Posted in: Technology

So you want to trust your workflow to the web – good luck with than plan


As Duncan reported earlier Google is shutting down; or removing any active upkeep and development, from a slew of services that they had paid out millions for. The reason why – money. The problem is that it is services like Jaiku, Notebook and Google Video that the company was using as part of their whole webification of our our world. Sure YouTube is a more popular product than Google Video but that doesn’t change the fact that these are all services that at some point people have entrusted their workflow to along with their data. Like everything else though when the money gets tight if something isn’t making a company money it’s time to shut the doors on it – that’s just Business 101.

Steve Rubel just raised an interesting point in a new post – could GReader be next on the chopping block at Google. After all like he points out GReader still hasn’t been able to be monetized in any serious fashion. As well, while in the Web 2.0 and social media world everyone might be deeply in love with the product the rest of the real mainstream world on the web still hasn’t gotten RSS feeds.

Enter Google Reader, one of my favorite products and by far the best RSS reader on the market. However, Google Reader is completely un-monetized. Further, RSS adoption aint exactly a robust growth market. It’s still for geeks. So I wonder if the economic storm intensifies what Reader’s future is. My bet is that they will either shut it down, cease development or start to monetize it the way they are doing with Google Finance. More likely it’s the latter. Even Google Maps now has ads.

If Google chooses to run ads in Google Reader, that creates an issue. Lots of publishers run ads in their feeds. If Google is competing against these with its own contextual ads in in Reader then what? It might just be easier for them to shut it down. Thank God for OPML exporting.

What does this portend for the rest of all those companies out there scratching for attention and users for their services. After all VC money will only go so far especially in these economic times regardless how some of the venture capital companies might want to spin it. So at what point do the users out there realize that these companies are starting to drop like flies taking all of our time invested in them along with our data right down the flick of a server switch.

What we could very well be seeing here is the very beginning of the snowball rolling down the hill. It might be starting out small with only a few companies; or existing services that are cash sink holes, getting shuttered. Unfortunately though with each one that disappears consumer willingness to expend any more time on exist services will decline. For new services starting out it will be even harder because they have the double whammy of the economy and consumer reluctance to deal with.

Personally I have been reluctant from the beginning to move my workflow to the web mainly because of things like this. One minute you might be using some service as part of your workflow and the next minute – Whoosh – it’s gone; usually with nothing more than a week or two notice on a blog somewhere that no-one probably reads. I may have gotten laughed at in the past whenever I questioned the long term viability of trusting our workflow to the web but over the next year I don’t think those people will be laughing quite as hard.

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6 Responses to “So you want to trust your workflow to the web – good luck with than plan”

  1. ChangeForge | Ken Stewart

    Steven, you hit on some very solid points of why SaaS had initial adoption issues – and doubly so with “free-for-use” services such that Google provided. We were discussing this on FriendFeed the other day (yes another free service) as to whether anyone would pay for premium Google services should they decide to charge for them?

  2. scot

    Yes that's a top point. There's nothing wrong with trusting your workflow “to the web” as in, install it on your own infrastructure and make it available to your remote workers. But there is a big difference to that and just plonking it up on Gmail or Salesforce or Flickr or whereever. Services like these need to have export functionality to be truly viable. I don't mind putting the “end products” of my workflow into the cloud, I'm pretty reluctant to use the cloud as a way of reaching that end product (I'm helped by this, in that all my end products tend to demand CPU-intensive localised production methods anyway, e.g. music, video, source code). Words, on the other hand, as in what's in my blog etc … well that's easily cached locally anyway.

    Oh, one of Steve's Friendfeed commenters did point out that Reader IS monetised – they know exactly everything you read and click on, and can feed this into their demographic profiling dataset.

  3. BACNetwork

    It had to happen. How can anyone justify investing (if you can call it that) millions of dollars with no foreseeable return. What were they thinking when they made the plunge into these (non profit) businesses.

    Maybe they saw it as a way to stay in touch with new technology but I bet the people who made the decisions to invest were not putting up their own money. It is amazing how (suddenly) conservative people get if you say “Your bonus is in this – invest well and you do well – lose my money and you lose yours”.

    In truth there are too many new web 2 technologies hitting the market at the same time. People think “Ah Facebook is making a fortune so I will create another one and make a small fortune”. But there are hundreds if not thousands of them and the market can only support so many especially if they refuse to share data and every time a person joins they have to start from square one.

    I believe there are many niche markets where look alike programmes can be successful (why re invent the wheel – just choose a different track to follow) but most developers think a “mass market” is safer when in fact a small niche market is far more likely to succeed and when it does there will be no room for a competitor.

    It's time Internet entrepreneurs started earning their title (let alone the money they covet) and put more effort into developing the right product for the right market – and carry the risk until they know whether there is a market for their idea before they go venture capital hunting, which in my opinion, is what most of the so called entrepreneurs really want . Too many people really see getting VC as the goal rather than succeeding as a business.

    Bye the way our word Entrepreneur means “Undertaker” in French. Kind of apt in an ironic sort of way I guess as all these businesses die under their Entrepreneurship.

  4. esjewett

    These are excellent points, but it only gets at half of the equation. As I see it, the two main questions when working on my personal workflow are effectiveness and flexibility. My impression is that when people are thinking about their workflows there is far too much emphasis on the stability of the platform (which is your point, and a good one) because of an inflated estimate of the costs associated with a workflow change.

    The basic question is this: Is a change to my workflow that takes X hours to execute worthwhile?

    The way a lot of people think about this question is by asking “Do I have X hours to spend on this or would I rather spend it on something else?”

    The question people should be asking contains another variable – the number of hours they will save overall through this change. Let's call this number of hours “Y”. The question is: “Do I have X-Y hours to spend on this or would I rather spend it on something else?” When the number of hours saved (Y) becomes greater than the switching cost (X), the cost associated with a workflow change becomes negative.

    I actually switch tools quite often, so my estimate of the total productivity gain for a given tool is necessarily limited by a short time horizon and my tolerance for switching costs should be correspondingly lower, but I still find that a switch is of tools is justified for a pretty small daily productivity gain (even 5 minutes saved per day makes a tool a clear winner).

    If Google Reader shut down tomorrow and I had to switch to a different feed reader, would I come out ahead in productivity over the last year or two as compared to the next best solution? I have no doubt in my mind that I would. As such, I have no problem “entrusting” this part of my workflow to the web, as long as the switching costs (X) are less than the productivity gain.

    I find that the “web-iness” of a tool doesn't factor much in the estimate of switching costs. The OPML export from Google Reader happens to make the switching cost very low, which makes my decision to use Google Reader very easy.

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