The Long Tail of Application Development

Posted: 12/18/2007 10:57:00 PM
Custom Application Development is still an expensive endeavor. By reducing barriers and cost, more information management needs can be addressed.
In his book, The Long Tail, Chris Anderson talks about how MP3s brought reductions in distribution costs to the music industry. Before MP3s, we either had to like what we heard on the radio, buy expensive LPs, CDs and bootleg recordings, or make our own music. The same is true of software. We can like what is made available to us, buy expensive custom software packages, or build our own software. The problem is that software is a lot more expensive than music.

I read The Long Tail the first time as I was developing The Qrimp Platform, so I thought about how Software fit into that picture. I saw these huge mass marketed software systems that required the consumer to adapt to the software. Either the software neglected to meet all the needs of the user or it was bloated with tons of features we don't need. Trying to please everyone with an album can ruin it, just like trying to please everyone with a software product can ruin it.

It costs a lot of money to find good talent, write songs, record them, print CDs and distribute them to thousands of retail outlets. The same is true of packaged software and to be profitable that software must appeal to the mass market. We often unwittingly buy software that is poorly written, full of bugs, and designed for obsolescence. More emphasis is put on a flashy package than an application with substance and longevity. These types packages create more problems than they solve.

In The Long Tail of music, the population of listeners is too small to support good recording studios and marketing budgets. Many times, potential fans of the music never came across it to know it would be their favorite. The same is true of software. Solutions designed for smaller markets may be lacking important features or performance and small ISVs can't afford to market their products to the masses, so those who need them may never find them. These companies can go out of business leaving early adopters stranded with data in legacy systems that no longer work.

The solution to the problem of music distribution costs was MP3s. The solution to custom application development costs is Qrimp. Qrimp doesn't try to be a one-size-fits all solution to your specific information management requirements, just as the MP3 isn't designed for a particular song. When we were building the platform, we weren't aware of all the diverse types of information it can manage. Similarly, the makers of MP3s didn't know about all the music it would compress, but they designed the algorithm to look at properties of music in general, combine them with the way we hear music to develop an abstract formula that can be used effectively on any kind of music. Qrimp looks at applications in general and the features we all need and want in them, regardless of the specific nature of the information the application manages.

Qrimp opens the door to custom systems in The Long Tail by reducing development cost and time to market. Get started by pasting a spreadsheet into a web-based form and a collaborative environment grows up around that data. It evolves from a group of rows and columns into an enterprise class system with column level security, email notifications, search forms and the full power of relational database technology.

Qrimp is different because it spreads the cost of the system features to multiple customers, not the end product. The Qrimp Platform includes the kinds of features we want in any application, but instead of building them into an individual custom product, the implementation is abstracted into a system upon which as yet unimagined products can be built.

The Long Tail of information has systems we've never thought of, but we know those systems are going to have many features in common. Sortable tables, security, notifications, auditing and edit history are the kinds of things we want in all the systems we use, but those features have before now been too expensive to incorporate into custom solutions. Those features are time consuming and expensive to implement, so we usually sacrifice them for more important things like business logic and deadlines. With Qrimp, the features come integrated automatically with every application allowing the developer to concentrate on the information and the users' needs.

MP3s brought music to a larger audience. Qrimp brings custom applications to a larger audience. An audience that previously didn't have access to anything but one-size-fits all solutions. Qrimp reduces costs to the point that building systems to manage baseball card collections, dog training, a thesis or a catering company are within reach for a much broader user base than ever before. It's no longer cheaper to adapt the business to the software. Built on the Qrimp Platform, the software adapts to the business.