Technology (20): Software Eats the World (again)

Software Eats the World means…

… that any product or service in any field that can become a software product will become a software product.

… that every company in the world that is in any of these markets in which this process is happening therefore has to become a software company.

… that in the long run, in every market, the best software company will win.

Marc Andreessen

Which means, in time…

… everybody ignores it.

There was a time when people would pitch me ‘internet companies.’ But unless you’re actually selling internet service, you’re no more an internet company than a company using electricity is an electric company. Over the next ten years there won’t be online stores, there will just be stores; there won’t be mobile-enabled taxi dispatchers, there will just be taxis. The expectation of sensible use of ICT will be total.

At the same time, because companies will need to grow by expanding markets, not creating new ones, there will be an economic mandate to make the technology cheaper and easier to use so it can be used in more places. These things together mean that ICT will be everywhere, but so integrated into products that it will be invisible.

How do you adjust your strategy for this?

Stop considering the technology a feature. Using the technology where it fits is no longer a feature, it’s a requirement. Connecting a thermostat to the Internet wirelessly is awesome, but calling it an Internet-enabled thermostat will start to be like calling a vacuum cleaner an electricity-enabled broom. And if your thermostat does not connect to the Internet, it will be bought only by retro-chic hipsters.

But if you use ICT in your product, it needs to be seamless. Your users shouldn’t need an instruction manual. Don’t scrimp on user interface and user experience design…

Jerry Neumann – The Deployment Age

What This Means for You

In one sense, “software eats the world” is another way of saying “tools (or technology – or GPTs) eat the world”:

  • Any job that can be done better using a given tool will be done using that tool;
  • That any company that is in the market doing that job therefore has to become a user of the tool;
  • That in the long run, the company that uses that tool best will win.

It’s just that software – and in particular internet-connected software – has the characteristic almost unique among tools that it often gets better with time as we customise and personalise it, as it gains functionality, as it becomes more portable (portable software turns your phone into an electronic Ship of Theseus – the outside has changed several times but it’s still the same ship).

And software can be added to pretty much anything that involves information, which means… pretty much everything.

Which means that you will be outsourcing jobs to software. You will certainly outsource all the things that aren’t absolutely at the core of what you do (financial arrangements; communication; scheduling; data collection and analysis), and in time you’ll probably be using software to facilitate the core of what you do (creating new things; building community; spending time with people; leading).

Which means that you had better be software literate – and the deeper your structural literacy of software and information, the better.

And remember: the aim (dream?) of getting good at using software is to spend less time and effort thinking about software.

See also:

Charles Severance: Why Program?
Alan J. Perlis on Programming and Avoiding the Constipation of Philosophy

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...