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Social media meets the desktop May 30, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in browsers, desktop apps, Internet, social media, start-up, startups, web 2.0.

Allison Randal put up an interesting contrarian post on the O’Reilly Radar blog yesterday where she says:

The trend of moving traditional desktop applications to massively networked, Web 2.0 online applications like Google Docs is well-known. The problem is, a web browser is a terribly limited platform for application development, and JavaScript is a less-than-fully-featured language. There are inherent limitations to the kinds of applications you can develop and the kinds of user experiences you can offer in a web browser… Add in the fact that the nirvana of 100% connectivity at all times is far from a reality, even in the most technologically advanced parts of the world. This is a significant usability problem for the pure web browser applications, as anyone who has experienced the frequent forced coffee breaks by a Google Spreadsheet “waiting to connect” can confirm.

The wave of the future is not web browser applications. Instead we’re coming full circle back to desktop applications, but this time we’ve broken the old idea of single user silo applications with no connection to the outside world. The wave of the future is lightweight desktop applications with the same massively networked, Web 2.0 behavior we’ve come to expect from browser applications.

She goes on to give several examples, including iTunes and Songbird.

Its an insightful comment. We’ve tended to think of “Web 2.0” as encompassing both rich web applications (vs. desktop applications) and social media, but there is no reason why these two things have to be intertwined. We’ve seen a number of non-social websites embrace rich web applications, and so its no surprise that we’re also seeing desktop apps (or plug-ins to desktop apps) also embrace social aspects. These are apps that work well for a lone user, but even better when the user joins a network.

Om Malik recently covered one of our portfolio companies, WeFi, that takes a similar approach. Just as Songbird’s primary functionality is as a desktop music player, but social aspects can improve the experience, so too WeFi‘s primary functionality is as a better WiFi connectivity manager (and against Win XP, that isn’t a high hurdle!), but social aspects can improve the experience. A lone user gets an easier and quicker experience for identifying and signing onto any hotspot, as well as better management control over hotspots that they own. As he joins a network, he gets to roam on other private hotspots, as well as the ability to find both his friends, and wifi hotspots on a map, relative to his location.

Another company enriching desktop apps with social functionality is Me.dium. Me.dium is a browser plugin that helps a lone user to see websites related to the current website being viewed. But when that user joins a network, she gets to see what sites her friends are browsing in real time, and how they are moving from site to site, adding a social dimension to relevance.

I’d be interested to hear from readers about other desktop apps that are taking a social approach.


1. Gen Kanai - May 30, 2007

Joost. Democracy Player/Miro (these two along with Songbird are all built on top of Mozilla technologies, fwiw.)

2. Marianne Richmond - May 30, 2007

Particls, which just launched its public beta yesterday, is a desktop app which runs a ticker across your screen with news and alerts that are based upon user input of keywords (people, places, topis), urls, OPML, tags and so on…also auto detects your interests. More details here:

3. Esme Vos - May 31, 2007

Last.fm — allows you to discover new music based on artists you like (similar to Mercora but mercifully the service is still open to non-US, i.e. the rest of the world’s listeners). You download the software and can add users and neighbors. You can see what people are listening to. Very cool.

4. james hong - May 31, 2007

what we really need is a decent (reliable, trustworthy, secure) provider of network storage, where my network drive mounts as a folder on my computer, and when it is disconnected, it accesses a cache on all my machines.

that way i can have the benefit of accessing all my files, up to date no matter where i updated it from, using a local app like excel.

I’ve had a backorder on the domain “skydrive.com” for years now, hoping that someday i might build it. more realistically, gdrive will come out.

oh, the other thing we need for this to work well is 25 Mbps pipes to the home so everything works fast..

someday….. 🙂 (or today, in korea)

5. Jon - May 31, 2007

Well, the limitations of the browser are old news. Microsoft’s new Silverlight is leading us to a browser platform that’s just as rich and powerful as the desktop, so the light at the end of the tunnel is radiating from future web applications, not a better desktop.

6. Mark - June 7, 2007

Great post and I agree with James. We are working on a product that will be launched soon that enables seamless bidirectional communication and interactivity between the desktop and the web space. We have designed the platform to be separate from the presentation layer so that can use whatever UI construct you choose. This is the future. People have forgotten the power of client side computing, in all the talk of web services, people have neglected to explore the potenital power of combining the value of web service (social/connected/remote) and client side (powerful/always on/local) architectures. This notion becomes even more important as device prolifertaion contiues. Silverlight, Apollo, and iTunes are great inital steps in this direction however they put you in either the Adobe, Micorosoft, Apple sandbox.

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