This entry is based on the presentation we made at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit 2006 titled “Beyond SAAS”.
First, let us look at the 3 big reasons why users like web applications:
- Anytime – Anywhere access
- Zero system administration
- Sharing with others
Makes a lot of sense. Hence the big rush to the web, to the extent that all other platforms of development (including apps for the desktop) were completely forgotten.
But, after nearly a decade of this incessant movement, are there certain learnings? As users do we find some things missing?
1. Forced to leave our data (at many different websites)
I realize that my emails/contacts are with Yahoo & Google, photos are with Flickr & Webshots, blogs are with WordPress & Blogger, bookmarks somewhere else, calendar some site, and so on. Thanks to the recent trend of Web Services APIs and open policies of few sites, you can now take back some of your own data, maybe with some technical help. But, one still cannot be assured of getting everything you uploaded or provided online (photos resized, removed for exceeding quota, etc.).
Are users being held ‘data hostage’? Does the web application model inherently bring this lock-in for users? Should sites/apps provide an option of where you store your data (like a online data storage service)?
Some of us have come to expect that websites may use our private data or friends list for other purposes not entirely known to us. There is very little control we have on this.
2. Cannot continue using the same applications, when offline
I call this ‘desktop disconnect’. Why should my email client on the web and desktop look and work so different? Homogeneity of user experience and usability is missing when we use a desktop app and its web counterpart.
Would it be nice to have it all work the same online or offline? Will the web and desktop working closer?
Read some very interesting observations by Tara Hunt:
- All of our information is stored in the ether. If we want to store it on our own machines, we have to take an extra step. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
- And speaking of information in the ether. Wouldn’t it be good to work offline whenever we wanted to and have it update when we are re-connected?
3. Sharing difficulties, privacy and control
How can Friends, Family and Public be enough classification of people I want to share? Finer grain control on whom I can share and what, becomes important when sharing is frequent and many types of information (or digital asset) are involved.
Then comes the tedious and time-consuming task of uploading. Waiting to finish (when it is not asynchronous) is a waste of time, however nice and engaging the progress bar is.
I find it difficult to effectively manage my uploads, purge what is no longer required (for sharing) and be within limits of my account type or end up paying extra. Every user ends up having more stuff uploaded than he needs at any point in time, which does not serve well the user or the host. The problem of ‘The Unpurged Trash”.
I realize there are countless online accounts to be open, profiles to be edited, contacts to be added and endless repeats of information that is again private and better managed with me. When I use a web app, I cannot use the information I already have online, because it is on someone else’s website.
Time has come for change in how applications should be designed. Here are some thoughts, as to what could do good to end users.
I wish …
I can have data reside on my desktop (secure, private and in my control) and still have the ability to selectively share it with my buddies or the whole world without making multiple copies of it.
I can keep my contacts and my buddies list and can use it for sharing a variety of things.
I can have an option to use online storage, either with the app provider or Amazon S3 or some other paid online storage that I already have.
I can have seamless user experience across desktop and web, including transitions between online and offline.