by Timothy Lee

Filed Under:
middlemen, software

The Web Is Improving Consumer Software By Cutting Out Middlemen

from the keep-it-simple-stupid dept

David Pogue quotes an interesting reader email about why high-tech consumer products are so often bloated and poorly designed. It points out that when large companies design a product, they tend to be overly focused on adding lots of complex features in order to put "more check marks in more boxes" on comparison charts and impress reviewers. That raises the price of the product and can often confuse novice users. But in the old days when software was sold in a box at Best Buy, it was hard to avoid this fate because the overhead of producing, distributing, and marketing the software required charging a high price and sucking up to reviewers. The web has eliminated a lot of overhead and allowed an entrepreneur to put his product directly in the hands of users without going through a lot of middlemen. That shifts the marketplace in favor of small, lightweight, easy-to-use software.

Software that would never have been judged serious enough to put in a box and sell at Best Buy can now carve out a niche in the market by appealing directly to customers. And that's a good thing because comparison charts are often a lousy way to judge software. For example, the original Google search engine would have stacked up poorly in comparison charts against larger rivals like Yahoo! that were rapidly transforming themselves into "portals." But Google was a lot better at the one feature that really mattered: search quality. They had trouble convincing the titans of the web to buy their search technology, but luckily they could just put it on the web and let the customer try it. As more and more software migrates to the web, it's likely to result in more responsive and higher-quality software.

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  • identicon
    Jake, 9 Apr 2008 @ 6:50pm

    That's one possible explanation, though the fact that a lot of programmers are subordinate to the whim of men who know sweet Fanny Adams about coding and won't listen to the advice of those who do, all for a salary that just barely lets them pay the rent and the bills probably doesn't help much either.
    [Full disclosure: I don't have personal experience of the software industry, and am merely extrapolating from the fact that there are literally millions of people with the same problem in every industry I have worked in.]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, 9 Apr 2008 @ 9:59pm

    Same Old Same Old

    Big deal. The direct-sales model is nothing new--goes right back to the earliest days of the PC software industry. Ever heard of "shareware"?

    Ultimately, these smaller-scale products are still going to fall prey to bigger-budget marketing campaigns by their competitors, as well as the market-for-lemons effect.

    There is one new way to change the game, and that's with Open Source/Free Software. That puts the customer in control, offers a scalable development model, and a scalable support model as well. You mentioned Google as an example: it's no coincidence that the company not only makes heavy use of Open Source/Free Software, it also contributes significantly to its development.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ptc, 10 Apr 2008 @ 9:28am

    It's rather a balance

    Features versus simplicity has always been call of judgment, ain't it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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