Big software/lousy software

Capitalism is fueled by choice. It’s choice that drives suppliers to do better work, because they know you can pick a competitor. Choice moves power from the supplier to the customer.

Software works as a business. The cost of supporting one more user is very low, and the network effect is a miracle.

Any time someone builds software that works better when others are using it too, the network effect has a chance to kick in. Word dominated because you were better off using the same word processor as your peers, so you could exchange files.

Online, the network effect allows some companies to clear the table, signing up hundreds of millions of users, creating software dynasties.

And then, almost always, the software gets lousy.

Because we don’t have a choice (for now).

Paypal has a notoriously slow and weak search capability. Facebook used its hegemony to get careless about their UI and sloppy about public policy issues. Apple’s software rarely gets significantly improved…

Because we don’t have a choice (for now).

It’s surprising to me that capitalism’s most outspoken supporters aren’t clear about the difference between companies that exist in competitive markets, and those that have achieved lock in. The lock in that comes with the network effect almost ensures that the company will cease to innovate or optimize on the part of the customer. They’re paying attention to costs and profits, not long-term impact or customer satisfaction.

If you believe in free markets, then net neutrality and portability are essential building blocks for the future.

As more and more of our life involves networks (and their effects) a bias toward owning data and having other options in software is the best way we have to make sure we have a say on how we engage with the network.

[More here].