I ran across a post recently that sported a title right out of 2008, something like, “100 Apps For Running an Online Business.” Sedated as I was by my steady stream of input, I clicked the link like the good little Internet gerbil I have come to be.
The post listed 100 different desktop, mobile and web applications, and I was surprised to find that I was only familiar with about half of them. Me, a relatively connected, tech-savvy software loving webdividual, had never heard of half of these apps and services. I was overwhelmed by the number of choices to choose from. Apart from over-caffeinated, always-on writers for tech centric sites, who can keep up with all these new tools? Not this guy.
Out of the dozens, one did catch my eye though. Kippt, a bookmarking tool. Well, that’s what it is in essence, although the site itself says it’s about collecting, sharing and following. It’s cleanly designed, sports some handy features, and has integration with several other services that are (currently) popular. What’s not to like?
The issue here is that there are so many good choices for users. And it’s not just bookmarking tools, it’s web applications in general. And iOS applications. And conferences. And well designed web-focused magazines. And print publications full of writing from web stars. Apart from the idea that in the face of too many choices, many people will not make a choice at all, there are other issues with this overabundance.
First, the wild west of the Internet appears to no longer be easily profitable. The gold rush is over. Even worse, it’s possible that simply earning a respectable income is becoming harder to achieve. In a time where many designers have been walking away from the service side of the industry to focus on products, there are so many good products available that it’s becoming difficult to turn a profit. Even worse, in markets like Apple’s app store, good products can simply become lost in the sea of millions of applications.
For the user, this also causes problems. For many folks, it’s hard to choose a tool when there are so many good options available. As I mentioned above, this paralysis can often lead to the user walking away, not making a choice at all. Or, after choosing a tool, you can constantly switch between tools, covered in a fine sheen of sweat and arguing with yourself that the perceived benefit of the switch outweighs the cost of moving all your data.
But my primary concern with this issue of saturation is profitability. In order for companies that I love, companies that I want to support, to keep doing what they do, they need to be able to earn a profit. I cringe to see talent like the Sparrow team get swallowed up by bigger corporations with questionable motives.
Back to Kippt
The application that caught my eye in that article, Kippt, is a good-looking tool. It allows the user to collect content from various sources, integrates with other popular services, and sports a pleasing, minimal interface. As I asked above, what’s not to like?
My issue is that I already have tools that are comparable to, or better than, Kippt. I have Yojimbo, a native application for OS X that allows me to throw multiple types of content into it. If I’m convinced that a web application is required so I can get my data anywhere, I can choose to use Pinboard, the popular bookmarking utility that rose from the ashes of Delicious. Or, I can use Pocket, the “save-anything-for-later” service, to store the various forms of content I come across on the web and Twitter. And my personal favorite, Gimme Bar.
People creating new tools have to find some way to differentiate. Simply creating a well-built, nicely designed solid product may get you some users, but perhaps will not lead to a profitable business. Why? Because the market is saturated with so many good options that the user base becomes fragmented between the various tools.
It’s Where the People Are
I know what you may be thinking. Choice is a good thing. And you’re right. But our young industry is going mainstream, recruiting ever-increasing numbers of people, young and old, all wanting to make a living from their work. And that’s not as easy as it once was.
Don’t let this discourage you though. I still plan to earn my living online. And I’ll do so by finding the right problems to solve.