CMS explosion: Killer apps

(But we just don’t call them killer apps any more).

As the clock rolled around 2008, the web exploded with new internet software offerings in the Content Management System (CMS) category. These packages create a platform for web designers, developers and authors to collaborate in the creation of a web site. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call CMS applications the killer app of the moment, driving the cyber world toward new uncharted territory. Everyone has discovered that they simply cannot live without one.

The computer and internet industry experiences the killer app syndrome every year or two. Currently, all things Web 2 are considered to originate from their social context, so we just don’t call them by that name, but they are nonetheless. The killer app phenomenon had its roots in the green-screen ages of computers, when the spreadsheet was invented. Since then killer app technologies come and go every few years. Witness the hand-held mouse, Microsoft Windows, Netscape Navigator, iPod players, and the Google search engine. The killer app syndrome is characterized by a pattern of well defined stages of creation, discovery, imitation, shakedown, dominance. Ultimately this leads to either obsolescence or widespread acceptance.

First a killer app goes through the creation phase. Creation typically begins with several years of concept design and testing in the Dr. Frankenstein castle, often involving a charismatic leader figure and some other movers and shakers who move about in the shadows. Originally these shadow figures were bearded, but nowadays, they are bald, either through age or through choice.

Next comes the discovery phase, where the growth of the app goes ballistic. The discovery phase is very mysterious. It involves both chance and design. In one version, a few people get hold of the original model, test it, and like it. Word spreads. In 99% of the cases, the application is destined to become just another Ronco salad shooter, and it quietly disappears. But if the app is destined to become a killer app then the appearance of the next phase will confirm it.

The next phase in the killer app phenomenon is imitation. Here, the basic principle of the app is copied and redistributed thousands of times. This is the wild west phase of a killer app, when all sorts of strange characters sally forth onto the streets, and the sheriff is not around. Some of these new offerings are downright clones, while others have the spark of innovation built on top of the original principle. This is where CMS applications were at the beginning of 2008.

The fourth phase of the killer app is shakedown. This is where the marketplace becomes saturated with these apps, some become popular, whilst others quietly die, or in the case of well-deserving also-rans, not-so-quietly. Shakedown is the evolutionary phase of the killer app. There is a lot of arguing by the users over whose is best, biggest, brightest, boldest. Capitalism enters the picture, and sometimes this becomes a political issue as well. Capitalism versus Freedom. Shakedown is sad a sad but necessary phenomenon. Once the killer app has run its course, many years may pass before the archaeologists dig up the dinosaur bones and offer them up for nostalgia buffs who will always wonder, what if and why not? For an interesting stroll down memory lane, you youngsters can google “Eagle computer” and see what turns up.

The fifth phase of a killer app is dominance. This is also known as rocket stardom. As the dinosaurs are dying off wholesale, a few of the rodents have the right combination of luck and pluck, and ultimately they rocket to world dominance. This is where one or two major players that call themselves enterprise teams take over. Not just the street, but the whole neighborhood. It is driven by the worshippers of the star, the company, or the phenomenon itself. It may have nothing to do with whether the product is any good or not.

The final phase can go either of two ways. The product can die or it can fade away (obsolescence or general acceptance). With acceptance the original concept becomes so commonplace that the masses take it for granted. For a CMS (like WordPress), the application may become institutionalized. It is the part where business and the masses once again become productive and actually use the application on a day-to-day basis, even to the point of boredom, while we eke out our humdrum lives and wait for the next killer app to come along.

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