co-founder of the NYC Resistor hackerspace and amplify.com).
So, what does “Pluggable Culture” mean, and why does it matter?
To understand pluggable culture, think about it like this: When a school teacher needs to come up with a curriculum for the year, he doesn’t sit down to write every assignment and all the material from scratch. He uses textbooks that others have written, online articles, TV news clips, and maybe even pre-written test questions. He puts together a curriculum just as he would build a house out of Legos: by plugging together pre-made parts in a new way.
This concept has moved online. Now anyone who has an idea for an online company or product can make it using already available parts, instead of building the whole thing from scratch. You already know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever signed into a site using Facebook Connect, clicked a button that published a news article to Twitter, or written a blog post powered by WordPress (I have… you’re reading it!).
If you are a GMAT prep student, you are probably planning to go to business school. Maybe you plan to start a company one day. Wouldn’t it be great if you could create an online company without a computer engineering degree? Or if you could put together a product without hiring an expensive developer to do it for you? Well, you can, just by knowing the basics of how to put the existing pieces together.
We at Knewton have a lot of big ideas. Someday we might want a Knewton Video Platform, or a community where our students can share, communicate, and study together. When we build those or other new products, we’ll want them to get out to our students as quickly and effectively as possible. Spending months or years building the code line by line doesn’t sound fun to me (or to our wonderful tech team). Luckily, there’s another option! We can plug in existing infrastructure, let someone else house our data on their servers, and use the “Legos” that other people have already made to create our “house.” Better, right? In Skiff’s words, plugging in lets you “build cooler and cooler stuff with less and less work.”
Whether you plan to start a company someday, want a cool website, or just like to build things, Eric Skiff’s tagline says it best: “Forget reinventing the wheel– stop reinventing the car. Welcome to the Pluggable Culture.”