Thursday, May 1, 2008

The next big thing

Joel Spolsky is the president of Fogg Creek Software and frequent commentator on the software development industry. His latest article, Architecture Astronauts, criticizes Microsoft's continued re-invention of something no one seems to want. 

Read Joel's article to get the full comic affect, but here's a pertinent excerpt: 
When did the first sync web sites start coming out? 1999? There were a million versions. xdrive, mydrive, idrive, youdrive, wealldrive for ice cream. Nobody cared then and nobody cares now, because synchronizing files is just not a killer application. I'm sorry. It seems like it should be. But it's not.
A killer application would certainly be the next big thing. If you're unsure what a killer application is think of the first word processor, spreadsheet, or database program. Some of you may not appreciate the impact a killer-application can have on the world because the last killer-application was Tim Berner Lee's introduction of the World Wide Web in 1991--17 years ago! 

As it relates to "the next big thing" or what users really want, after reading Joel's essay two things popped into my mind immediately. The first is my frustration with needing a different user ID for every website that requires registration. As if to add insult to my injury when I went to make a comment on Joel's essay on Reddit I had to create Yet Another Account Profile (YAAP). I was reminded of the next while reading other users' comments I noticed how poorly discussion forums are implemented as web applications. 

There are many companies and portals that pretend to provide single sign-on. The idea being that users create a single account including user ID and password and are automatically credentialed for multiple applications across the internet. The problem I see with the current approach is two-fold. First, I don't trust many companies with being the guardians of my "official" profile due to my suspicion of their ulterior motives. Will be profile information be sold? Will it be harvested by advertising companies? What will the company or their "partners" do with the information about other sites I authenticate to using their credentials? 

Microsoft Passport wanted to be a single-sign-on for the internet, but Microsoft had already demonstrated their contempt for users making it so difficult to verify the authenticity of my Windows license when simply upgrading my computer--much less throwing it out and replacing it with a new one. Even Microsoft seems to have admitted Passport's reputation by dropping it. Of course, not willing to let go control completely they re-invented it as Windows Live

Do you really want to trust Microsoft with your profile after their Orwellian Windows Genuine Advantage patch? 

There are entities I might be willing to trust. First is the US Post Office. We already trust them to deliver our mail, first class and bulk, desirable or not, and best of all--everything is brought to my door-step by a uniformed representative of the United States Government. 

Perhaps out of necessity, I also trust my bank. Even if it is out of necessity, my credit union hasn't given me cause to believe they want to own me. Instead, my credit union (and bank before that) actually trust me with their money for my credit card, car loan, mortgage, and home equity LOC. 

It's a place to start, anyway. OK, two places to start. 

I'll discuss the next thing in the next article, I'm thinking of calling "The next big thing should stop ruining the last good thing."

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