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Marshall's Web Tool Blog

Training and Consulting in New Tools for Effective Web Use

This site is an archive of posts that I hope you will find useful. Please visit my new site at Marshallk.com.

A Wishlist for Web Applications

I love Infoworld Magazine. It's a great look into what the corporate IT world is doing, often translatable into a non-profit and small business context. It's just plain fun for me to read. I know not everyone would enjoy it, though, so I thought I'd "translate" an recent article that highlights some of the changes being made to big, corporate software. I hope and wish that the creators of the software us little people use will include some of these same themes in their offerings.

"Apps Vendors Attack Midmarket" might not sound like a thriller of an article, but it covered some interesting developments in what's called ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) software. When I think of things like ERP and CRM, I think of software like Furl, Del.icio.us, Backpackit, Basecamp, GMail, Newsgator/Bloglines and Skype. These aren't literal translations, but I think they are used by smaller organizations to fulfill some of the same functions. Some of the changes the big guys are making are based on innovations from the above applications. Others indicate directions it would be nice to see those end-user applications include.

  • AJAX, an exciting programming method that ensures, as the Infoworld article points out, "transactions that might have taken five seconds are instantaneous." I believe that all of the above small-apps use AJAX already, except Furl. Wouldn't that be great? It was in small apps that AJAX was born (as far as I can tell), so I hope that older small apps like Furl will adopt it as well. The next version of Hotmail will use a lot of AJAX.
  • Integration with third-party programs. Skype is reportedly taking big steps to further this trend. It's a big part of what Del.icio.us is all about. Short of using Greasemonkey programming tricks, many other end-user web-apps can't easily be connected with each other. That's a real bummer, because the big guys are all about selling huge, multi-function application suites with everything but the kitchen sink integrated to swap data and work together. Those of us on the tail end of computing ideas still have to struggle to integrate our tools manually.
  • Data import. This is largely about swiping customers from your competitors, but it could also work as a compensation prize for the lack of integration in small web apps. One new software innovation allows you to put your Skype contacts into Outlook, and checks automatically whether any of your Outlook contacts have Skype user IDs. Why is it so hard for me transfer the whole batch of my Furl subscriptions into a single RSS feed to read in Newsgator? Does it have to be as difficult as it seems to put your Del.icio.us database into your Furl archive and vice versa? Perhaps widespread OPML adoption will resolve this issue in the nearish future.
  • Custom interfaces. Why not? There are lots of things I'd like to be able to change about the interface of the web apps I use, and so long as those who pay the bills using contextual advertising go ahead and lock-in the appearance of those ads, why not let me make major changes to the interface I interact with when using their tools? For example, I love Furl...but I sure wish I could borrow some ideas from Del.icio.us in the way it works for me.
  • Loads of new features. The Infoworld article says the CRM maker Salesnet
    is coming out with 250 new features to celebrate it's 25th version! If it is truly a viable business model to offer free, web based applications to end-users and monetize on the clicks to contextual advertising (the dominant free app biz model out there, based on Google's) - shouldn't there be more new features coming out, faster? Some of the above small apps are good about this, like Skype (because people love it) and Del.icio.us (because people love it and it's easy to create plug-ins for), but some of them are awful. Neither Skype nor Del.icio.us use contextual advertising for revenue. Does that business model have enough steam behind it to motivate sufficient innovation? Maybe the search industry proves it's possible.

These seem to be some of the key trends in corporate computing right now. I think they are pretty interesting, and I'd really like to have access to them without working for a corporation with a huge budget. I don't need everything to be free, but I hope and wish that we'll see the small applications so many of us use continue to be on the cutting edge of application development. Scalability, or the ability to deal with your own popularity without your computer crashing or your bandwidth clogging, is one of several performance issues. But let's hope that small time players really can continue to offer powerful services based on innovation and collaboration - not just come up with great ideas that can only really be carried out well by the corporate computing world with all it's financial resources.

Related: On the bright side, check out Blinkx. They seem like a company that's really bringing a lot of things together and they've been really responsive to my emails over the last few days about problems. Check out this short audio interview about their awesome product.

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