Can traditional app designers take advantage of Web 2.0?

With all of the excitement around Web 2.0, one thing to keep in mind is that once the pure intensity and hype around the trend begins to mellow, we should begin to see the ideas become mainstream.

For example, "Peer-to-Peer" (P2P) was a trend that popped up around the turn of the century. The hype was loud, and we really thought it might be The Next Big Thing. I remember some really brilliant people supposing that it might be as big as the Browser itself. My involvement included leading a group of developers to deliver a P2P SDK. Although we completed our work, it became clear that P2P was not going to be as big as we thought, and I went on to other things.

But some of the most interesting and useful innovations in the P2P space survived the hype and became part of the mainstream. Just look at Microsoft's acquisition of Groove Networks, for example. I can think of one or two other companies which were founded at the time of the P2P ramp up, which survive to today, applying their innovations in other spaces, like grid and clustered systems.

And even though the browser wars continue to smolder, the biggest surprise for me is how the browser UI became the common motif for any application " even non networked apps - to explore information. It's like driving a car: all cars drive the same way, and most applications look like they were borrowed from a browser.

This is something Microsoft is realizing as well. In a copyrighted interview in the New York Times, on October 14, Steve Balmer was asked about the "most significant changes" coming in software usage. He agrees with this assessment "community collaboration will become a dominant force in software usage.

So how will things look in another 5 to 10 years? Will we still be talking about Web 2.0 and apps? Or will it have become just another part of all mainstream applications? And how will you profit from this?

Here are some possibilities to get your creative juices churning, in order from most certain to least:

· Help systems and knowledge bases are basically static pools of information. Doesn't it seem obvious that future applications will have wiki's rather than static help systems? There are a lot of problems to solve here, since you can't usually create a new user community from scratch. But a wiki would be a whole lot more useful than most help systems I have dealt with.

· More applications will ship with their application interfaces open as services, so that they can be composed easily with other services into new applications. Devs will think about new apps as mash ups, rather than as monolithic creations from the ground up. This kind of thing is common practice in the dev world (we call it "steal with pride") so it also seems like an obvious development. Though I wonder, how are we going to solve the legal issues? Google decided not to make a big stink over use of GMaps in other apps, but the Gnu Public License has probably caused as many problems in the use of open source as it has solved them. We need something better!

· The constant beta model of software development and distribution will become the norm. This isn't new with Web 2.0, but it's becoming more institutionalized. The usual caution with usability design is not to risk confusing the user with improved functionality. But now I am quite happy with Google Earth changing its presentation of information" and improving " every time I start the application. There is of course some software that shouldn't change without a lot of notice and extensive testing " enterprise mission critical core software, APIs as we know them today, examples of things people count on today to work tomorrow the same way. But why shouldn't my browser improve with new cool features or easier ways of doing things without having to do a traditional upgrade?

· Collaboration will be embedded in the fabric of user interactions. Balmer makes a point in the above interview about how Xbox Live has improved the gaming experience, but anyone who has played Quake 3 knows that online play beats offline to pieces. Let's go back to the browser or word processor for a minute " what if my app is able to improve itself through user-submitted models over time? How would I feel if I hovered over an address in an email, and the GMaps map suddenly popped up over it without my having to have done an "upgrade"? I would be surprised and delighted! There are lots of issues to solve here, since I wouldn't want to be inundated with junk features when I just want to write an email. The challenge will be to channel the flow of innovation.

Happy collaborating!


The opinions in this piece are mine alone and do not reflect the official position of Intel on products or strategies.
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