By Bob Walsh
I’m starting to pull together my keynote for the European Shareware Conference November 4th, and I’ve been pondering some of the deeper trends and shifts in the technology landscape as they effect micro-ISVs. One such trend that every micro-ISV should run through their head at least once got a great write up in this November’s Wired Magazine by Clay Shirky [look for the dead tree version of the mag if you want to read it today; I expect the article, “Meganiche!”, will be up on their site next month].
Clay makes the absolutely valid point that in a world where the billion person Internet is a reality, a teeny slice of the pie can be a huge number of people: 1/10 of 1% of the people online is one million people.
I think this fact, coupled with the penetration of the Net into every aspect of our lives from birth to death, has some profound implications for micro-ISV desktop and web developers:

  • Embrace your inner niche. There simply is no longer any interest, need, desire or circumstance that is shared by so few people it’s not economic to write software for them. Whatever you are into I think there is at least two or three of your interests, needs or circumstances that are shared by so many people, that have so many unrealized solutions, that they can be the basis of micro-ISV.
  • The computing experience is demassifying. The day when developers marched in lockstep with either Microsoft or Apple are long gone. It’s up to you to determine what the best interface is for your application; making your app look like Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Office no longer cuts it. The good news is that your app or service no longer needs to kowtow to particular interface — the bad news is your interface still has to be attractive, afford the right functions, and above all be usable by the niche you are selling to.
  • Simplicity sells. The guys at 37 signals have made a mantra, a philosophy, 5 software products and a very well-selling e-book out of focusing on delivering exactly what users need and not one smidgen more of functionality. Or, taken as an example Quicken Willmaker Plus 2007 which for various reasons I just bought. I was able to create a legal will in about 10 minutes with the ongoing assurance that in future years I can update the software and my will and Quicken will do the due diligence to keep my plans when I dearly depart intact and valid.
  • Communitize your software. The days when an application could meet expectations by simply doing something are drawing to a close. Nowadays an application isn’t just a tool, it’s a portal for meaningful, rich communication with other people who have the same interests, needs and desires as manifested by that tool. That means as a software designer you’re now in the community designer business as well.
  • The past is future again. If you don’t read science fiction books, you should. Science fiction authors and futurists have the last 30-odd years been predicting what various parts of the future will look like. I’m not talking about Star Wars or Star Trek type science fiction: Neuromancer by William Gibson and my personal favorite The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner will help you think about what the unexplored world you’re heading toward called the future will look like far more than all the business books out there.

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