Friday, March 17, 2006

Killer Applications

Rational Technology for March 19, 2006

Contrary to any impressions that the title may give, the column this week is not about how one becomes P100,000 richer courtesy of the city of Dumaguete [a little in-joke: one councillor is adamantly proposing that killers be paid that amount to point to the mastermind of the crime]. Neither is it about the equipment of the councillors of Bayawan [another in-joke: Bayawan councillors voted to appropriate guns for themselves, courtesy of taxpayer's money]. Rather, it is about compelling applications that force people to adopt a particular piece of technology.

A killer application is slang in the computer industry about a piece of software that is so useful that people will buy the equipment just to run it. Of late, its usage has expanded to other forms of technology.

Take the well-worn case of the contemporary cellphone. What do you think was the killer application for today's mobile phones? The answer, of course, is the short message system. Up until the time that texting became widely available, not everyone felt the compelling need to get a cellphone.

The funny thing with killer apps, though, is that it is the end users who decide what really counts as the compelling feature. Designers of a technology may envision some grand scheme for their invention, only to have the consumers decide that a supplemental feature is really more useful. SMS, for example, was originally just a secondary function to second generation cellphones that allowed the phone company to alert their subscribers.

A true killer application has mass appeal, but it's not unusual for individuals to find their own specific killer applications. I can't think of a better example in this case than my own mother. While the rest of the world had already caught on to the wonders of the Internet by way of its first killer app, email, Mom was one of the last remaining holdovers. I wondered how I would ever get her connected.

For a time, I thought that the free phone calls with Skype would be the killer app for Mom, but when PLDT offered its P10-unlimited call promos, that notion soon went away. Oddly enough, it was blogging that finally got her hooked online. No, my Mom doesn't blog, but she's an avid fan of news bloggers like Manolo Quezon III, Ricky Carandang, Jove Francisco, and Ellen Tordesillas (and now I have to compete with her for the computer).

While it may have its origins in technology, it's useful to think of killer applications in whatever it is we're trying to sell. Take Dumaguete City or Negros Oriental, for example. We've said our edge over other places in the Philippine is our quality of life, our universities, and our abundant bandwith. But really, these are just the factors.

Given these, what do you think our killer application should be?