Just as the Internet powerhouses of the early 2000’s were all but forgotten, they rise with new panache. MySpace, Digg, and now AOL have undergone massive redesigns in an attempt to lure in former users, and it just might work.
Remember the race to get your favorite @gmail.com address? OMG - a GB of free storage!? Forget that hotmail email address you’ve been using since your days backpacking around Europe after college, time to switch domains. What a hassle.
Those days are over. Today, cloud storage is effectively free. The key players (Google, Amazon, Microsoft) have taken data center construction to an art form, along the way making that same infrastructure a commodity. The result: the back-end is no longer a differentiator and companies are increasingly turning to front-end innovation to make a splash.
AOL’s new web-based email client, Alto, is an interesting new tool for managing the inbox fire hose. Among other nifty features, it analyzes your inbox and automatically categorizes your email into piles like daily deals, attachments, and social notifications - the new breed of “pseudo-spam.” Unlike the days of yore, you don’t have to go through the hassle of migrating from Gmail or Yahoo to take advantage of these new superpowers. Alto is just a new layer of svelteness on top of the old email infrastructure.
It’s a trend we’ve all seen developing for a while. This is the kind of thing that gets the open software junkies (and entrepreneurs) out of bed in the morning. Conceding the back-end infrastructure wars can make building new and exciting software a lot cheaper, and benefits consumers so they don’t have to live in the walled gardens of yesteryear. Consider: Otixo, an app that connects to all of your cloud storage sites (Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.) and gives you an abstract sharing mechanism on top of all of them. Fanhattan doing the same for online TV content (Netflix, Hulu, etc.). Mint for bank accounts and Flipboard for content on social networks.
This trend pushes application providers to offer new and creative features on the front-end and let you cast your vote with a click of your mouse. And thank goodness for the data centers and APIs that make them possible.
Monopolists win the platform arms race, but everyone wins the design arms race.