architectWriters and entrepreneurs often refer to the early days of the Web as the “Wild West” – I’m guilty of using the cliché myself. But the analogy fits: the lawless, frontier-ish and sparsely populated settlement of the Old Web has given way to a structured, more governed metropolitan type of place. So in order to organize the crowded environment of jostling services and apps, it might be helpful to Web development like a city planner or architect.

That’s the approach Galen Wolfe-Pauly took when he designed Ost, a service that manages and organizes a user’s Web service accounts, like Facebook, Twitter, App.net and Dropbox. But though Wolfe-Pauly has been programming since he was a kid, he’s not a trained developer: He graduated from New York City’s Cooper Union with a degree in architecture.

The San Francisco-based company has built a browser-based one-stop shop that lets a user do things like compose Tweets and sync and transfer Dropbox files, all in one interface. In fact, Ost is short for “organizing, sharing and transferring.” The service launched in September and left private beta two weeks ago.

The company aims to be a kind of file manager for Web accounts. Ost is not the only company in the space to tackle organizing all your disparate accounts. Collections has built a very good, reinvented version of the Apple Finder that integrates those accounts as well as Google Drive files – which Ost doesn’t do at this point. The draw of Ost, though, is that it is Web-based, and thus accessible anywhere there is an Internet connection.

But many of the pearls of advice that Wolf-Pauly can offer have to do with the specific viewpoint that comes from his education in architecture – even though he didn’t go into the field professionally because he found contemporary architecture “incredibly boring.” Instead of working on a project for ten years, he wanted something he could create and implement more quickly.

Ost’s interface is decidedly minimal, with a plain white background and small icons colored in gray. While you could easily pin this to the Jony Ive school of thought, Wolfe-Pauly says his thinking is influenced by building design. “Architecture is about thinking about empty space, where people can inhabit,” he says. He says the main goal for the design of the site was for the tools to provide the framework and the shell of the service, but not bombard the user. “It should feel as welcoming as a building, but as open-ended as a warehouse.”

Second, he recommends old-fashioned pencils and paper. The Cooper Union’s architecture program is extremely traditional, he says, so all of his assignments involved sketching version after version of the same building design – much like other designers go through hundreds of iterations of a product design.

So while the Web may not be as open and cowboys-and-Indians as it used to be, designing buildings is probably more fun than shoveling horse manure.

[Image courtesy leiris202]