Collaboration is the Killer App
A big part of the disruption going on in software is that collaboration is much more important than feature lists.
A bulk of what’s happening on the Web right now can be characterized as retrofitting…remaking software to fit within the framework of the Web. And the framework of the Web is a network, and what people do in networks (of all kinds) is collaborate.
Most of the software coming out isn’t new from a functional standpoint. Most of it is simply the basic tools that people need with collaboration features maxed out. This is great…it really helps us get over the do-everything-through-email approach. It wasn’t obvious until recently just how much of a bottleneck email is when you’re trying to collaborate. It’s fine for two people to go back and forth. Add a third and you get into problems quickly. It’s just too easy to say “I didn’t get that email”.
The biggest problem is that there is no central storage of email that everyone can see. On the Web this is a web page or app…anything with a URI. In email it just never existed…
My good buddy Richard MacManus has a nice post digging into the topic on everyone’s minds: Is Google competing with Microsoft for a Web-based Office? The obvious answer is “Yes, of course”. But a Google engineer that Richard talked to provided a slightly different answer, that gets to the notion of using the Web for what its good at. The notion he told Richard was to leverage “the native use of the Internet”.
So in that sense Google isn’t competing with Microsoft to bring Office to the Web. What they’re doing is building tools that allows those in the Office to collaborate. For my money I don’t care if I ever use Office again…but what is important is to be able to do create and send documents to each other. That seems to be the level that Google is playing at right now…to facilitate collaboration as much as anything.
This dovetails nicely with the book I’ve been reading: The Evolution of Useful Things by Henry Petroski. He claims that most design is a series of failures that revolve around the idea that there is no perfect design, just design that seems to solve the problems as we current see them.
At the current moment, with broadband reaching a large percentage of the U.S. and people working more and more outside the office, the problem of collaboration is increasingly on people’s minds. Many folks are working on projects now in which they never even meet the others on the team, let alone grab a beer with them.