Thursday, July 17, 2008

Consumerization of Software: Social Web Maturing Before Our Very Eyes

Fueled by our use of Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, iTunes, Twitter, YouTube, etc., the consumerization of software has been a growing movement over the past few years. The benefit of this wave is software that is more engaging and intuitive. No expensive training required.

Most of these next-generation websites and applications sit at the heart of the Social Web, and whether corporate IT likes it or not, many employees are using these consumer technologies during work hours.

Having spent many years in the enterprise software space, I realize that corporate IT prefers MATURE technologies. So, let's take a look at two examples (Twitter and Facebook) of how things are maturing within the Social Web Landscape.

Just scour through Twitter to see how people/workers have been using it to communicate their whereabouts, thoughts, opinions, among other things. You also don't have to look very hard to read about Twitter's repeated issues with scalability and downtime. The issues have happened often enough that some have moved away from Twitter to Friendfeed; choice is good.

Believe it or not, I am happy to see the issues with Twitter's scalability and the resulting uproar from the consumers. Why? Because it is useful for people to be reminded that anything on the web that becomes popular so fast has to deal with scaling issues that can derail it. So plan for it and be ready to deal with it.

Moreover, I believe the public airing of the dirty laundry helps drive things more quickly towards improvement; which in turn helps the overall market mature more quickly. Finally, Twitter's move to acquire Summize is just another proof point of how quickly this market is maturing.

Another potential saga worth watching is Facebook's rollout of its latest round of [pretty extensive] changes to the Facebook Platform. Let me draw your eye to an interesting thread on the Facebook Platform Developer Forum.

The Facebook Platform team posted "We're Launching the New Profile Design to Users Very Soon":
"This is a quick heads up that we're going to start opening the new profile design to selected users. We're finalizing all the code, and the profile will be available to users you can see as soon as 24 hours from now, though it might take a few days before you see any of your users on the new site as they decide to opt in. So get your applications ready!"

Just look at some of the responses:
  • "We would appreciate it if you are able to make the new profile design at fully functional and let us test our apps for a few days before opening it up to users. You and all of us risk alienating users if you open up the current new design to users already, and they start seeing broken features, both from you and from our apps, right?"
  • "Facebook should consider itself as an operating system. We are the app designers. Right now, the operating system designers are doing a poor and unprofessional job at releasing new functionality. In the end, it is the users who will be hurt....Are you listening, Facebook?"
  • "I don't think Facebook could have handled this transition any worse. Every time I have looked into doing some work to move our apps to new API, I have run into issues/bugs and have just given up. Facebook needs to: 1. Get their stuff together and working. 2. Once they have the functionality working and more importantly documented properly, so all the Facebook API libraries can be upgraded (not just PHP), then they need to give the developers 1 month to upgrade and test their apps. The 1 month time should only start after they have a good beta in working condition.... 3. And only then they should start opening up the new system to the users, and that too in phases. Hopefully someone in Facebook is going to wakeup and realize this is a major mess as of now."
I point out the above not to hang Facebook out to dry, but to state the fact that I am happy to see this type of open dialog on such an important topic. It shows me that while Facebook can be handling its new rollout better, some of the developers targeting the Facebook Platform 1) care about their users, and 2) understand what is required from a mature platform.

While I've focused on examples of consumerized software within a less-than-mature light, Corporate IT skeptics also need to understand and appreciate the sheer number of members being served every minute of every day on platforms like Facebook. Frankly it is mind-numbingly impressive. Furthermore, I'd argue that Facebook is a great example of Web 2.0 and SOA in action; this is not tinker-toy software. But that's a blog for another day.

Bottom-line: The consumerization of software is well underway, and it is fascinating to watch as the Social Web matures before our very eyes.

No comments: