Modular Innovation 101

bunch of modular innovation Modular Innovation (mŏjə-lər ĭn’ə-vāshən) [noun]

  1. Philosophy and style of modular products and services consisting of the following principles..
    • Relationships between people and modules and the user empowerment that comes from such relationships
    • User control of experience, from creation to storage to interaction
    • User’s unrestricted control of own content
  2. Of, relating to, or based on individualized modules that can be personalized to a variety of tasks and the interconnecting means by which these modules can interrelate
  3. The act of introducing, creating, connecting to, building upon, or working with modules, glue (aka platforms), and/or data that either exist as or enable Modular Innovation(s)

What is Modular Innovation? A trend. A product. An evolution. A market. A process or approach. Yes, to all of these methods of describing and thinking about Modular Innovation. I coined the term Modular Innovation (def. 1) to fill a descriptive and philosophical gap in the language, thoughts, and discussions regarding the present, evolving, and future nature of the products of the Internet.

I have been using Modular Innovation to describe and assess products for some time. More recently, driven by popularity and the public nature of The Product Guy blog, I have been receiving many requests for further elaboration on the meaning of Modular Innovation. So…here it is. Enjoy.

Modular Innovation …. The Next Inevitable Step

In Web 2.0 we had looks and feels and communities. Through Modular Innovation, we have RELATIONSHIPS, modular products and other services that facilitate the relational modules… all the components, and the Internet environment within which they, Modular Innovations, thrive.

A Modular Innovation (def. 2) can be small, a feature or mini-mini-product, or large, a module-connector service, a social network. But when the Modular Innovations are all combined, they lead to users’ information that is…

Portable
Shareable
Interoperable
Customizable
Redundant
Accessible

…and, basically, THEIR OWN, the users’, to do with as they wish, to control via the Modular Innovation(s) within their personally controlled online user environment — not a user experience restricted, like today, but truly open and dynamic.

Modular Innovation (def. 3) puts the people in control – of their content and their interaction with it. The people can easily share their data, export it, import it, customize privacy, across different social networks, products and other environments. Their data becomes modular, flexible, and portable. Users’ experience consists of many modules that make up their total user experience. Content and functionality are fully decentralized across these modules, each providing a single or small set of abilities or experiences, that together break down the walls (silos) that are the proprietary platforms, and empower the people, the users of the Internet, to be in charge of their data and their experience. As modules, leveraging open standards (OpenSocial maybe being one of them) people are increasingly able to publish their content to multiple destinations, manage their content across a variety of products (no longer needing to re-find friends, or re-re-re-publish one’s content), as well as port and integrate their personal, content creations with other services, other Modular Innovations. Modular Innovations should increasingly empower the user through the enablement of greater flexibility and control of interaction with the user’s own data. Data that, through more and more Modular Innovation, will become increasingly portable, increasingly integrated, increasingly customizable. Products that are or facilitate Modular Innovation will be the ones that are sustained and will gain increasing acceptance in the next, and already beginning, evolution of the social and interactive Internet.

E.G.

Modular Innovation is about ownership of content through the connectivity and relationships of modules and, through these modules, relationships amongst people with each other and the Modular Innovations with which they interact. These modules, or Modular Innovations, can represent a single or group of features and functionality, or a service or framework that augments or allows for new inter-module relationships to be established. Through combining and connecting and customizing modules, an owner, a user, is in control to customize their full experience and interaction with their own content as well as that of others.

A Modular Innovation that represents a feature set can be seen in a product like Flickr that allows for easy connectivity to AND FROM other resources as well as inclusion of the Flickr production functionality within other and between other Internet products.

Another Modular Innovation (of many) in the flavor of service or framework for the enablement of inter-module relationships can be seen in the Semantic Web framework that “allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.

A true environment of Modular Innovation is one wherein the user experience is defined by the modules and the relationships between the modules and the individuals using them, not the network or any single product (or feature).

Out There

Trends and other primordial indicators of the emergence of Modular Innovation can be found in many products that are out there, or in development, today on the Internet. I am constantly studying all forms of Internet products, at times, for fun, others for research or my consulting work.

I will be starting a weekly series wherein I will briefly highlight many of the products that at which I am looking. I will touch on the cool, summarize critical assessments / suggestions for improvement, and identify those products that are Modular Innovations, contain smaller Modular Innovations within, or may and/or can facilitate the proliferation and connectedness of other Modular Innovations. Some of the products touched on each week will also lend themselves to more detailed blogs or interviews with the people behind them. The ‘Modular Innovation Within’ series will act as a supplement, where everyone can quickly get a taste and overview of the latest breaking products on the Internet, from the perspective of The Product Guy and how they do or do not contribute to the emergence of an Internet world of Modular Innovation.

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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About Jeremy Horn

Jeremy Horn is an award-winning, product management veteran with thirteen years of experience leading and managing product teams. Jeremy has held various executive and advisory roles, from founder of several start-ups to driving diverse organizations in online services, consumer products, and social media. As founder of The Product Group, he has created the largest product management meetup in the world and hosts the annual awarding of The Best Product Person. Jeremy can currently be found pioneering the next generation of content management and sharing at Viacom, acting as creator and instructor of the 10-week product management course at General Assembly, and mentoring at Women 2.0 and Lean Startup Machine. Follow Jeremy on twitter @theproductguy or his blog at http://tpgblog.com.

20 thoughts on “Modular Innovation 101

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  4. You said it: a user’s experience is defined by relationships between modules & the individuals using them, not the network of any single product or feature.

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  6. Jeremy makes some really great observations about the future of open publishing platforms and “modular innovation”. Stacking applications that integrate in an open and data compatible environment, combined with user friendliness, should have a tremendous impact on the balance of publishing power on the web. Whereas large media/techonlogy companies have long controlled publishing platforms, and as a result advertising dollars, the ability for individuals or small businesses to publish information and deploy social media layers with their own toolsets will level the playing field. I would expect to see online advertising revenues continue to climb, but diffuse horizontally across a more capable and broader range of web publishers. Thanks to Jeremy for breaking down web3.0 technology for the digital laymen :)

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