This is another post I was planning to write a few weeks ago which got interrupted by my wedding and honeymoon.

A few weeks ago, Joel Spolsky wrote a post entitled Strategy Letter VI which I initially dismissed as the ravings of a desktop developer who is trying to create an analogy when one doesn’t exist. The Web isn’t the desktop, or didn’t he read There is no Web Operating System (or WebOS)? By the second time I read it, I realized that if you ignore some of the desktop-centric thinking in Joel’s article, then not only is Joel’s article quite insightful but some of what he wrote is already coming to pass.

The relevant excerpt from Joel’s article is

Somebody is going to write a compelling SDK that you can use to make powerful Ajax applications with common user interface elements that work together. And whichever SDK wins the most developer mindshare will have the same kind of competitive stronghold as Microsoft had with their Windows API.

If you’re a web app developer, and you don’t want to support the SDK everybody else is supporting, you’ll increasingly find that people won’t use your web app, because it doesn’t, you know, cut and paste and support address book synchronization and whatever weird new interop features we’ll want in 2010.

Imagine, for example, that you’re Google with GMail, and you’re feeling rather smug. But then somebody you’ve never heard of, some bratty Y Combinator startup, maybe, is gaining ridiculous traction selling NewSDK,

And while you’re not paying attention, everybody starts writing NewSDK apps, and they’re really good, and suddenly businesses ONLY want NewSDK apps, and all those old-school Plain Ajax apps look pathetic and won’t cut and paste and mash and sync and play drums nicely with one another. And Gmail becomes a legacy. The WordPerfect of Email. And you’ll tell your children how excited you were to get 2GB to store email, and they’ll laugh at you. Their nail polish has more than 2GB.

Crazy story? Substitute “Google Gmail” with “Lotus 1-2-3”. The NewSDK will be the second coming of Microsoft Windows; this is exactly how Lotus lost control of the spreadsheet market. And it’s going to happen again on the web because all the same dynamics and forces are in place. The only thing we don’t know yet are the particulars, but it’ll happen

A lot of stuff Joel asserts seems pretty clueless on the face of it. Doesn’t he realize that there are umpteen billion AJAX toolkits (e.g. Dojo, Google Web Toolkit, Yahoo! User Interface Library, Script.aculo.us, etc)  and rich internet application platforms (e.g. Flash, Silverlight, XUL, etc)? Doesn’t he realize that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of the entire Web conforming to standard user interface guidelines let alone everyone agreeing on using the same programming language and SDK to build Web apps?

But wait…

What happens if you re-read the above excerpt and substitute NewSDK with Facebook platform?

I didn’t classify Facebook as a Social Operating System for no reason. GMail and other email services have become less interesting to me because I primarily communicate with friends and family on the Web via Facebook and it’s various platform applications. I’ve stopped playing casual games at Yahoo! Games and now use Scrabulous and Texas Hold ‘Em when I want to idle some time away on the weekend. All of these applications are part of a consistent user interface, are all accessible from my sidebar and each of them has access to my data within Facebook including my social graph. Kinda like how Windows or Mac OS X desktop applications on my machine have a consistent user interface, are all accessible from my applications menu and can all access the data on my hard drive.

Hmmm…

I suspect that Joel is right about NewSDK, he’s just wrong about which form it will take. “Social operating system” does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Now playing: Kanye West - Two Words (feat. Mos Def, Freeway & The Harlem Boys Choir)


 

Thursday, October 4, 2007 11:15:13 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
“Social OS”, a good one indeed. I guess eBay was one of the first “application-specific OSs”. Hm, how does the ontology go between ‘platform’ and ‘Internet OS’? Is it already defined in a somewhat unambiguous way? I'm feeling a little confusion there.
Friday, October 5, 2007 8:03:32 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
http://www.openajax.org/
scott
Saturday, October 6, 2007 2:30:10 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Sorry, I don't buy it (NewSDK == Facebook). The simple show-stopper is that enterprises aren't going to build their internal applications on Facebook. I'm on record stating that enterprises control too much of the conversation around software development. But, since they *do* control the conversation, something else will be needed beyond Facebook-the-site for enterprise Ajax development.

Now, somebody could build a Facebook platform that isn't Facebook, but supports FBML and relevant Web service APIs. Then, it's conceivable that Facebook-the-SDK might become NewSDK, but that's far from saying that Facebook-the-site will be NewSDK.
Mark Murphy
Saturday, October 6, 2007 2:44:26 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Mark,
I think the Facebook paradigm has legs for becoming a dominant paradigm on the Web in much the way Joel Spolsky described. You're right that it breaks down for Facebook-the-site in the enterprise case, but what if we substitute Facebook with Salesforce.com for that scenario?

Does the idea sound as wacky then?
Monday, October 8, 2007 6:47:24 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
funny how Social Operating System's acronym (SOS) is also Save Our Souls?
Mark Bradley
Wednesday, October 10, 2007 4:56:26 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I've been thinking the same thing for a couple of months now.

Any small company (like the one I work for) that is betting its future on a web-based subscription business model will have the same scary realization that I had after using Facebook for 10 minutes: "Wow, somebody could come along and write our app as a FB app!".

N.
Nick
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