My heart sinks every time I hear a would-be-entrepreneur announcing they have written yet another Twitter client, RSS reader, ToDo list or backup application. Haven’t we got enough of those already? There are more than 1,900 Twitter apps already (possibly a lot more). Somebody probably released another one while I was writing this post. We have passed the Twitter app event horizon, where it is probably quicker to write your own custom app than it is to try and work out if any of the existing apps fulfils your requirements.
Even if you have done something radically new, interesting and different in one of these markets, how are you ever going to get noticed amongst thousands of more established competitors? Wouldn’t it be better to find a market that is currently under-served by software? It may be less fashionable than writing software for other techies, but it will probably contribute more to the sum of human happiness and be a lot more profitable.
There must be thousands of niches where there is a real need for software, but limited competition. You just need to open your eyes to the bigger world around you. It may mean having to learn about an unfamiliar domain. But it is generally much easier for a software developer to learn some domain knowledge about, say, butterfly collecting, than it is for the average butterfly collector to learn to create a software product. Next time you are talking to a non-techie about their job or hobbies, just ask them “Do you use software for that?” and “Is it any good?”. The ideal answers you are looking for are “Yes” (if there are existing software packages, there is probably a market) and “No” (maybe you can do better).
You are totally correct. Another thing I find is geeks want to start a business selling some kind of development tools or components. This is a flooded market as well because every single developer has thought of it at some time.
I currently am testing a new product for a niche that I think is under serviced. While there are many products that could be used by people in the niche they are all overpriced and complicated, ie trying to sell someone Exchange Server when all they want is Hotmail.
Another twitter client that I won’t use then. I don’t bother with it myself.
Slightly off topic, but I always sigh when I hear people wanting to build a brand.
You are speaking from a software developer’s “business” point of view. But if everyone thinks like that, the innovation stops. We wouldn’t have had Microsoft Word or Excel if they had decided there are enough word processors and spreadsheets out there. Same for Apple IPhone in a crowded mobile market. I can cite many examples where innovative new comers have taken over areas where people thought, innovation is no longer possible.
Obviously, I don’t agree. I have yet to find a todo application with all the features that I want. So I’m going to write one for myself and then release it to the world. The innovation must go on.
Although they have many strengths, I don’t see Excel or Word as examples of great innovation.
If you want to innovate, surely you would have a better chance creating a new class of application than writing another TODO list?
Good luck anyway!
Thanks Andy, another thoughtful piece for ISVs and I tend to agree with you – what is the point of investing time and brain-power on something that will not be used? And what about maintaining an application that is not being used – doh!
BUT – I guess we’ve all been hired to make some wacky things for clients in the past and are responsible for some *under-used* creations (I know I am).
ALSO – I like Sanjay’s point about innovation and think I agree with him too!
I think market size and brand recognition come into play here. When MS released office they were already a known brand & so if they released something just a little bit better & more polished they could get seen. Same for Apple & the iPhone.
The improvements these companies made were actually fairly incremental IMHO.
If you’re a little guy in the software market you will find it hard to get noticed for an incremental improvement since, as Andy said, you get lost in the background noise.
Yeah there are about 500 million email clients as well, but maybe 10 of them in total come to mind.
So I don’t think it’s a matter of whether or not the software you are making is somehow revolutionary or fills a niche which hasn’t been filled yet, because the niche is most likely filled.
So, the question really is, does the world need another blog post?
It depends on your goal for making an app. If it is to get a lot of users, then entering a saturated market is not such a good idea. But there are other valid reasons.
And good thing you didn’t write this before Gmail came out! I would hate to think of Google seeing this post and saying “there are too many email clients, and have been for years—why should we add another one?”
Yeah, I have a hotmail, a gmail, never yahoo mail or aol mail, used to use outlook, even tried Eudora, Mac Mail is by far the best. For me anyways.
Choice is good.
I remember reading a blog post by WordPress saying that they had received exactly the same advice: that the market was already too crowded and they couldn’t add anything to it. Most/all new Twitter apps are not going to be another WordPress (in fact, are likely to be constrained by the fact that they are building on something else rather than making their own thing), but the fact still remains that a filled market of lookalikes might actually show there is more room for the one game changer (since people are obviously interested enough in the field to support the lookalikes).
>a filled market of lookalikes might actually show there is more room for the one game changer
Possibly. 1900:1 against aren’t odds I would want to base a business on though.
>since people are obviously interested enough in the field to support the lookalikes
I would guess that the vast majority of twitter apps have few, if any, users (let alone paying customers).
phpNuke, Mambo, Concrete5, Joomla, there are thousands of entry level do it yourself CMS’s.
To each their own, I for instance cannot handle a situation where the need to fork from the main distribution causes a near total collapse to the entire userbase on the next core iteration. Know what I mean? Been there, done that… no thanks…
Oddly I’m thinking of writing my twitter client for just that reason. There are too many of them out there and I want one that works just the way *I* want it to.
The new twitter web browser interface has some stuff I want, but actually the old client was for some tasks better, following a conversation back up a chain of replies while not perfect is a lot easier and actually I’d like the conversation feature from the search web page.
Writing the API seems to be a “solved” problem now so all I have to do is produce an UI to hang off it (of course getting the time to do so is a harder problem)
Shh! Don’t tell everyone … :)
You’re right….except you’re not considering the “fun” factor. I bet a lot of the programmers that create these are just doing it for the experience.
If you aren’t writing it with commercial success in mind, you can do whatever you feel like. But, if you are going to put a lot of effort in, wouldn’t it be more fun to do something that has a sporting chance of being used by other people?
http://bubbahome.com is broken, please use at least tomcat
I’m a bit ambivalent on this. On the Twitter clients I agree 100%. But look at image processing. Some time ago – at least on the Mac side – there was mostly only Photoshop. Then Photoshop grew into ugly bloatware and now there are nice alternatives.
Andy, this is another great article from you and there are many valid points in your argument. But then we may ask a similar question about many other things:
Does the world *really* need yet another programming language?
Does the world *really* need yet another operating system?
Does the world *really* need yet another Linux distro?
Does the world *really* need yet another Office suite? (e.g. OpenOffice, LibreOffice, etc.)
Also, some DIYDDIYD experience suggests that if you come up with a *really* new concept, prospective partners and investors may tell you “this is an Unproven market”, ruling it out before it had a chance to take off…
Relating back to another point in your article, getting noticed amongst thousands of more established competitors is a question of not only differentiation but also perseverance. Sooner or later your Qualities will be noticed.
Lastly, many killer applications, systems and platforms are often a result of integration and/or aggregation of features scattered across numerous competing products.
Does the world really need a new anything? This is an interesting look at where things are headed…
I think your innovation argument contains another common fallacy that many software developers fall for.
Namely, that the best most innovative products win.
Out of the 1,900 twitter clients, I think it pretty unlikely the best one is the most successful. The reason is that we know if you released the best ever twitter client tomorrow, you would find it incredibly hard to get noticed, at all. Now extrapolate that back into the recent past – I don’t think things were that different when there were only 1,800 or 1,700 or even 1,000 twitter clients, and you can see it’s highly likely that there some, probably many, that were better than the market leader.
So how do you win in such crowded markets? You need a business advantage that most of the 1,900 couldn’t replicate – and it’s not features or technoology – it’s things like marketing muscle or brand recognition. Companies like Microsoft, Apple or Google have it, but typical start-ups don’t.
If Microsoft, Apple or Google released a twitter client, you can bet it would be one of the leaders, probably the leadere, in a short space of time, no matter how technically good it was. Can’t say the same for a start-up twitter client even if it was technically perfect.
Just keeping up with all of the new technology is a full-time job. By the time you learn how to integrate everything into your work day there isn’t any time left to actually utilize the applications. Good times.
Innovation is necessary as Sanjay Said but everybody cannot think about innovation. Some people want to develop better software than the existing one in the market.
None of my software is based on completely new concept but it solves the problem in a better way. This is proven as I get feedback from users and customers. This is what is important IMHO.
we as software developers are quite disadvantaged in some respects compared to other markets such as the info-products market. If we look at the big info markets (health, dieting, muscle building, dating, self-improvement, get your ex back..) people buy product after product, but who’s gonna buy a text editor after text editor or a twitter app after twitter app?
I would say, if you sell information you can go after the saturated markets, but with software it takes way more to succeed. Who’s gonna try your product and decide to buy it if there are 2000 more available? It is also difficult to build a good pre-sales relationship with the customers because you have to provide them with something really useful for free (information?). The cost of cloning software is becoming cheaper by the day.
I remember 10 years ago, there were very few software products in the diet/calorie/fitness market. I went there, made some good money, but now everybody wants a piece of the pie and it has gotten much more difficult to sell. I am pretty sure there are boatloads of products that make no sales at all and new ones pop up daily.
The good thing is that the perceived value of software has not fallen that much. If you can produce something that solves a problem with little competition, you should have an easy time charging decent prices.
Pingback: Links for 2011-02-22 through 2011-02-26 » MC Development
Pingback: Does the world need another RSS app? | News Anchor for Mac OS X