I’m calling this a roundup post because the insight here is not mine, but rather this is a summary of the points of view of a number of experts.
Software Engineers and Marketing folk define killer apps differently. What’s worse, a lot of people incorrectly (I think) believe that killer apps are necessarily those that can immediately attract huge numbers in a short time.
In short, when someone says killer app, the engineer hears “Killer Software Application” and the marketing person hears “Killer Application of Software”. This is a huge difference, and the latter is the prevailing definition you should be aware of.
As Irving Wladawsky-Berger of IBM puts it, and countless others have been saying it since I was in college, a killer application is simply the usage behavior of a particular technology that justifies the use of that technology.
It is an unexpected way that people start using the technology which suddenly makes the technology incredibly useful.
Or, as I said here previously, it is a product that justifies a technology.
I’m sure the people creating spreadsheet software never imagined that the customers would start using it for interior decoration, wedding planning, blueprint design, or other strange uses that I’ve come across. With so many people using it for so many things it validated the use of the underlying technology — the PC.
SMS is a killer app because it is an application of the 160-byte connection signal sent between switches and phones that fully justified the use of that bytes. It is also a killer app because so many people used it.
The latest cool piece of technology was Virtual Worlds such as second life, but no one could really figure out what it was, or what the product was. Irving argues that meetings and corporate training might be the killer apps that justify the professional / serious use of virtual worlds.
Why is it important to find killer apps for your technology
I see a lot of people in Pakistan building the next YouTube, or the YouTube with
The problem is this — if you build something really cool, you will get a number of early adopters, just as Second Life has a huge amount of users. However, these people are the users who jump at anything cool, and are likely to just switch from your service to something cooler whenever it comes around, which it inevitable will.
The most recent huge glaring example is the exodus of people from MySpace and Orkut towards Facebook. That goes to show that you can never be too complacent with the people you’ve managed to attract.
The killer apps find a usage for your technology that is actually genuinely needed and useful. If people can realize that, then you wont find people using something because they think its cool, but rather because they NEED to in order to get something done in an easier, more cohesive way.
Training in virtual worlds is a trend I’ve been closely following ever since IBM took the lead in choosing to provide corporate training to well over 20,000 of their employees in Second Life — they even have VPs and very senior ppl with permanent offices in Second Life and ask them to walk around meeting other IBMers.
For IBM, Second Life provides a way to break boundaries and interact with a level of immersion and interaction that is impossible with corporate intranets — it allows their own people to come together, discuss, brainstorm new ideas, collaborate all online.
It is also one of the cheapest ways of conducting rich cross-boundary training sessions with the same feeling of immersion as a real-world class.
Soon after IBM, many other companies now conduct customer or employee training over second life — in fact Wired Magazine describes a few other killer apps that can be built with a motion controller (e.g. Wii controller) with Second Life — e.g. training people on real life surgical operations!
So do huge numbers matter?
Here’s where I somewhat disagree with conventional thinking — huge numbers do not make a killer app. In fact if you’re thinking about “killer apps” as those that “kill the entire marketplace with one feature” then the truth is there is no killer app.
If you go back to what I said it makes a bit more sense — the killer app is a product that justifies the serious use of a technology.
As I mentioned in the previous post on products, every person may look at your technology and see a different product, and that’s OK!
There just happen to be moments in time when a large number of people generally see the same product when they see the technology — and this is where people mistakingly start calling it a killer app. The truth is that is just a coincidence.
I think you should define a killer app for each individual vertical or demographic you want to hit and be happy when any number of users accept your technology for serious use.
Even if there’s one odd person on the fringe using your tech in an unexpected way — but in a serious way — you’ve found a killer app for him! Maybe there are more people like that who dont realize they can use your technology in that way but want to.
The art of creating killer apps is to meet and talk to enough to people to find out how they can use your platform or technology for amazing new benefit that they never thought was possible before. The numbers will come later on.