Nick Carr discovers Software Above the Level of a Single Device

“Software above the level of a single device” is Tim’s phrase for software that you interact with across multiple devices. The iTunes Music Store was the classic instance of that: a store on the servers, an organization tool on your laptop, a player in your iPod. In fact, that’s the example Tim used in the canonical What is Web 2.0 paper from 2004, and he’s blogged about it before.

I chuckled when I read Nick Carr on the Kindle where he says:

It shows that we’re rapidly approaching the time when centrally stored and managed software and data are seamlessly integrated into consumer appliances – all sorts of appliances.
The problem with “Web 2.0,” as a concept, is that it constrains innovation by perpetuating the assumption that the web is accessed through computing devices, whether PCs or smartphones or game consoles. As broadband, storage, and computing get ever cheaper, that assumption will be rendered obsolete.
The next great wave in internet innovation, in other words, won’t be about creating sites on the World Wide Web; it will be about figuring out creative ways to deploy the capabilities of the World Wide Computer through both traditional and new physical products, with, from the user’s point of view, “no computer or special software required.”

Close, but no banana. There are plenty of problems with Web 2.0, but none of them are that nobody’s thinking about devices. I had an absolute barnburner of a conversation with Matt Webb in 2005 about this at an Amsterdam Foo Camp. Matt talked about it a little in his ETech keynote (slides) this year.

In Amsterdam, Matt made me rethink the world in terms of general purpose computers and specific devices where the focus isn’t on flexibility but on suitability to a purpose. E.g., very few people grumble that their mobile phone can’t connect to a scanner, doesn’t have 320G of storage, and fails to have a VGA connector. They grumble that it drops calls, doesn’t do predictive text, and the screen gets covered in ear sweat. For each a general purpose computer does, it’s worth looking to see whether there’s a single-purpose device that can be made to focus on that task. Then you can customize the device and its interactions to give a great experience for that purpose.

Matt was particularly thinking of social software, and he’s living true to his words now—building the Olinda, the BBC social radio. Social software is one aspect of the Internet’s functionality, and as Nick pointed out, there’s a strong future for single-purpose devices that connect to the Internet. If he’s looking for a phrase to use to encapsulate that, he need look no further than “software above the level of a single device”.