I see Robert Scoble has kicked up a storm over the weekend by wondering why the vast majority of people are more interested in Web widgets than enterprise software (see Techmeme discussion and Michael Krigsman's post with a list of responses from fellow Enterprise Irregulars). The scale of the storm shows how talented Scoble is at asking exactly the right dumb question to generate the maximum reaction.
It is, though, a truly dumb question. As if anyone in their right mind is going to be more interested in architecting a secure, load-balancing middleware stack to support integration in their company's call center operations than being able to drag-and-drop their current location into a Google map of available dates with less than three degrees of separation on their social graph. Like Russ Mayfield (almost) says, it may get you promoted, but it won't get you laid.
Fact is, there's only ever going to be a tiny minority of people in the world who'll get excited about the middleware thing. Which in my eyes is something to celebrate. Would I want to live in a world dominated by geeks? I already write for ZDNet. You can have too much of a good thing.
Whereas getting an introduction to a hot date tonight is something single people (and a lot of marrieds too) have been doing since the dawn of civilization. The only thing that's changed in the past few millennia is that recently some of the tough parts got automated. Nowadays you can check out their interests on Facebook or MySpace and get IM-ing before you even meet face-to-face. Or so I'm told. The last time I did dating, there were no hot dates on the Web. Only geeks.
So here's the simple reason why the consumer Web is sexy: it's because it helps people get on with their lives. They can look up information, make connections with people, plan journeys, buy books and groceries and check their bank balance without having to read a software manual, learn a programming language or get flustered by a command line. These people are interested in what Google, Amazon — even Microsoft sometimes — are going to do next because they know how much their lives have already been transformed by what they're able to do online today. The most significant advance by far of the past decade is that you no longer have to be a geek to use the Web. It's sexy precisely because the software that powers it all is hidden away behind the scenes.
Enterprise applications will catch up one day, and I think most people are looking forward to that moment with world-weary anticipation. They know that eventually (but not before they've heard all the usual excuses), the Web will invade their workplace and they'll finally be able to get on with their job. Instead of having to constantly fight against the inflexible, outdated software they grapple with today, it'll all disappear behind a familiar, Web interface. The software will still be there, but it'll be hidden away somewhere where the geeks can take care of it without having to make everyone else's life a misery.
And there's the rub. Ordinary people don't like software. They don't want to tangle with it. It's not sexy. It's for geeks — people with pens in their top pockets and an annoying habit of interrupting you to tell you details you didn't need to know. Sure, (as Irregulars Michael, Vinnie and Susan — with some great grapics — have quite rightly written) people like what software does for them, just like they're very happy about the results of civil engineering and the (hitherto) smooth operation of the banking system. But they don't need to know how it works. They just need it to work.
The fact that it does work may be sexy and interesting to the sort of people who read ZDNet or watch Scoble's videos or engage with the Enterprise Irregulars. But that always has been and always will be a minority of the population. A well-paid minority, I grant you. But they will never (outside of the Silicon Valley coterie) be popular heroes. Not in the kind of world most people want to live in.