Be Disruptive Without Making It Seem That Way

Declaring, there are no files in the cloud is a quick way to make the mainstream consumer confused and afraid. If you look at Google Docs, those are obviously files, but they are not stored on your local PC. Disruptive? Yes. Forcing a radical change in the way we think? Maybe. Moving your documents to the cloud is a big deal for most people. The idea of your files not being available on your PC is very scary for a lot of people. They read news about how some cloud service got hacked in some way, so they obviously start thinking “that means most cloud services are insecure, and my documents stored online are also going to be shared by some hacker, and all of my personal information will be available for the world to see!” As you can see, it is a quick downhill run once some insecurities surface.

Fred Wilson talks about this, but his directness will scare off a lot of people:

This is why I love Google Docs so much. I just create a document and email a link. Nobody downloads anything. There are no attachments in the email. Just a link. Just like the web, following links, getting shit done. I love it.

In this quote, his reasoning for loving Google Docs is one of the main reasons that people will migrate to online services. They work and they make it easy to share things. However, when you wrap all of this in the “there are no files” hype, people will run in the other direction. The other problem is the issue of constant connectivity. All documents cannot solely live on some cloud server because there is that time when you do not have internet connectivity and you need to work on a document stored in the cloud. This actually happened to me recently when there was a bad storm in the area and our power and internet connectivity was down. The power came back before our internet connectivity, so I could work, but only if I had local copies of the documents. Here, the idea of cloud-only becomes a problem.

What if document access was seamless? What if I had no idea where a file was, but I could access it from my home PC, my work PC, and maybe even my phone and tablet? Let’s assume I am using a service like Google Docs. This is the holy grail of cloud services, acting like there is no difference regardless of which computing device you use. So, how do we get around this type of issue?

First, don’t talk about it. The key to this type of mainstream disruption is to just make it happen. Look at what the iPhone did to the mobile phone industry. It was not the first touch-screen phone. It was not the first smartphone. It was not the first mobile OS with a development kit. It was not the first device priced around $200 with a long term contract. However, it was the first device to put all of these things together in a nicely designed package with a very easy to use interface. More importantly, it did not seem like a big deal to mainstream consumers to use the new device. The iPhone was tremendously disruptive, but people did not really notice that it was, and that was critical.

If we translate this idea to something like Google Docs, what is needed to make this disruption leap? First, Google Docs, and any other online “office” suite, needs to act as similar to Microsoft Office as possible. This is not about a feature comparison, but it is about making the transition as easy as possible. Second, make the user interface as fast as possible for the most basic tasks. I know things like drawing a table could be a little complicated, but saving a document or changing some text to bold needs to be almost instantaneous. Third, make the application available when not connected to the internet, and make sure that the most recently edited documents are available. Lastly, make the documents readily available on any device that I use, even when not connected to the internet. These last two requirements are the most critical for the mainstream transition to occur.

Fred Wilson said that applications like Dropbox are not going to be needed. I think that applications like Dropbox will be integrated into other applications to provide the synchronization capabilities needed to make all of your documents available everywhere. The mainstream user will not move fully into the cloud until they are sure they can get that document whenever and on whatever device they want. That is how you become truly disruptive, by making it seem normal to completely change the way people work.

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4 thoughts on “Be Disruptive Without Making It Seem That Way

  1. I think Evernote has the right model, but nobody else seems to be going in that direction. For Evernote, a design goal right from the start has been to give you a great client and robust access all the time, whether you are using the web, a desktop app, or a mobile app. Native clients for each platform, and I’m sure they’ve spent a lot on all that development.

    But the effort is worth it – I never have to wonder whether my data will be available.

    In contrast, Google Docs and Gmail (as much as I like the products in all sorts of ways) had real false starts by retro-fitting offline access (via Gears). In my experience, it *never* worked well, and they eventually removed Gears support, vaguely promising to add offline access again in the future using HTML5. Meanwhile, every time Gmail has a hiccup due to network latency (it’s not often, but it is definitely more often than I’d prefer), I think to myself – why can’t they just mimic Evernote’s great design for everywhere access to data?

    I also noticed another interesting hybrid recently when I bought a Galaxy Tab 10.1. It comes with QuickOffice installed, and I see that QuickOffice allows you to save either locally or into Dropbox or Google Docs. Pretty nifty. I don’t think they do a full data sync, but it was still a nice integration.


    1. Shannon

      When you say “I never have to wonder whether my data will be available”, that is exactly what I was trying to get at. You just use a service and it works. The problem with offline access is that HTML5 is still in flux, although most of the basic offline specs are fairly stable. In addition to the spec problem, the browsers need to support it before you can really launch anything useful. So, we have to wait a bit before GMail goes offline. That is a cool note about the Galaxy Tab as well. I had no idea they shipped with an office suite, though that could lead to the slippery slope that PCs went down with preinstalled crapware.


      1. I guess what I am getting at by comparing Google’s products to Evernote is… Google could do what Evernote did, and I actually think they should.

        They could develop a desktop version of Gmail. True, if you read the Evernote forums you’ll get a sense of all the difficulty that team has in maintaining so many clients on so many platforms, but Google certainly has the resources to do it – much more so than Evernote did as a startup. And in a way, Google has already taken this approach – they make a point of developing native apps for all the mobile devices because that’s the only way to give a really great user experience. And the mobile apps are great, I think. They could do the same with a native desktop app. It will be interesting to see how this evolves on the Chromebooks, where Google might come to the same conclusion and decide to rollout native apps. If Google’s products already had solid offline support, then a Chromebook would have actually been a better match for my needs than the Android tablet.

        By the way – thanks for bringing this discussion to your blog. I had read the Fred Wilson post yesterday as well, and I think it’s an important area to discuss. I think your blog makes a good forum for it.


      2. Shannon

        That is basically what I am getting at, Google should be doing what Evernote is doing, especially with the resources that they have.

        Thanks for bringing the discussion here. I know how many comments AVC gets, and it is difficult to be heard there.


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