Every so often, we get some great feedback from our community that's thought-provoking and challenges our assumptions in a good way. And then sometimes, we get blog posts from otherwise-clueful folks who've, well, missed the mark. Fortunately, people with a lot of talent are usually pretty good at taking criticism, and that's certainly true of Khoi Vinh
, design director for NYTimes.com and author of the popular Subtraction blog, and Jason Fried
, a principal of 37Signals and one of the key voices of their Signal vs. Noise blog.
The conversation got started in earnest last week -- Khoi posted "If It Looks Like a Cow, Swims Like a Dolphin and Quacks Like a Duck, It Must Be Enterprise Software
" on his Movable Type-powered blog. The title's a playful jab at an odd little Lotus Notes ad campaign, but overall the essay does a great job of showing what's traditionally been wrong with enterprise software. Jason picked up the baton from there, with characteristic humility, offering up "Why Enterprise Software Sucks
Honestly, their criticisms are mostly fair, though picking on these hundred-year-old companies for making software that's not very usable seems like kind of taking a cheap shot. But let's place the blame appropriately: If Enterprise software sucks, it's because the people who know how to do things right haven't gotten off their asses and fixed it
We say this because, hey, what do you know -- we're trying to fix it. As Khoi, or Jason, or anybody else can attest, Six Apart's background is undoubtedly in the world of being real, credible, serious long-time contributors to blogging and social media. (That's part of why we've been glad to see the successes of these two, among so many others, who come from that world.) But we have an ambition, an actual mission
, to honor that community by bringing the potential to everyone who can benefit. And that mission doesn't stop at the door to your office.
Khoi gets the heart of the issue:
[E]nterprise software rarely gets critiqued the way even a US$30 piece of
shareware will. It doesn't benefit from the rigor of a wide and varied
base of users, many of whom will freely offer merciless feedback,
goading and demanding it to be better with each new release. Shielded
away from the bright scrutiny of the consumer marketplace and beholden
only to a relatively small coterie of information technology managers
who are concerned primarily with stability, security and the continual
justification of their jobs and staffs, enterprise software answers to
few actual users. Given that hothouse environment, it's only natural
that the result is often very strange.
We've raised the same point in our own conversations with companies -- having a robust, thriving community of millions of individuals blogging with our platforms in their personal lives makes our business and Enterprise software simply work better
. Want to make sure your enterprise blog platform will scale? Take what we've learned from helping scale some of the largest communities on the web. Like the control and flexibility of open source, with the familiarity and support of a traditional software license? Our communities have demanded both.
Put simply, if the term Enterprise 2.0
means anything at all, then it has to mean enterprise software that meets the user experience standards set by the tools we use in our free time. Anything less will fail.
And ultimately, it comes back to our mission. Since both Khoi and Jason are designers, and we're a company co-founded by a designer, we know full well that experience matters. As a company, we think Six Apart has an obligation to provide as great an experience in enterprise software as people get when reading NYTimes.com or using 37Signals' productivity tools. This is a point we've kept coming back to in talking about why business blogs matter so much
[W]hile those of us who work on our own or for smaller companies can
say "Well, I want to work on a Mac." or "I'm only going to use
Firefox." or "I'm only going to use open source applications." (and
most of us at Six Apart fall into those camps), most non-technical
people not only don't have that option, they don't care
enough to find out how to do that stuff. You use what your boss tells
you to, and even if you have other preferences, they're not worth the
fight when you're just trying to get your job done.
So, instead of having to use some horrible "Groupware Knowledge
Management Content Solution Server" thing, we think people should be
able to use real blogs from a company that actually cares
about blogging. And to do that, we have to make blogging tools feel
"safe" to bosses and CIOs and CTOs and IT departments and other offices
full of people whose job it is to say "no" to anything too new or
Of course, we owe a big thanks to Khoi and Jason for starting a good conversation, but let's not concede that enterprise software just sucks intrinsically. Let's assume that, just like the web itself has been reinvented and reinvigorated by social software in the past half-decade, the way we collaborate and create at work will be, too. It's a point that all of us who work on enterprise social software at Six Apart take pretty personally, and there might be no better way to show how personal communications platforms can also be serious business tools than to use this business blog post to highlight a point I'd made on my personal blog:
Anyone who creates technologies that aspire to have significant cultural
or social impacts on the developed world has to focus on both our lives
at home and our lives at work. Anything less is an abdication
of potential, or a failure of ambition, and settling for less denies
many people the chance to discover tools or technologies that can
improve their lives.
So the solution to having to use bad tools at work isn't to merely shrug your shoulders and complain about it -- the answer is to get even more ambitious, raise your standards, and start using software that's both a delight to work with and proven to help build your business.
Still skeptical? Join us on Tuesday for the free seminar we're hosting with Forrester's best Enterprise 2.0 experts -- we'll show you how to make the case for your boss, your team, your employees, and your business.