A common analogy used in business is that of war. Conceptually speaking war used to be easy. You had an enemy, they had a flag, a home base, troops huddled together, and clear lines of division. This was true during revolutionary times and remained true up through the major world wars.
Enter Guerrilla Tactics:
From the revolutionary war, becoming iconic in Vietnam and now making an evolutionary leap with terrorist cells (which operate in a guerrilla fashion without any central command), guerrilla tactics changed the face of war. Today, war is a grueling house to house endeavor. As the realities of combat have changed on the battlefield, so too are they changing in business. The way software will be bought, sold, used, and discarded has changed – among both consumers and businesses – even if we haven’t recognized it.
What really got me thinking along these lines was the recent data on Google from Hitwise. You see, Google handles 65% of every search on the planet. More than twice anyone else. Let’s take that statistical fact and marry it with some personal experience. Since I don’t know you, I’ll use my own. You see, in the last 6 months, I have begun to use more and more Google, and less and less everyone else. For example:I used to use NewsGator, now I use Google Reader I used to track my crazy ideas in a word document, now I use Google Docs and Spreadsheets I never really used a homepage portal, but have started using iGoogle I used to use yahoo mail, now I use gmail
The question is why? There are many factors in the adoption of online software (usability, cost, etc), but one of the most overlooked reasons is a change in the problem du jour for users. A few years ago the issue was getting online. It was all about disconnected. Today that is not the real issue – today’s problem for most users is dealing with your 2+ machines and the information and applications used across them. The real hard stuff is keeping track of what you have on what machine, syncing your bookmarks, etc. In this world, using the Web frees people from worry about what is where – every computer hits the cloud and the problem magically disappears. That helps explain the move to online services, but why have I moved to Google properties of late?
That is what the rest of this post is about…
In this migration to online tools, we have all lilypadded from one service to another. Moving between services has a cost, economists will call it Switching Costs, businesses call it expensive, and I just call it a hassle. Let’s say you wanted to buy some books – you’d likely go to Amazon.
People use Amazon for lots of reasons, reviews, selection, price, to name a few, but they also use Amazon because they already use Amazon. People hate change. If they are getting good enough service from Amazon, there is no compelling need to move. They know intuitively that moving means signing up again, learning a new interface, providing credit card information to yet another vendor in the sky – and what do they get for all this hassle and risk? The chance for something better? Who needs all that – sometimes good enough is good enough.
In the current state of webness, there is still a lot of flux. Wiki is not a household word and no one really knows why flickr is better than ofoto or photobucket, but it sounds cooler and oh yeah, it has tagging! Over time the market will vote with dollars and eyeballs. At some point we’ll tip and the leader will become obvious to everyone. Once every point solution does substantially the same thing, the dreaded consolidation happens and the value of switching is eclipsed by the costs and new entrants better have something really revolutionary or stay away. Today people switch because a new competitor adds a new feature – those days will end. But wait, it gets worse…at some point complexity changes the game as well.
I can spend 5 minutes on a site and know what the product does and doesn’t do with a Gartner 0.9 probability (:D). We’ll, after a few years, that won’t be the case. As products grow, interfaces clutter, marketing struggles to focus the message on differentiation, and the effort to understand for prospects becomes prohibitively high. Welcome to software.
I know that all of us in 2.0 land really really want to keep things simple and easy, and yes, I know the guys at Signal v. Noise think it can be done, but I’ll weigh in on Joel‘s side here. It’s just not a long term viable strategy. You gotta keep moving and yes this can mean products become harder to use and in some cases worse. (See GarageBand becoming a podcast studio, wtf? I thought I bought this to make MUSIC). So if you believe that it will happen, you have to think about guarding against it hurting you as best you can.
Enter the iLife Effect:
The solution is to deliver a purpose built suite that works together. Apple nailed it with iLife, clearly learning from the failure currently known as AppleWorks. If you think about it, you can get applications that manage your music library, edit home movies, burn dvds and store digital photos – there are lots and lots of them. The problem is that none of them work together, except iLife. It’s smart integration makes them beautifully usable. Each app does what it does best, and the user can enjoy them all together without having to think too much. I can add pictures to my movies from within iMovie. I can add music to my slideshows from within iPhoto. I can burn a dvd at the push of a button from iMovie. If you have even tried these types of creative apps in the pc world you got really good at exporting and importing to folders. Not smart integration.
Side Note: To be fair, Apple isn't alone here, Zoho gets it and so does MSFT Office, although cut and paste isn't quite as elegant.
Why does this matter? Cause it would take one helluva jukebox for me to move off of iTunes. It is just too essential to what I do in my spare time.
Enter the Center of Gravity:
The winner in this game will own your valued center of gravity. It is certainly true for me as I notice more and more of the webapps I use being owned under the Google umbrella – I begin to look to Google 1st. If a single source owns your core activities, you will gravitate towards them (remember our conversation on switching costs). So that’s you in your personal life, but the the new news is that it is the same for organizations.
We all like to make this distinction between the consumer web and the business web. The truth is, it’s all the same from a certain perspective. Why? Because the same people are driving both now. If you work at a company and have ever said “lets use Basecamp for our project” then you know what I mean.
I can hear you now…”people are not companies, we have IT and a CIO, they make the call!”. We’ll yes and no. It seems that the world is finally getting hip to the laws of nature. There really is no central control that lasts (Roman empire anyone?). There are systems with rules, but authority over time fails.
People are creative, independent beings and they are driven by all kinds of things from doing a good job, to paying the mortgage to impressing their friends. In the work context, they will do what they must to accomplish their goals in the manner they feel is best.
Think back to the days of the corporate portal. At some point, organizations realized every department was installing their own portal – kinda went against the whole idea of a portal didn’t it? So, IT mandated centralization – “we bought Plumtree, use it” and some did, others didn’t, Sharepoint portals kept cropped up, even PeopleSoft won a bunch of those HR departments with our portal. In the end, people used what made sense to them to accomplish their goals, not some vague goal of the corporation. Could be Basecamp for projects, Netvibes for a homepage, and Pidgin for IM. That was a harbinger of things to come.
The evolutionary path is clear. Today it is blogs, wikis, and linked in… Tomorrow is it invoicing and a/r? And if it is, what do you do then? (If you want the answer you can read Clayton Christensen’s work, he is much smarter than me.)
Which brings us back to our discussion of war. The war in the land of enterprise 2.0 will not be fought with RFPs, Account Executives, and the CIO behind a strategic architecture drawing. The war has become door to door, office to office. It is happening every day in departments just like yours. There is no center, no head to chop off – the edge is the new battleground. The cell is the new buyer. If you sell software, you need to figure out how you will play in this new world.
The question is, are you the center of gravity for your customers? If not, why?