Archive for February 2012


Web Application Cycles

After following web applications for a while you end up seeing cycles. A new product comes along which promises to be dead simple, straight to the point, giving you the user a much better experience than you currently have. The product is lacking features but it’s developers claim that the lack of features is a feature.

As a product gains traction though it attracts a diverse set of users, each bringing their own expectations and use cases to the table and many giving feedback of “It’s great but I’d love if it also did…”. Many of these suggestions in isolation sound great, who wouldn’t want that extra functionality.

Generally things can go one of 2 ways, many of these features can be added and the product can continue being iterated and mature. Or most of all feature requests can be knocked back in order to keep the product as simple as the first day it come out. This tends to result in the project stagnating though, things work better when they are constantly moving and come to a grinding halt when they aren’t.

Either way, the product will eventually be ripe for disruption, either it will now be the slow moving behemoth due to years of feature creep or it will be a simple product that has failed to include many things over time that the disruptive competitor can be based around. Things move so fast that the simple product over time may have to be refocused and mostly rebuilt in order to both stay simple and to cover just the right subset of use cases to remain relevant.

While something new may look new and innovative, maybe it is more like something from the previous cycle than we think. An example is how Facebook greatly simplified the social network from the mySpace experience. Facebook identified exactly what people wanted to do on a social network: easily find and chat with their friends, share pictures and organize events. As time has gone by though there are now many aspects to Facebook and it is becoming more complicated all the time, one look at the myriad of privacy options or the different types of content that can now appear in your feed can convince you off this.

We now have the next way with social apps like Path, which is a lot closer to the original Facebook than Facebook is now. Path focuses on the people in your life you want to connect with the most, while your Facebook “friends” list may have ballooned out Path is all about cutting it back. Path is also riding the mobile wave, being predominantly mobile only. In a few years time will we be able to add the next way to this cycle? Will todays simplistic products have either grown to look like todays incumbents or stagnated and forgotten about?