True Aggregation, The Browser as a Platform

This is a guest post from BeeBuzz, the voice of BeeBole.

Every morning when I stop reading the last big news from about 30 blogs in Netvibes and switch to my countless SaaS Business Apps such as Gmail, Basecamp, Highrise, Remember The Milk, Google Docs, … I wonder why aggregation of information like news was present so fast in my day to day life and why Business Apps, when it comes to integration, are still in the stone age.

If I had to define the perfect Business Application, it would certainly be user-centric:

  1. I would have a single interface where I could find all my information and processes;
  2. The interface would be flexible. It would allow me to rearrange it the way I want: fitting my working habits and my organization of information;
  3. And finally, it would only include the features I need and for which I would eventually pay.

Even with such powers in my hands, I would still expect quite a lot from the software provider: security, maintenance, performance, scalability and innovation.

There are obvious barriers to reach that point.

First, I doubt we will ever have some kind of a single universal DB with information about persons, friends, contacts, habits, projects, … They will probably continue to multiply and spread as new web solutions will appear.

Secondly, I doubt a single provider will ever meet all my needs. Moreover, I believe innovation comes from diversity.

So, looking at how SaaS providers are responding to this demand, we can find:

1) The me-only providers. They often provide a wonderful tool for a specific domain but are not integrated with others.

SaaS - No Integration

2) The API players. They believe in information aggregation and easily pass the barrier of the constantly multiplying and spreading sources of information.

Centralized and external data is combined not only to avoid redundancy for the users, but also to provide better and more complete results.

Good examples:

API followers would usually also provide API for their own data.

SaaS - API Players

3) The SaaS Platforms. This new feature in the SaaS industry is more than probably going to be the battlefield in the in the coming months and years (McKinsey: Emerging platforms war in enterprise software).

Taking the same naming convention than McKinsey, Development Platforms and Application-led Platforms are good candidates to help the user pass the second barrier.

Providing a single interface for the users and elaborated systems for developers, this might be the solution we are looking at.

It is definitively one step further in the direction of a user-centric approach. Still, there are in my opinion certain downsides you need to consider:

First, the lock-in it creates for developers. When you choose a platform, you basically choose for a complete environment from A to Z at the disadvantage of complete freedom in innovation and technical choices.

Secondly, the real possibilities for the end users are still quite limited in terms of interface customization and flexibility.

SaaS - Platforms

4) True Aggregation in SaaS or the Browser as a Platform. The idea is to be able to empower the end-users and at the same time to leverage providers’ efforts and innovation without creating any lock-in.

While running their business applications through a web browser, the users can customize their screens adding or removing services offered by various providers.

Using the buzz semantic, these users are in fact running SaaS applications through a Mashup interface based on SOA architecture.

I recommend the excellent post about Enterprise Mashups written by Brian ‘Bex’ Huff.

Mashups are usually packaged by developers or Mashup specialists. But, just like Netvibes did for the RSS feeds, you could let them be created by users.

The real challenge for the software providers will then be to rethink applications in smaller blocks that could work independently AND in collaboration with other unknown services.

SaaS - Browser as a Platform

SaaS - Browser as a Platform Logic

So we are finally seeing a move into federation in SaaS Business Applications. Aggregation of information and aggregation of features should be on the mind of everybody who plans to start a new SaaS venture.

While all-in-one heavyweight platforms such as those offered by Salesforce provide a certain comfort, I strongly believe that innovation is about freedom of choices and diversity; and it’s something that can only be achieved by embracing that diversity and not by creating lock-ins.

Last but not least, there is a last barrier that might be bigger than the two others mentioned above: the will of providers to work together and share the love!

2 Comments
  • Falafulu Fisi |

    Yves said…
    First, I doubt we will ever have some kind of a single universal DB with information about persons, friends, contacts, habits, projects, … They will probably continue to multiply and spread as new web solutions will appear.

    If there is a market and demand for something like that, I am sure that some vendors out there would have already thought about it or intend to produce a product that does those things. In an economic system, a producer can’t produce for the sake of fun or simply produce because they think there is a small portion of the population that is going to buy the services of product. So, in the end if there is no demand for it, producers won’t produce products with such capabilities.

    Yves said…
    …I strongly believe that innovation is about freedom of choices and diversity; and it’s something that can only be achieved by embracing that diversity and not by creating lock-ins.

    Umm! I have a different definition of innovation and freedom. One can have freedom and innovate as long as that person has a right to his own independent life, that his/her life and property belong to him/her, not to others to use as they see fit. The business anti-competitive laws of today (most western governments) violate this very basic principle. This law enforces that the owner of a property (intellectual) gives up his rights to what is his/hers in order for someone else’s product/s to be able to compete in the market (not his own innovation). A clear example here, was the anti-trust case against Microsoft. Microsoft was forbidden from bundling its own product (Internet Explorer) with its Windows operating system for the purpose that Netscape somehow, can innovate & compete in the market. Netscape demanded this right to stop Microsoft (the property owner of Windows) from deciding of what it can or can’t do with its own property and this is completely wrong.

    One can still innovate and free on his own and not to do so upon the notion or requirement that someone else’s be enslaved by law (taken away their rights to choose of what they can or can’t do with their own property ) in order to fulfill this purpose of innovation.

  • @Falafulu

    About my comment on universal DB:

    Even with a strong market demand for it, I don’t think a single universal DB would exist. Imagine that someone would create a big DB that would include all the possible information about the users, which is already a miracle. Well, it would still be a provider. And why would another service provider use that DB while he can create its own DB fitting perfectly with what he needs?

    A Universal DB means that every provider agrees on a storage place but also on a universal format.

    While the universality of the format of information might know an evolution with projects such as DataPortability, I don’t see it evolving further than the basic info around the person.

    About Innovation and Freedom:

    Yes, you can innovate and have a certain freedom while using a platform with many lock-ins. Still, on such a platform, you need to make quite a lot of compromises in terms of technology to fit with the environment.

    You were free to choose for the platform, but then you loose a part of your freedom and innovation because of your first choice.

    My point was that if everybody goes on the platforms with lock-ins, who will then create the new technologies, and bring new ideas outside of all barriers … ?

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