The Power of Standard Interfaces

Imagine that Toyota (or some big car manufacturer) came out with a standard interface to the stereo system.  It looked like a tray above the center dash that could hold your cell phone or ipod or small device.  At the bottom of the tray was a removable interface.  You could plugin a iPod adapter or a Zune adapter or a blackberry adapter or a [to be named next year] adapter.  Toyota would sell different adapters but publish the protocol as open source.  Then everyone could sell those adapters for all kinds of devices.  People could innovate using the standard protocol.

Right now, there is Bluetooth, but it has significant limitations.  It’s hard to set up, prone to error and many devices (iPod!) don’t have bluetooth at all.  Besides the fact that car companies mistakenly assumed that people just want the phone to connect via bluetooth and not a wide array of other devices.  More importantly, the car companies have locked down the capabilities.  If they made an open API via bluetooth to many of the cars systems, then people would use that API to do interesting things.

In any industry, standard interfaces provide a rallying point for everyone to build an ecosystem around.  Standard railroad widths spurred the transportation industry. APIs have created a large community of plugins.  Standards create opportunities.

If you have a root system, consider how others might use it.  Build an API and let people at it.  You might end up with some bumps along the way, but in the end you will create opportunities that you will empower you.

Whatya think?