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"Open or Closed, you're still hosed." ... or catching up on the whole "The Web is dead" series.

I wrote most of this 4 weeks ago, but came back and hit "Publish" on it today, so its a little raw...its been that kinda month. :)

The long weekend allowed me to catch up on the entire "The Web is Dead" series of articles, and the blogosphere brouhaha that followed. Its really great material to think about.
The series forced me to think a little longer about what's motivating this behavior from the companies and individuals driving this change, and analyze my own behavior as well.
Eventually though, the line from this Richter Scale's song ("In the Valley") is what stayed with me: "Open or closed, you're still hosed."

The notes below are a little ad-hoc; and its only slightly clearer in my head.
  • So often the browser does get in the way.
    All other things being equal, user-experience wins; and in many cases the browser as most of us see it (i.e. navigation buttons, URL navigation bar, Menus etc.) just gets in the way.

    Its also generally slower; far too many times (especially when I'm using my phone) - I type something into the Google search box on the landing screen and then spend 5-6 seconds waiting for something...anything to happen. Often, I have a very specific intent when I'm doing these queries (e.g. checking the status of a flight, or the weather) and an app (e.g. FlightStats, is simply the most efficient choice.

    Chrome (and later versions of Firefox and now IE9) have put being faster and getting out of the way at the center of their experience for most users. And even Apple and Android have invested in making browser startup and performance better. But despite this, when there's a specific narrow intent involved, its likely that a good app developer (by app in this context I mean any standalone piece of software doesn't use the browser) can beat a website pretty easily at building a better user-experience.
  • So what about web apps then?
    Web apps attempt to solve part of the problem here: by being focussed on a particular thing, they're taking the next step in "getting out of the way" (i.e. no typing in the URL of the site.)

  • But what about marketplaces?
    Apps as we see think of them today are tied to a marketplace where we buy them or install them from. Lets be clear here.
    Apps are just software. We've bought apps (used to call em applications in my time) ever since there've been machines to buy them for. Its just that that we've always bought them either as shrink-wrapped packages, or as software downloads and then installed them.

    The marketplace model though makes it much easier to find and purchase this software for users, and to publish it for developers. The marketplace (as means for user discovery and a tool for developers to finally monetize softwares) was key to the success of apps. The good/bad news is there's going to be as many marketplaces as there are platforms.

  • Then there's placement
    Where you start the app from is important. This is an minor tick; but making it as easy as possible is pretty major. See Chrome's attempts to push this in front in the browser, and the Empire's attempt to push these on the desktop. Both good for the user.

  • Parity won't be enough, but its a start:
    In most cases, for something to win, it needs to be much better; better for someone - the user or the developer; generally both. This is my one concern for web apps - most conversations I'm in talk about how wonderful this is ....given that its running in the browser. That's fine, but not a reason in itself.

  • On devices in particular:
    Where great UX is all about reducing text entry and clicks, its hard to justify any extra effort that the user might need to make and right now that's a big argument towards an app model, but eventually I believe Voice as input method and better UX will solve that problem.

  • But isn't everyone trying to dis-intermediate everyone else?
    I thought about disintermediation quite a bit. Isn't there always an attempt by every company to figure out ways to lock users into their platform, or at least make it harder for the competition? Well, yes and no. It varies from company-to-company, and really company leadership-to-company leadership. I think some tend to go more towards the open; the others more towards the closed.

    How much of thinking behind product decisions is about this? Definitely some, but lesser than most people that are not making these decisions suspect.


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