Stephen posted a thoughtful comment to my complaint. I spent some time reading a few more of his posts. I’ll re-iterate: he is clearly a craftsman.
I totally agree that marketing is an essential part of building a successful product and I really do like Stephen’s approach.
Looking deeper, my negative impression was in no small part a reaction to slideshare.net. Why does this site exist? It has executed on many of the formulae Stephen advocates in order to build a successful community and from that a successful business. The result is an deep resemblance to YouTube. And yet, at it’s core Slideshare is a PowerPoint to Flash converter. Why isn’t this just an export plugin to PowerPoint combined with any existing content publishing site. The answer of course, is in Stephen’s post about value centered design. Nobody can make money selling productivity software let alone a plugin. The alternative is the advertising supported social networking pattern.
LinkedIn and iLike might have more value at their core but both have succumbed to a variation of the Zawinski’s Law of Software Envelopment: the Law of technological mundanity. I begrudgingly use LinkedIn (and Facebook) as nothing more than a glorified address book. Although friends of mine created iLike I must admit that iDon’tLike. LinkedIn was created in the dawn of social networking and iLike has evolved into the same space out of necessity.
I really like what Stephen says about value centered design diagram. I think it really conveys the necessary compromise between business goals and user goals. It explains very well why so often the products available in the market leave end-users frustrated. End-users often don’t think about the business needs. Through Stephen’s eyes I can see how every product will eventually have (or need) a rich business ecosystem built around it.
Every internet business must expand to create the full ecosystem of experiences. Those which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.
I’m not happy with the phrase “full ecosystem of experiences” so I’m hoping that Stephen can sum it up better than I.
It’s interesting that free software can address simple problems (like sharing or converting PowerPoint slideshows) without needing to create a full internet business to support itself. However, most free software suffers from the lack of good marketing. Only when the software is truly great is word of mouth sufficient.
When all is said and done I am an engineer. What I value are applications that, well, do something. Perhaps I’m old school and stuck on “productivity apps” from the past. With that in mind I came up with a few “real world” applications that I think would benefit from Stephen’s treatment.
The first is mint.com. Overcoming my tin-foil-hat paranoia wasn’t easy but I created an account. I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far but I know they could do a better job of seducing me.
The second is jumpchart.com. I discovered it somewhat randomly and while it looks pretty slick, it’s definitely not a seductive application. I’d like to believe that there’s some real value hidden inside.
The third is instacalc.com. I found this in a list of most useful apps of 2008. I’ll be honest, I didn’t find it that useful and there simply may not be enough meat on the bone here.
I’m looking forward to more conversation with Stephen. I am much the richer for having discovered his post and then his follow-up. Thanks!