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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.