Web 2.0: Why Less May NOT Be More

As I’ve personally used and also recommended dozens of Web 2.0 hosted applications, I’ve been enamored by how perfect it’s been that most were highly focused, did one thing and did it well, and didn’t try to bake in everything that any user might desire. They were simple to use, quick to train others to navigate and didn’t require major investments to get up-n-running.

I’m not so enamored anymore and wonder if less may NOT be more and that suites may rule as the Web matures. Or maybe it won’t be suites but rather platforms?

Let me explain what I mean by suites. In the enterprise software space, every analyst (Gartner, IDG, Forrester) constantly weighed the possibilities of success independent software vendors (ISV’s) could achieve by how expansive their footprint was within an organization or whether they simply sold a “point” solution — giving them far less competitive advantage. The objective by most ISV’s then was to expand their footprint and build an ever increasing set of functionality until they had….a suite of products.

The problem is that few ISV’s — save for the biggies like Oracle, IBM, HP and others — are ever in a position to build or acquire enough point solutions, cobble them together and push away competitors to be viable. There are far too many building blocks available today in open source, with web services and all of the emerging “by the drink” on-demand solutions from Amazon and others to make suite plays a growth strategy long term.

One thing I read over-n-over again about “Enterprise 2.0” is that many organizations are looking at all the “Web 2.0” upstarts as having hit upon something that they need to emulate…namely fast-to-market, discrete, highly functional and easy to use point solutions. Forget the suite approach. It’s too slow, too monolithic and has everything but the kitchen sink in it….a lot more than anyone needs and costs the enterprise millions of dollars. So even as the lower end, consumer-centric Web 2.0 space accelerates, enterprise organizations are trying to figure out what lessons can be learned from them and how they can apply Web 2.0 best practices to their companies.

The flip side is that the Web 2.0 crowd is starting to swim upstream toward suites and adding (or trying to add) considerably more functionality. For instance, today sees an announcement by Zoho regarding their Zoho Notebook….an add-on to the Zoho Suite. There seems to be a bit of buzz within the blogosphere about this add-on application and a fair amount of talk about how great it is that Zoho has such an expansive suite of useful offerings.

Hey! Wait a minute…aren’t suites bad and run counter to the Web 2.0 meme?

What I’ve been experiencing throughout 2006 is that users ofrelatively simple hosted Web 2.0 applications are left wanting more…as soon as they’ve mastered the current point solution. If one of my client teams is using Basecamp or Google Docs…they want file upload capability. As soon as they find file upload capability…they want granular level control over the files inside and permissions wrapped around them. And on and on and on…

So if not suites, what then?  One of the key, critical points to the Web 2.0 phenomena is that the Internet is the platform so ISV’s don’t necessarily have to build their own. As a consequence, a plethora of web services are emerging that will — in my humble opinion — obviate the need for hosted Web application vendors to necessarily build and deliver suites. We’re a ways off from methods to easily and seamlessly make a bunch of different offerings come together and look coordinated within a single site, but we’re getting closer.

The key is how quickly standards emerge and consumable, scalable and affordable Web services come to market — as well as development methods to implement it all. If you want to get any sense of how developers are pulling together functionality from the Internet platform and delivering new hosted applications, spend just a half hour at Programmable Web. It’ll give you a taste of how enterprising innovators are delivering functional, robust and engaging applications from a toolbox full of Web services.

The intriguing thing to me will be watching the marketplace discover where the sweet spot of functionality lies and how the Internet-as-a-platform and Web services will manifest into good enough building blocks to allow Web 2.0 hosted application companies to quickly bolt on features. My guess? We won’t see suites per se but rather will see what the likes of Zoho are doing…but the challenge will remain to make all of even ONE companies’ offerings integrate with one another. For now, I haven’t seen how that is going to occur.

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  1. Mark Phillips on February 1, 2007 at 9:50 am

    The philosophy of software that “does less” can actually create more work and aggravation once users, teams or projects scale up to a certain level of complexity. The approach starts to lose its usefulness.

    At a certain level of scope or scale, people can benefit from software (and software designers) that “do more” in terms of details and thought out interface and functional architecture/workflow.

    I’ve posted about this at http://www.vertabase.com/blog/basecamp-web-20-reaching-the-limits/

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.