Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fragmented Technology

I've been knee deep in my own world of fragmented technology: web servers, XML, iPhones, widgets, treos... the list just keeps growing. And these are just the technologies I use. If you take all of the core technologies used to develop networked applications and all of the applications and devices used to access *those* applications it gets complex really quickly.

In technology there is an idea related to growth and complexity that I consider somewhat classic: As any given layer of technology becomes overly complex to manage, a new layer will be created to manage that complexity. When the new layer is too complex, another layer emerges. Running a business with spreadsheets, then ERP systems, and then EAI is a great example. As our technology becomes saturated, we invent technology to manage or replace our existing technology.

We are seeing this same type of phenomenon on the consumer side with applications and devices. We have more services that we are trying to connect to with more devices. An individual case is not that complex but taken in the aggregate, across all users, devices, and services, we have a lot of technology that inter-operates barely sort of.

Three trends highlight what is happening. Network based service applications are competing to open their API's, internet connectivity from mobile devices has increased 25% annually over the last three years (PEW), and users are consuming streams of data rather than discrete documents updated daily. More applications, increased mobile connections, more data.

Users have more services that are open to access. They can be integrated with other applications and accessed from specialty UI's. Users are increasingly accessing their online services from mobile devices. PEW also noted that mobile access corresponded to a dramatic increase in overall time online. And there are more frequent informational updates to the services they are checking, creating a vicious 'always on' circle. Sounds complex.

In my own circle of technology I have medium access to services from my different devices. My corporate sponsored Treo can access my Outlook contacts, but not my personal contacts. Likewise with email and calendar. One of my personal email accounts has a great mobile interface, the other doesn't. The only way I can 'see' my wife's calendar is to call her on the phone or email her. SMS and IM isn't managed although increasingly I need it to be. I have no way of sharing or managing my Flickr photos or LinkedIn account from my phone unless I am willing to deal with a mobile browser. even on the iPhone, no thanks.

We have fragmented our technology. We use what we can wherever we can. But so far our technology does not appear to be 'Fragment Ready'. Sort of like 'Intel Inside' but externalized. Let me use my technology wherever I want to on whatever device I want to. Then I can stop wading through all of this technology and just use what I need when I need it... until the next wave of inventions.