There is a huge insurgence of applications that do a single thing and do it extremely well. They can be served up as a single embeddable object, a facebook app, or simply a standalone piece of software on the iPhone. Every one of them is attempting to find a niche of their own, attempting to carve out that special market that would allow them to be a necessity. And, according to the numbers of Apps downloaded or Mafia Wars games played, they are succeeding in exactly that.
The problem that I see, however, with this model of creation is that no one is trying to change the world anymore. It used to be that any new piece of software was trying to revolutionize the way in which we think about the technologies we use. Operating systems were designed to constantly introduce new ways of interacting with content and interfacing with information. Applications like word processors (and later blogs) helped to create an entire class of highly educated and highly published people. Video cameras revolutionized our ability to capture events and people. Recordable (and more importantly portable) music defines a society more fully than perhaps even its lawmakers might.
These technologies and applications shifted our understanding of what was possible. A widget cannot do this. An app generated for a single device cannot either. Now, some people might argue that live streaming from a cell phone via the Ustream.tv app is revolutionary in its own way. Or, that the Facebook connect widget is single-handedly simplifying our ability to login across the web, but these things are incremental, and some would say, inevitable steps forward.
That is why I have no problem with Google trying to digitize the world’s content or buying up power grids or competing with Microsoft directly for a collaborative office suite. They are literally trying to change the world with their products and policies. While they may make a Google Talk Gadget or a Google Maps Widget, their central goal is always in changing the ways in which we find information.
It really isn’t that Widgets or Apps aren’t useful. They really are quite good at helping us figure out which song is playing or to upload files to our cloud-based service. It is much more that they just can’t muster enough to reach for anything greater than that. When everything does one thing well, it may make for a very engaging overall experience, but those little innovations lack a greater purpose. That is why they are so expendable. That is why people can give up so easily any of the tools in the Web 2.0 graveyard.
So, what I would like to see from more Widget makers and App store developers is a reason why they believe that their idea will affect all others that come after them. I want products who are not limited by what is currently in development. I would like to see applications that do not deny that they have the ability to shift entire industries, that can cause teachers to change their methods, or that can lead people to think in new ways. I would hate to lose that, just because we have a way of monitizing the smallest increments of content now. I would hate to think that the era of “thinking big” is over just because everything that we use now is so small.