We’ve got five years — my brain hurts a lot
We’ve got five years — that’s all we’ve got
One of the arguments I often hear raised against Dreaming in Code’s contention that “software is hard” is what I call the “Web apps solve all our problems” stance. In this view, the Web 2.0 wave is not just about user convenience and nimble companies — it represents the final triumph over the beast of software-project delays and headaches, thanks to the ease of prototyping, the fast upgrade cycle and the tight feedback loop of user input characteristic of this approach.
No sane observer denies the importance of this trend. But I’m always a little skeptical of the pollyanna-ish view that moving our software onto the network and into the browser puts all of our old problems out to pasture.
Tonight as I caught up on my feeds I noticed two items from TechCrunch that resonated. First, Yahoo has taken its revised Web-mail interface out of beta, after years of development. (Farhad Manjoo at Salon’s Machinist has a good review.) Yahoo’s new mail system is based around that of Oddpost — a small startup that pioneered the “Ajax”-style Web interface back in 2002 before being acquired by Yahoo. I remember looking at it then and thinking, wow, this is a big deal. And it was, as the concept of updating data within a browser window without refreshing the entire page quickly spread over the next several years. But it took Oddpost from 2002 to 2007 to mature into Yahoo Mail.
Meanwhile, another key Web application that started up only a little after Oddpost, Bloglines, has introduced the first major upgrade to its interface since — well, since it began. Bloglines got acquired by Ask Jeeves years ago, and has had some problems keeping up with its masses of users and data. Even now, its new design — which looks very nice on first glance — is just entering a beta phase.
Put this together and it sounds like, after the phase of “gee whiz, we got a great idea, let’s buy a domain name and put it out there” — once reality kicks in — major Web applications have an upgrade cycle of once every five years or so. Small startups get acquired and face organizational integration challenges; small applications face the uphill struggle to scale for masses of users; and services sit through long “beta” periods to test interface choices, iron out bugs and see how they can handle running under load.
I’m not knocking Yahoo Mail or Bloglines here. But this is sobering data for those who argue that the advent of Web-based apps and services drives a silver bullet through the heart of software’s problems. Five years is no sprint. Funnily enough, it’s roughly the timespan of Windows Longhorn/Vista — or Chandler, the program I wrote about in Dreaming in Code.
[tags]software development, web 2.0, bloglines, oddpost, yahoo mail[/tags]
There are no revisions for this post.