The Pointless Search for the Killer App

497511638_e98b92f023_m The seek it here, they seek it there,
they seek it everywhere.
In the press? – or on YouTube?
That damned, elusive Killer App!

… with apologies to Baroness Emma Orczy

Why is it those sceptical about a new technology resort, within a very few sentences, to the show me the Killer App line.  As if the appearance of,  a gold-star approved by the bloggerati, example of something useful implemented in said technology is going to change their mind.

Remember the Web – what was the Web’s Killer App?

Step back a little further – what was the Killer App for HTML?

Answers in the comments section for both of the above.

I relate this to a blog post by Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research, Roy Tennant.  I’m sure Roy won’t mind me picking on him as a handy current example of a much wider trend.  In his post, which he asserts that Microdata, Not RDF, Will Power the Semantic Web (and elicits an interesting comment stream), he says:

Twelve years ago I basically called the Resource Description Framework (RDF) “dead on arrival”. That was perhaps too harsh of an assessment, but I had my reasons and since then I haven’t had a lot of motivation to regret those words. Clearly there is a great deal more data available in RDF-encoded form now than there was then.

But I’m still waiting for the killer app. Or really any app at all. Show me something that solves a problem or fulfills a need I have that requires RDF to function. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Oh, you’ve got nothing? Well then, keep reading.

I could go off on a rant about something that was supposedly dead a decade ago still having trouble laying down; or comparing Microdata and RDF as vehicles for describing and relating things is like comparing text files to XML; or even that the value is not in the [Microdata or RDF] encoding, it is in the linking of things, concepts, and relationships – but that is for another time.

So to the search for Kill Apps.

Was VisiCalc a Killer App for the PC – yes it probably was.  Was Windows a Killer App – more difficult to answer.  Is/was Windows an App or something more general, in technology wave, terms that would begat it’s own Killer Apps.   What about Hypertext? Ignoring all the pre-computer era work on it’s principles, I would contend that it’s first Killer App was the Windows Help System – WinHelp.  Although, with a bit of assistance from the html concept of the href, it was somewhat eclipsed by the Web.

2604628290_1ea51b74ed_m The further up the breakfast pancake like stack of technologies, standards, infrastructures, and ecosystems we evolve away from the bit of silicon, at the core of what we still belittle with the simple name of computer, the more vague and pointless is our search for a Killer Use, and therefore App.

For a short period in history you could have considered the killer application of the internal combustion engine to be the automobile, but it wasn’t long before those two became intimately linked into a single entity with more applications than you could shake a stick at – all and none of which could be considered to be the killer.

Back to my domain , data.  As I have postulated previously, I believe we are nearing a point where data, it’s use, our access to it, and the attention and action large players are giving to it, is going to fundamentally change the way we do things.  Change that will come about, not from a radical change in what we do, but from a gradual adoption of several techniques and technologies atop of what we already have.  As I have also said before, Linked Data (and its data format RDF) will be a success when we stop talking about it as it it becomes just a tool in the bag.  A tool that is used when and where appropriate and mundane enough not to warrant a Linked Data Powered sticker on the side.

Take these Apps being built on the Kasabi, [Linked Data Powered] Platform.  Will the users of these apps be aware of the Linked Data (and RDF) under the hood?  No.  Will they benefit from it?  Yes, the aggregation and linking capabilities should deliver a better experience.  Are any of this Killers? I doubt it, but nevertheless they are no less worth while.

So stop searching for that Killer App, you may be fruitlessly hunting for a long time.  When someone invents a pocket-sized fusion reactor or the teleport , they might be back in vogue.

Prospector picture from ToOliver2 on Flickr
Pancakes picture from eyeliam on Flickr

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