I moderated the “open” technical session at the Office 2.0 conference recently (report 2 3 4 5). It was the last in the technical track on particular topics like Mobile Use, APIs and Feeds, Enterprise-Readiness and so on. It was a panel and so the conundrum was making it an “open” session. The simple tactic I ultimately used was to center on one provocative question and so as I wandered the conference, I asked many people the following:
What do you see as the biggest technical barriers slowing the spread of the Office 2.0 vision? The vision, say, of all us knowledge professionals working atop a cloud-based platform for our daily use tools? A very consistent set of responses came back that we explored further in the panel:
- Offline Usage — The reality is that “always on” isn’t quite always on yet for most people, either when traveling or for most people outside the broadband-drenched. This has an implication that is perhaps evidenced in the offerings of the more advanced vendors in the space which is a tendency toward the rational middle of hybridized models. Most would agree that “the now” will be more like, well, now, than the “imagine when” for much longer than in the ideal scenario of a witch twinkling her nose and the world being different.
- Single Sign-On — I can’t imagine anybody attempting any degree of real Office 2.0 life (say 25% of time w/ online apps) having fewer than 50 online logins. It’s of course, a huge pain to manage all those logins, not just the process of logging in, but also the constant shroud of whether you are being “safe” (and who is?). It’s particularly a concern when Email addresses are so prominently used as IDs and wireless networking is so wide open.
- Data Ownership and Privacy — When you store your personal data in the cloud on other people’s servers, you can imagine some executive in your head (in a “Society of Mind” theory) starting to worry. Though supposedly individuals are less paranoid than corporations, it’s a matter of time before bad stuff happens, and organizational worries at the top of mind these days, such as “fidicuary” duties and “go to jail” or “go out of business” get mirrored at the level of individuals and small businesses.
- Data Synchronization — We all live the pain of trying to get our addresses or appointments or bookmarks or reference notes or so on, all the pools of items that we want, from one app or device to another. As a personal example, in this period where I’m bedouin as we seed iCurrent, I can say that the only reason I’m still using Outlook has to do with address synchronization issues with my Treo, that I can’t resolve in the time I have.
- Ease of Migration — I heard more than once from this admittedly edgey crowd that they won’t use a service that doesn’t allow them to export all their data and take it with them to a new service (i.e. the Big Sync-ing So Long). Somewhat a matter of APIs, but ultimately more about friction and overhead (i.e the switching costs) in doing so, and also about preserving data models across richer apps. Have you every tried to move a wiki or blog from one platform to another? Even with the philosophical stance of we won’t lock you in, in reality, many services just don’t make it easy to get all your data out (e.g. 30boxes is a service I use and like, but i don’t think you can backup all your appointments without using the API).
- Fragility of Aggregated Services — A big question is whether or when many vendors in an open ecosystem can supply slices of functionality in first in a reliable, then a high-quality overall experience. It’s a lot easier to achieve both reliability, simplicity, quality when you control everything, say even the connectors. Consider the forever example of the closed Macintosh vs. the standardized and open at most layers Wintel platform.
To focus on a couple of these points, the Single Sign-On problem is quite solvable and in fact each of GYM would claim that they have a solution. Just do it their way, and everything will be fine. And in the enterprise space, there has been the vision of Liberty Alliance for quite some time. However in this Office 2.0 crowd I don’t think I heard it mentioned once other than by somebody that really knows this stuff, Kaliya aka Identity Woman. Meanwhile, she is an advocate for a solution that is aimed squarely at this problem at the consumer level, OpenID. I asked a few vendors if they would support OpenID for login if say 25 other Office 2.0 vendors would, and I generally got a pause, and then what appeared to be qualified nodding. Well, frankly if this simple matter can’t be resolved among the open world slice-o-function vendors, or the suite newcomers, then it’s hard to imagine the harder problems of fragility being addressed either.
Toward the end of the panel, I asked the audience to vote on which issue of the middle four would they solve with the magic of a witch nose-twinkle if they could. (The two outer issues move quickly into complex interactions with wideranging business and social issues.) And though estimating hands from the front of a long room isn’t exactly scientific, Data Synchronization was the clear lead with SSO and Data Privacy pretty much even. The outcome certainly brought a smile to friend Charlie’s face, who has certainly put his money where his smile is.
At this point, you may also be wondering whether I can count, or whether the dog ate the seventh bullet? Well, I can count and I have candidates for the seventh bullet, but this seems a perfect question to keep alive for a while. What do you think should be the seventh thing in this list? Which one could you see solved in short order to keep us all moving forward?
Note that 30boxes is indeed cool on supporting the export of all your data. Thanks, Narendra.