Plumbing isn’t glamorous, but it’s a critical piece of modern infrastructure. Regardless of the design of a house, the landscaping, or it’s location…it needs plumbing under the covers, and reliable plumbing to boot. And the analogy holds in other realms; I often consider sysadmins and DBAs (my tribe!) the plumbers of the IT world, keeping things working behind the scenes. This scales even to large-scale infrastructure as well, and on multiple levels.

In one sense, you can consider (of course) the backbone IP providers and such the true plumbing of the Internet. That’s valid, but limiting. If we pop up the stack a bit, you can see that “cloud computing” providers like Amazon, Google, etc. will be the plumbing providers of raw “service” (storage, db, etc.) to developers. It’s a great step in simplification…but we can go further.

Another level up, and things start to get really interesting. Many web sites and services have been about providing a real-world service (everything from Amazon and book sales, to Basecamp and project management, to muxtape and playlists)…but more and more interesting services are popping up that are, for lack of a better term, plumbing.

Everything from open protocols (like OAuth for authentication, OpenID for identity, and microformats for data) to full-fledged services that you can wire into your app. Twitter was (and is…it ain’t dead yet!) both a microblogging app and something more; a prototype messaging bus for the web. Tweets have been remixed and consumed in ways that no one could have imagined at the start. And that’s a good thing; as painful as the Fail Whale can be, Twitter certainly has been driving innovative ideas.

And now, a new crop of plumbers appears, learning from the old. Gnip is here to try and re-architect the message bus into a scalable and manageable model, makes microblogging open, federated, and Free (Software), and FriendFeed is flat-out the next level of meta-conversational tool.

The fact that plumbing is hot right now makes me very happy. Good tools enable great ideas to be born. I think we’re getting ready to see some great stuff. Vive la plumbing!!

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