Insoshi and the Commoditization of Frameworks

by Ostatic Staff - Apr. 30, 2008

It has been about 13 years since I started to order books via the Internet. Back in 1995, online stores were rare, and ended up having lots of bugs. Those bugs were because they were running custom software, which the store owners had typically written by themselves.

Just a few years after that, people who wanted to create online stores didn't have to write their own software. They could go to Yahoo Shops, or even to eBay, and set up their own experience.

Then things got even more interesting: Open-source programmers produced a number of applications that made it possible to create your own shop, on your own service. E-commerce suddenly became a commodity: While there are obviously differences between various open-source store packages, the underlying technology is no longer inaccessible, expensive, or proprietary. Someone trying to make a living by creating simple shopping carts or stores is going to have a hard time doing it.

We are starting to see the same commoditization of frameworks in a new space, namely social networking. Organizations have created a number of internal online systems that could be called social networks -- but those systems probably pale in comparison to what Web-based systems, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace, can offer. Why reinvent the wheel? If you really want to create your own social network, then you might as well try Ning, which gives you an element of privacy, control, and membership filters, as well as the ability to customize the software.

Yesterday, though, we saw another step toward the commoditization of social networks, with the release of Insoshi. Insoshi is an open-source framework, written in Ruby on Rails, for creating a social network. If you want, you can download Insoshi, install it, run it, and have your own private social network running in a very short period of time. You can also customize the code, changing it so that it'll work in the ways that you need, making the social network truly your own.

Insoshi isn't the first open-source social-networking framework to be released, although as I've previously discussed, the Lovd by Less framework depends on plugins whose licenses are severely restricted. The point is that social networking, a set of technologies that are seen as increasingly central to many people's Web experiences, have now become available to anyone who might like. Just as open-source e-commerce packages made it possible to create an online store with little or no programming, open-source social-networking packages make it possible to create a social network with little or no programming.

Of course, that's something of a lie: No e-commerce site uses these packages out of the box (so to speak), and we can expect that the same will be true for social networks. However, these frameworks provide scaffolding for programmers interested in adding functionality, allowing them to concentrate on customization and making their implementation unique, rather than re-inventing the wheel countless times.

Thanks to Insoshi, social networking is now a commodity that can be included in every Web site. What other domains have been commoditized by open-source in this way? And in which areas can we expect to see such commoditization in the future?