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March 13, 2005

There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom*

Over two years ago, I attended the Supernova conference, and wrote about a panel I saw on collaborative business. The gist of the panel was that monolithic tools to support collaboration don't work, and that what does work are smaller, more pointed task tools such as email and IM.

Then, just this morning, I read Joe Kraus' post about "the long tail of software", where he explains why he believes there's a huge opportunity in giving people the ability to create simple software tools that adapt to their specific organizational processes. He believes he can horn in on the email+Excel space that runs most small companies today.

Given what I wrote over two years ago, I think there's a lot of potential promise in Joe's post. Joe has a new company Jotspot, which aims to execute on that vision. There's definitely a certain amount of appeal to Jotspot's provision of tools to solve business processes, or to allow you to cobble together a solution on your own.

For a project I just completed, I interviewed 11 people in small and medium-size businesses who currently use Excel and email to run a fundamental aspect of their business (can't say what, specifically). And Joe is going to have a host of difficulties in getting people like the ones I spoke to to adopt a system such as his...
- it's called a "wiki" -- folks in middle management who "own" the spreadsheets in their group don't know what wikis are, and don't want to
- it requires learning yet another new thing -- folks in middle management who "own" the spreadsheets are swamped in their day-to-day responsibilities and i think the idea of learning a whole new markup language would be a strong deterrent

However, Joe has an interesting advantage which is that Jotspot feels "small." It feels like something any individual can adopt and play around with, and not necessarily need some form of approval. Particularly because it's all through the Web -- no need to install software on the company PC and all the hassle associated with that.

It'll be interesting to see where this all heads...

* The title of Richard Feynman's seminal talk that spurred the creation of nanotechnology. Seems appropriate.

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