So You Want to be an Office 2.0 Provider?

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You really think it’s wise to tangle with both Google and Microsoft? Aggressive, but I admire your pluck. We all know what they say about the value of free advice, but given the landscape in front of you I think you’ll need all the help you can get, so maybe you won’t turn down a tip or two. With no further delay, here are the Top 10 things I’d be worrying about if I were you (in no particular order).

  1. Identity:
    This one’s easy for just about everyone to understand: maintaining multiple accounts – and their respective passwords – taxes most of us on a daily basis. In a perfect world, Office 2.0 applications leverage a common identity infrastructure, but as Christopher points out the big guys at least have thus far declined to do so. To be fair, however, some of the big guys have legitimate concerns. It would be great if the Office 2.0 conference served as an opportunity to get some of the players together to try and achieve some consensus on how this would be handled. Critical mass is important here.

  2. Cut and Paste:
    Where have you gone, Ray Ozzie? I talked to a user of Google Spreadsheets a couple of days ago who said that because his attempt to paste in a tab delimited file failed, he wouldn’t be coming back any time soon. I tried to explain at the time that that sort of complex behavior really wasn’t suitable for the basic online applications, but the more that I consider it, the more I wonder why not? Cut and paste, after all, is one of the most basic behaviors of office users; not supporting that from one Office 2.0 app to another seems to be folly.

  3. Standards:
    As I discussed with Bob yesterday, I’m surprised how little discussion of ODF there has been here. One of the demoers just mentioned export to Powerpoint, but the role of standards – despite a panel on the subject yesterday – has been really underemphasized. Regrettably so, IMO. Standards are important in selling to entities like governments, of course, but they also serve to provide a comfort level for customers that may be uncertain about the ongoing viability of a particular provider.

  4. Data Confidentiality:
    Peter Yared yesterday claimed that enterprise customers would rarely be interested in hosting their office content offsite, and would demand that Office 2.0(ish) applications be run inside the firewall. Playing devil’s advocate, I’d point to Salesforce.com who has a reported 56 thousand customers trusting them with the most critical data they own. But Peter has a point; I’d be lying if I said that we did not have concerns about hosting, say, our customer data outside the firewall. Though it’s not Office 2.0, concerns about Amazon’s EC2 are instructive here. Paradoxically, I’m less concerned with large providers who are transparent about the fact that they’re going to be crawling my data anonymously than I am with smaller providers. Office 2.0 providers need to be prepared to answer this question.

  5. Business Model:
    When I worked for a couple of boutique SI firms post-bubble, one of the first questions we were asked was how we could demonstrate our long term viability. Office 2.0 firms, I suspect, will face similar questions and need to have good, ready answers to questions about their economic model. Charge too much, and people will doubt you have many users. Charge too little, and people will be skeptical that you’ll to be around longer term. Charge nothing, and you’d better have a really good advertising model. This may seem like a no win situation, and to some extent that’s true. But there are right answers here. You can also follow Joyent’s lead, and reward only early users with free levels of service.

  6. Intermittent Connectivity:
    The biggie. Just about everyone knocks Office 2.0 for their typical inability to handle offline use cases. EV-DO notwithstanding, network connectivity is not yet pervasive enough or standard enough to assume that you’ll have it 24×7 – even for those lucky Sprint or Verizon users. And most of the Office 2.0 crowd breaks down here, it’s true. The real question is how to fix it. There are multiple approaches that one could take, from aligning and integrating with existing Office 1.0 suites, to placing a web server on the desktop. My recommendation for Office 2.0 vendors is first aggressively acknowledge the limitation, much as Google has done in downplaying the competitive threat it represents to Microsoft Office, and second determine what approach they’re going to use quickly and be transparent about it.

  7. Think Different:
    One of the things I believe no technology should do is strict replication; you don’t catch or surpass your competition by moving more slowly. And yet many of the Office 2.0 providers are not leveraging their intrinsic advantage over their desktop bound competition, i.e. the network. If we consider first order network functions as the standard network enabled backup, real time saving and so on, second order network functions might be the seamless incorporation and integration of online media from Flickr, the Creative Commons or more. If the network nature of your application is your biggest strength and biggest weakness, make sure you’re getting the most out of the strength.

  8. Performance & Scalability:
    Speed is a feature, remember. And particularly if you’re competing with local clients that are quite fast these days, you need to be better than adequate – you need to be Google like in performance. The bad news is that that’s hard: really hard. The good news is that there are more ways than ever to try and scale, economically. And the software costs have never been lower.

  9. Export:
    In the somewhat tedious movie Ronin, Robert DeNiro’s character describes his highly advanced sense of caution by saying, “I never walk into a room I don’t know how to walk out of.” Translated into Office 2.0 terms, that means that if you don’t have export functionality, you don’t have to worry about the import because I’m unlikely to ever use your application. Simon calls this the Freedom to Leave, and while that sounds dire it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to contribute content that they may not later be able to extract. The net? Export should be one of your first features.

  10. Interoperation:
    One of the great things about Gmail, IMO, is that I don’t need to use the client if choose not to. I can receive Gmail through any standard rich email client that supports POP3; all of them, in other words. For most of office productivity purveyors in the Office 2.0 space, however, this level of compatibility and integration is non-existent. Sure, you can export files to formats that rich client can understand, but that process is far from seamless. It would be nice to see, as an example, OO.o extensions that support online editing and access for Office 2.0 documents, spreadsheets and so on. That allows users to pick the client of their choice, be they traditional or web based.

Hope those help, Office 2.0 folks, and in the meantime, best of luck.


  1. I’d bet on Yahoo for one – with their “Rich Text Editor (Beta)” they’re on the road already, and they check a number of your boxes.

  2. the big guys i think will all be players here; what remains to be seen is whether or not one of the smaller players can identify a business model that gives them the opportunity to move upmarket.

    we shall see…

  3. Ray Ozzie should try to copy and paste an HTML table from a web browser into Excel and Google Spreadsheets. In Excel it puts all the text into a single cell. In Google Spreadsheets in parses the HTML table into spreadsheet cells. This is a web application, not a desktop applications!!!

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