Desktop Applications: Web 2.0's Dancing Bear
People are developing desktop applications that run in browsers. There's email, word processing, IM, even spreadsheets for heaven's sake. While I think these are pretty cool and technical marvels, I also think they're dancing bears: it's not that they do it well, it's that they do it at all.
Here's the business plan for most of these types of applications: "It's just like your desktop, but using the power of the web, you can do it anywhere." Umm, no, that isn't the real power of the web. The web's strength lies in collective actions and data (e.g. Amazon's "People who bought this also bought..."), social communities across wide distances (Yahoo Groups), aggregation of many sources of data (RSS feeds), near real-time access to timely data (stock quotes, news), and easy publishing of content from one to many (blogs, Flickr). Few of these desktoppy applications take advantage of those things because at their core, they were designed for a different medium, a solitary computer.
Besides, in this era of laptops, wifi, web-enabled phones, and Blackberries, being able to have your spreadsheet at an internet cafe is becoming more and more an edge case, not the norm. It certainly isn't enough of a differentiator to make me move from my desktop apps to the web.
All this time spent porting over desktop apps to the web would probably be better spent building web-native applications, that do take advantage of the web's strengths. Instead of looking to the past, why not to the future?
Dancing for Grandma
There's a moment in just about every project when you have to do something ridiculous to appease someone: a design direction to try that you know is going to be totally unworkable, an extra presentation for a big boss, some model or power point slide to explain the obvious, or a really unnecessary meeting. Luckily I've heard a great new phrase for this sort of silliness, to be used when it arises: "Dance for Grandma!" It's usually accompanied by rhythmic hand-clapping. Brilliant.
I thought I was a real badass this week, coming up with a new word: creageous, a mashup of creative and courageous. But of course, others had come up with it before...
A lot of people (not me) have worked very hard over the last two years to make one man's rant and another guy's subsequent idea a reality. The Interaction Design Group has now incorporated as a non-profit organization, the Interaction Design Association. I sit on the Board of this new entity with many other fine people. Wish us luck.
Worst Book Jacket Ever
This book jacket doesn't imply
Not helping things: the title (The Man in the High Castle) and the author's name: Philip K. Dick.
Keywords for Web 2.0
Want to start a Web 2.0 company? Here's the keywords you need to sprinkle through your presentations:
I've heard or spoken to at least three different companies lately who do "social networking software" and all three meant something totally different by that term.
Content in Web Services
As I mentioned in an earlier post on Service vs. Product Design, services are easier to replicate and improve upon than products. Similarly, I think services, especially web services, are easier to create and improve upon than content. My new law, Saffer's Law, is this:
It's easier to create a content aggregator than it is to create content.
Hundreds of aggregators can grab content from the New York Times, but it's much harder to create the content of the New York Times. It probably wouldn't be hard (at least on the front-end) to make a better auction service than Ebay: the trick would be to move their millions of users (and their content) over to it. Just ask Amazon Auctions.
Now certainly creating (and constantly maintaining and upgrading) a great service is no easy task. But at the center of most web services is a kernel of content (this can be user-supplied) and that has to be good or the service is junk. You wouldn't trade from an online brokerage if their stock quotes were bad. You wouldn't go to Google if their search results sucked.
Similarly, at the center of most offline services is a product, and if the product sucks, no great service is going to save it for too long. If Starbuck's coffee tasted like Maxwell House, you wouldn't buy very much of it.
In the cavalcade of hype around Web 2.0, we shouldn't forget that a focus on services at the expense of the content that helps fuel them, could leave us with some very shallow services.
The Web 2.0 Metaphor
While I like marketing-readiness of the term Web 2.0, a part of the metaphor doesn't ring true to me, namely this: in software, version 2.0 is a replacement for version 1.0; you usually don't keep version 1.0 around. With Web 2.0, however, Web 1.0 (and 1.1, 1.2, etc.) are still around and likely will be for a long time. Web 2.0 isn't replacing what we have, only supplementing and augmenting it. And living alongside it.
All this AJAX stuff is pretty cool, but we shouldn't forget that one click away is still certs.com...