Promiscuous Adoption: A tale of two companies

By now you know that Flipboard is one of my favorite new companies of 2010 and, while they’ve pretty much caught up to the initial demands on their servers, spent two weeks just getting slammed with new adopters. Mike McCue, the CEO there who has seen great Silicon Valley success (he sold TellMe to Microsoft for $800 million) told me he has never seen anything like it.

But compare that to Wowd, which came out yesterday. Here’s my video on Wowd:

Why didn’t Wowd get a huge amount of adoption? It’s counter intuitive. Flipboard is only usable on the iPad, which has sold a small fraction of the numbers of Macintosh and Windows computers are out there. Wowd was aiming at a far bigger potential market, but fell flat. Why?

Now part of the reason could be it got a poor review from ReadWriteWeb’s Sarah Perez. But as I read Sarah I noticed a bias, here, let me see if you can see it too: “But dealing with the first desktop app I’ve installed since TweetDeck reminds me of why I love the cloud – the processing power required is dealt with on their servers, not mine.”

I feel the same way! I +hate+ installing software. So much so that I almost didn’t install Wowd.

But, wait, I have 300+ apps on my iPhone and iPad. So, there’s a disconnect there.

I noticed this a few weeks ago when I was flying. I sat next to two guys. One had an iPad. It was loaded with apps that didn’t exist a year ago. The other was using a Windows XP machine. It didn’t have a single app that didn’t exist a year ago.

So, yesterday, I dug into my feelings about installing software.

Windows and Macintosh machines bring a lot of baggage to the table that make it mentally exhausting to install software. Here’s some of the things that were going through my mind when I installed Wowd yesterday:

1. Can I uninstall this easily? I’ve recently tried to clean up apps on my Mac. It took quite a while to find all the places apps hide crap.
2. Will it screw up my machine? I lived through many years of installing stuff on my Windows machines to watch them get slower, or start having crashes, or worse.
3. Will I fall in love with this app and want it on all my machines? (Installing software on all my machines is a pain in the behind).
4. Will I need to maintain this app in the future and find updates for it, or will it get updated itself?
5. Did the developers do something nasty to my machine and are they ethical about privacy and all that stuff (seriously, how many people install apps that report data back to some server that they aren’t aware of, etc)?

Then I thought back to Flipboard. I didn’t have any of these fears with that app. Why not?

1. Uninstalling an app on an iPad just requires you to hold your finger down on the app and clicking an “x.” It’s gone and there’s no little pieces left around.
2. I’ve loaded hundreds of apps on my iPad and it hasn’t gotten slower.
3. Loading an iPad app on all three of our iPads is much easier than installing it on three separate laptops.
4. Apps update easily on the iPad via the iTunes store.
5. Apps are approved by Apple so if an app does something nasty I can make a huge deal about how Apple is evil, etc.

This leads to promiscuous adoption. Some weekends I’ve loaded 50 or more apps on my iPhone or iPad to try them out. Heck, the only retardant to adoption is paying the app fee and I’ve often said “it’s only a latte” while trying out an app and more than not I come away with something much more valuable than a latte at the local coffee shop.

I’ve been asking around and both startups and big companies are telling me they are noticing the same thing. iPhone and iPad users are installing a lot more apps and are installing new things at a far greater rate than people who have Windows or Macintosh machines.

This has deep implications for where VC’s will invest in the future. I’m actually shocked that Wowd got funded with its approach of installing software on machines. It’s one of the few exceptions I’ve seen get funded this year that has taken that approach.

Anyway, do I have an opinion on Wowd? Yes. It isn’t ready for me yet. After installing I hit a bug (they are fixing it) that keeps their system from working well with large-friend accounts. Now that I have it installed I’ll try it again when they get an update out.

What does Wowd do? Help you filter your Facebook stream (Twitter coming soon) so that you can see more of the things you find valuable in your stream. Interesting idea, that’s somewhat what Flipboard does too (which is why I took the interview, because I’m looking for companies that will help us filter the noise out of our social streams).

But if I ran Wowd, I’d go server side so that people don’t need to install any software. That’s a LOT of baggage to overcome. It also makes Flipboard appear brilliant for going iPad only.

What do you think?

Published by

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble

Comments

  1. I agree with your thoughts on installing software on Mac/PC vs installing apps on iPad etc. The app/app store concept provides an easier / better overall computer user experience It’s also aided by computing on the cloud which allows for powerful apps with a smaller footprint.

    As for PCs I’ve been using PortableApps.com software as much as possible on a portable usb hard drive. I hate installing and reinstalling software on Windows. PortableApps.com helps me minimize that when moving between computers.

  2. Re: installing software on iOS devices – same experience here, I try lots of apps (have downloaded 440+ so far, but not all are installed). Somewhat different from my usage of third-party programs on Windows and MacOS — however, I probably still have more third-party apps than most people (e.g. 270 on my MacBook).

  3. Interesting. I LOVE installing software. I think desktop apps are always better than websites. For example, Mailplane.app is a pleasure to use compared to gmail.com. I also wish there were a Facebook app that compared to Tweetie/Echofon.

  4. Lately, I've been “installing” desktop apps as portable applications inside of Dropbox. Most decent pieces of software have portable versions, so the selection is there. Advantages:

    – All contained in a folder. No extra files, registry entries, uninstallation concerns.
    – Shared among all of my computers. Each one just has a shortcut on the desktop to the app. Any updates to the app (or even setting changes) are quickly replicated.

    It's pretty slick. That being said, I agree with your article — Wowd needs to be web-based.

  5. Me too, it's just that I love installing software on my iPad and iPhone and to a lesser extent on my Android (an app there already bit me, which required me to erase my Droid and start over).

  6. Robert:

    I couldn't agree more with you. If I have to install software to even test your platform, I won't even think of trying it. Maybe I'm lazy, but removing software from a laptop or desktop, regardless of the platform is a pain in the ass. Once every year, I wipe my laptop clean, and only install the programs I've found useful enough to purchase, and use every week. It keeps both me, and my machine lean.

    tehdik:

    Your point is most interesting as well. However, I think what you're saying is, you like the experience crafted by the software developer, rather than the in-browser experience, not so much the installation process of said software. I agree, if a service's API is robust, and there are great apps (i.e. Twitter/Tweetie) in the wild, I'll gladly use those – however, having the option to go app-less is one freedom I'm not willing to give up, especially when everything is connected to the web anyway.

  7. That I totally disagree with! A Mac or Windows box doesn't really do anything without installing software on it. It's just that we bring a lot of baggage to installing software on it.

  8. I’m Mark Drummond, the CEO of Wowd. I wanted to jump in with a few thoughts on Wowd’s approach to helping people get more out of Facebook.

    Our goal with releasing a social search tool for Facebook is to help users discover the good stuff. This means filtering things they're not interested in, and finding things that they are interested in.

    To do this, our software needs to access a user's Facebook information. There are two ways to do this. Either keep the user’s information on central servers where it is more vulnerable to being “shared” with others or keep the user’s information on their own computer.

    There's been a lot of conversation lately around the issue of the privacy of Facebook user data: who can see it, what the controls are for managing access to it, how clear it is to users how to use those controls, etc.

    Wowd chose to take an approach that maximizes both user privacy and the usefulness of the application.

    Because the Wowd client runs on your own local computer, your Facebook data only exists in Facebook's servers and on your own local computer.

    Finally, by utilizing the power and storage of your local computer, Wowd can provide features like instantaneous social search and ranking over your Facebook news feed (way into the past), not just the stream Facebook is delivering to you right now.

    As always, we're actively listening to our user community. Our users and their feedback strongly inform our future direction.

  9. Like many, I have “Liked” a lot of Company “Fan” Pages – as far as I can tell WOWD only accounts for Friends – whereas I'd like to Filter on Liked Pages too. Is this coming?

    In addition, WOWD quickly used up several hundred MB's memory – not necessarily a problem with 6gig RAM, but still seems over the top.

  10. I prefer web apps that require no setup, and work anywhere (even better if they resize nicely on mobile devices). I don't always have my ipad nearbye, and the iphone screen is pretty scrawny for anything more than blogging (that's my heavy iOS app, notepad and wordpress).

  11. I am the VP of Engineeing for Wowd. Thanks for the feedback.

    Non-human “friends” is an interesting issue. We have gotten lots of feedback about removing them from the “Active Friends” list since they are not really friends. But I like your idea of being able to create custom feeds that draw from your Fan pages and I have put that on our “future features” list.

    As for the memory usage, there currently is a surge of memory use as Wowd imports the “historical” data from your Facebook world. Our engineers are already working on “pacing that out” so that the peak resource usage isn't as high. If you don't mind, can I ask you how many Facebook friends you have?

  12. i may not had explained myself clearly.A lot of apps on the iPad can/are achieved in a browser on a PC or Mac; Similarly many apps make up for deficiencies on the iPad/iPhone eco system e.g. you need a google analytics app for the iPad coz the browser version doesn't work, yet on a PC/Mac you don't. Don't get me wrong, i think the simple way in which apps are loaded / uninstalled on a iPad is really good, but my own personal experience is that i end up installing quite a few apps because of the short comings of the core facilities that the iPad operates with.

  13. Non-human “friends” is an interesting issue. We have gotten lots of feedback about removing them from the “Active Friends” list since they are not really friends. But I like your idea of being able to create custom feeds that draw from your Fan pages and I have put that on our “future features” list.

  14. Robert, I think the thing that's different is the handheld devices are newer to people. We buy smartphones to do a few basic things — phone, email, maps, texting, etc. and then everything else is an add-on.

    A lot of mobile apps just make searches easier to do (IMDB, Yelp, etc.) or easier to do from where we are (social networking). Of course, with iOS, there's also the gaming dimension, which I might characterize as making where we are more bearable.

    Most computers with a browser can do the searches a lot more easily than a mobile device with a browser. Also, we tend to fall back on 4-10 apps on a computer to do everything basic: Word, PowerPoint, Excel (or Pages, Keynote, Numbers), plus email and internet browsing. The special add ons are for apps that are specific to your needs like Photoshop or Final Draft or Final Cut or Bento.

    For all the location-based needs (games, social media, location based search), there's no proven winner because the market is young. In 10 years there will probably be a handful of apps everyone needs to get along when they leave home, and this will be like the MS Office suite of mobile apps.