During the course of my work I talk with a lot of the world’s top techies, and what I notice is that a large majority of them or their peers are into some or other “startup”. By startup they invariably mean a web based software product which is designed to scale up rapidly when it takes off. I feel I need to offer an observation here.
Web developers are the most blinkered, otherworldly group of people I have ever come across.
I have heard of Inuits and Amazonians and I guess they’re pretty blinkered too, but developers are worse in one important respect. If Eskimos design a new igloo they only expect other Eskimos to adopt the design. Web developers design a new Igloo and expect it to take off worldwide.
Web developers have a problem in that they are the architects of their own world. Web developers make and inhabit the internet. Being so fluent with the web they are by far the biggest contributors to the content on the web, and this skews the web’s idea of normal. For example, try typing in “cucumber” into a search engine. You can’t tell me that a “behaviour driven software testing” framework is actually as interesting to as many people as the vegetable itself – yet somehow the web places it on an equal footing.
Try typing in “unity”. The top result is a game development engine by that name. You can’t tell me that the world’s entire population is more interested in gamedev than in unity (the act of coming together). This is just to demonstrate that the web is primarily used by web savvy people, and the search engines recognise that.
The upshot of this is that people who spend their days surfing on and working with the web are some of the most unbalanced and disconnected with the real world. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, these unbalanced individuals gravitate to the same problems and same solutions for the same audience in the same part of the world, speaking the same language, same gender and same age group and same social status. Is it any wonder that this group all tend to create samey products such as social media clones and social task list sharing apps?
If you’re one of the above, the answer is simple. Go and talk to anyone else than you or your colleagues and just solve one problem for them. Maybe the dustman wants a route planner. Maybe the dentist wants an appointment scheduler with some clever algorithms that will save them time. Perhaps the cucumber salesman needs to be connected to realtime stock information. And you wouldn’t believe how little software exists for these other-than-developers folks who happen to make up 99.8% of the world’s population. Everyone has a need that can be fulfilled by clever use of software, and with the proliferation of handheld computers there’s no reason why a simple web app can’t help out almost anyone anywhere. The opportunity is that the less technical the audience, the bigger their need for well written software to help them with the technicality of their job role or hobby.
The big take home point, though, is get outside your group of friends and off of the net into the real world if you want to solve real problems for real people.