Over the past few years, I’ve linked to various new web applications and many of them were created by 37signals (Basecamp, TaDa, BackPack and so on). I still use some of their apps but not as frequently as those offered by that other small web app company, Google.
Now I’ve contacted them about this in the past, but I think they need to better “productise” their applications. By that I mean, almost solely, that they need to provide icons, distinct well designed icons, for their applications.
Well this came to light recently as I tried, yet again, to tweak and streamline my browser (the application I use more frequently than any other). It also highlighted why I’m still using Firefox, namely because I’ve yet to find a need that a Firefox extension won’t scratch… meet.. whatever.
I’m a big fan of maximising space, particularly as I use a lot of web-based applications these days, and the more space they can get the better. However, those self-same, often used, web-based apps provide a problem. How do I quickly and easily access them? Well Firefox has a bookmark toolbar which you can customise to your own needs (right-click an existing link to delete, drag from the address bar (or any web link) to create a new link in the toolbar), and so I have my most often used applications linked from there.
For the record, those applications are:
- Google Mail
- Google Reader
- Google Calendar
- Google Docs & Sheets
- Google Calendar
- Remember the Milk
- 37signals TaDa List
- Side Job Track
- 37signals Highrise
- 37signals Basecamp for current project
- Google Reader Subscribe favelet
And yes, the order is quite specific. I use Mail and Reader multiple times a day, the Calendar and Docs & Sheets, and Remember the Milk a few times a week, the Ta Da list once a week or less. Side Job Track is used ad-hoc, I’m still testing Highrise, and the Basecamp link isn’t permanent. The Subscribe link on the far-right lets me “one-click” to add an RSS feed to Google Reader, and it’s easy to hit as it’s on the end of the list.
Ohh and the Smart Bookmarks Bar extension expands to show the text next to the icon, in case you were wondering.
So, having setup that toolbar, I immediately noticed that none of the 37signals links had icons attached to them. This is purely because they don’t have “favicons” assigned to their website, but it made me realise that Google are certainly taking the whole “product” thing seriously. There are plenty of rumours around that with a couple of extra purchases they will soon be placed, and may formally start to bundle, an Office equivalent. All free, all online.
Whilst the 37signals apps are all excellent, I think they are missing that leap. The leap that pulls people from their desktop apps, and it may just be that a simple icon is all that it takes.
If you start to think about your browser as a web desktop, then the bookmark toolbar becomes the place where your desktop icons live. It’s not a huge leap, and not an original thought either, I know others have pondered the same.
Whilst there is a mindshift required and a couple of missing applications to be created (drag and drop files to… where? if you are in a web browser that is pretending to your desktop??), it is feasible to think that your local computer will only ever really be used as a storage device, with all your applications running online. Certainly for most general tasks that is already possible.
Not everyone will embrace this idea, in fact I’d guess that most people are still against moving to web apps at all, but for those that have bitten the bullet, these small details could be all it takes between adoption and desertion. If another web app comes along that offers similar functionality, but makes its play from a “product” point of view then maybe the 37signals guys may have a bit of a fight on their hands.