Sidekick Disaster: Bad for Users; Great for Web Apps

At heart, I’m a contrarian. When someone says it can’t be done, my overwhelming urge is to prove it can. So when I heard the news that Microsoft or T-Mobile lost user data for as many as 1 million Sidekick users over the weekend, I thought while that’s horrible for all those Sidekick users who were affected, it’s great news for all of us who are working on web apps/mobile web.

Here’s the summation: the Sidekick does no desktop backup like the iPhone and BlackBerry, it only backs up to a web service (the “cloud”) and all those servers reside at Microsoft. Microsoft screwed up and lost all that server data and then, when devices connected to the server, it wiped the device clean.

Now this has created an avalanche of controversy about web apps and people are starting to ask whether web apps can be trusted. After all, this makes it possible for one company to screw everyone.

And this, I think, is perfect. Controversy! For those of us creating web apps, we need some controversy because it means web apps have gone mainstream!

With every generation of the web, we’ve had controversy. In the early days of the web it was fear of entering a credit card on the web. Copious amounts of film and paper were wasted discussing this lunacy. (That’s right: you’ll hand your card to a stranger in a restaurant who walks into a back room with it, who enters it into a machine that transmits the data across a telephone line to the… wait for it… servers of some bank.)

Then came Web 2.0 and the fear-mongering of online predators and putting your drunken pictures in plain view of your boss received copious amounts of press, except this time it was digital so all we wasted was electricity.

I’ve been feeling like the mobile web and web apps were left out. Where was the controversy? Finally it’s happened!

For the record, this is just more fear mongering and like all fear mongering, it has a hint of truth to it. The truth is that the risk of trusting someone else with your data means you are at their mercy. The problem is this has always been the problem! How many times has Word ate my documents? Photoshop crashed half way through editing? My PalmPilot screwed something up and wiped contacts off my device? Had a hard drive crash? Too often to count!

So has web apps/mobile web hit the mainstream? Not yet — this controversy isn’t loud enough. But we are getting closer. And that’s a good thing for everyone.

3 thoughts on “Sidekick Disaster: Bad for Users; Great for Web Apps

  1. I agree that this is a good thing and to the question has mApps went mainstream yet, NO. First Microsoft is on their third shot at mobile and it is not getting better it seams. Platforms and carriers have let anyone with any skill level build and distribute apps on their stores.

    The apps stores have become playgrounds for anyone that want to play. This has cause mistrust of app quality and value with the phone users. One of our customers told me that “he has tried many of the health care apps on the iPhone Appstore and that they were all crap and what makes our app different?” I personally guarantied our product to him with a money back guarantee. Not only did he buy it but several other copies for his family and wrote a stellar review.

    As a developer, I have a Computer Science degree and have been developing software for many years we need to start demanding that the OS companies and carriers start demanding higher quality from their developers.

    This is the only way that the apps field will mature to a point that our work is worth more than $.99.

    Jeff Brandt

  2. Nice write-up, Elia. I enjoyed your description of the user acceptance/tolerance evolution. I’d kind of been thinking about it as starting with Flickr and people finally feeling okay with posting personal pics. But like you say, it really seems to have started earlier with online credit transactions (and maybe other things like personal blogs). Then pictures and bookmarks, and then with social networks (namely Twitter) people are finally okay with posting personal status updates (assuming they know they’re public) and letting their profiles/demographics be mined. Next health info will be hopefully making its way up too.

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