Friday, May 06, 2005

Reuse or Repurpose

The software world has spent many years talking about reuse, especially in the context of Component-Based Software Engineering (CBSE). Reuse is linked to the economics of scale/scope, and is supposedly associated with a range of benefits including the productivity of development and maintenance.

But as the focus shifts from components to services, the word "reuse" doesn't quite reflect the opportunity. To my mind, the word never made quite as much sense for services as it did for components.

A number of commentators are now using the word repurpose instead of reuse. (PCMag, Zapthink)

A lot of discussion of repurposing seems to be largely about altering the format of information to suit different devices, channels or media. Such discussion is popular in the publication/syndication world, with reference to RSS and repurposing content for internet distribution. It is also relevant for transmitting content to a complex array of new devices such as mobile phones.
I don't deny the technical challenge of reformatting, but to my mind the more interesting aspects of repurposing is where there is a significant variation in the context of use. What is the (end-user) purpose that may be served by the content? For example, see this discussion Repurpose or Perish from 1998, which raises some of these issues:
  • the users' choice of how they want to get this information and how frequently they want it
  • users adopting different ways of reading/scanning material on-line (lean-forward versus lean-back)

See also Repurposing Data and Services (May 2005)
For a humorous definition of repurposing, see Buzzwords for Nerds.

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