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Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

David vs. Goliath -- Goliath always wins?

Blogger Tony Proctor of the Parallax View blog made the following comment about my recent post mentioning that none of the current genealogy software apps fell into the category of a "killer app."
I've been on the receiving end of this possibility in a different market sector James. If it was a "killer app" in the sense of being outstanding, and far ahead of anything else, then it could be a good thing, but this doesn't have to be the case. When one of these large companies decided to address a particular area then they have massive resources, including developers and money but also including worldwide marketing. That product doesn't have to be light-years ahead in its first incarnation because they will just sell it better. I know that smaller organisations, with just one or two visionaries, often produce better products than a committee-driven organisation can, but it won't help. When you factor in synergy with the other products and tools of the big organisation then you cannot win - the smaller company will suffer a withering demise.
I thought this was an interesting perspective. I agree with the statement, if you proceed on the premise that software competes only on a global basis. But I think there is an important exception. Genealogy is very small niche market. It is certainly the case that if Apple or Microsoft or Adobe or whatever decided to take on a genealogy program it would become a "killer app," but that possibility is extremely remote. In fact, it is unlikely that any major software developer would even become interested in a specialized application such as a genealogy program merely for the reason that the market is so small.

It makes sense for a genealogy company such as Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.com to develop programs that work with their primary products, but that is as far as this goes. Does Ancestry.com or any other company want to "corner" the genealogy software market? It they do, then they will have to change both their present products and their marketing strategy immensely. Because right now their programs are being sold as an adjunct to their online database programs and not as stand-alone replacements for other database programs out there in the market. Think about it, have you ever seen an ad for Family Tree Maker out of the context for subscribing to Ancestry.com? Interestingly, neither Ancestry.com nor MyHeritage.com feature their "software app" prominently on their websites.

So although Tony's premise is valid at one level of software development, it does not necessarily follow in a narrow niche market. It is entirely possible that a small independent programmer coupled with a competent genealogist could develop a breakthrough software application that would change the way genealogists do their work. But will such a program come from the existing programmers? Possibly. But it will only come from someone who has both the programming capability and a clear understanding of the way genealogists do their work.

A program such as Microsoft's Office is not only dominant because Microsoft is big and powerful, it is also dominant because it has all of the basic functions that people need and use. The junk in the programs still hasn't ruined their ability to function at an adequate level. I confronted this issue recently when I was making all of the presentations in Microsoft's PowerPoint. I looked at Apple's Keynote as a possible replacement. Now, you probably know by know, but if you don't I am a saturated Apple user. But guess what, despite it superficial attraction, Keynote is not a replacement for PowerPoint in the context of the world I live in. If PowerPoint only ran on Windows computers and Keynote ran on Apple computers, I would probably be using Keynote regardless of the limitations, but reality is that the presentation market is pretty much wrapped up by PowerPoint. So even if I did use Keynote, I would be saving all of my files as PowerPoint compatible files.

This observation would superficially seem to support Tony's statements about the dominance of a large company. But this is not completely true. If Apple had Keynote for both Windows and Mac without using some simulation program, I would probably move to Keynote. This statement brings up another issue, can the present genealogy software developers keep up their momentum without support multiple platforms? I think not. In this case, the newer program Heredis from France is a good example. One of its selling points is that it works on multiple platforms. I may have to break my longstanding position of not doing software reviews if some of these innovative programs start to look attractive. I have refrained from making software judgments for the simple reason that anything I say in that context ends up alienating someone.

I really thank Tony for his thoughts. It is nice to have both competency and insight in the same comment. But I think there is still the possibility that someone out there might come up with the killer app. Perhaps they already have and I just haven't recognized it yet.

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