Editorially and Disruption Theory

I received an email yesterday that the web service Editorially is shutting down May 30th. Editorially was a collaborative word processor with markdown support. I played around with it a few times but would not consider myself a regular user.

There are too many thoughts here to organize coherently — from a pendulum swing between bundling and unbundling to jobs to be done theory — but today I want to focus on disruption. This is the realm of Clayton Christensen, who was one of the first to write about how disruption occurs. In short, disruption is the act of small companies taking away pieces of a big company’s business a little bit at a time and how that big company is so busy trying to make profits that it is willing to go upstream and let the little company have those small pieces. Eventually, there isn’t enough left to sustain the big company.

What does strike me, though, is how many companies are attacking the Office suite of products in this way. Editorially was attacking the collaborative editing (track changes) capabilities of Word. In this case disruption didn’t work.

Others have attacked pieces of the calendar, email, contacts, memo pad, presentation, spreadsheet and database applications with varying success. Even obscure uses have been peeled off and made their own categories. Once upon a time, if I saw something interesting I wanted to save and read later, I’d save it to a Word document. Now I use Evernote.

Sometimes it works. Quickbooks, I’d argue, is a very fancy database application, one I could have written at the time I started. Now services like Freshbooks are attempting to disrupt Quickbooks by focusing on one aspect of that business — billing — and peeling that off into a new service.

A few years ago when it became obvious to me that the old way of developing and selling software would no longer work [1], we started designing and prototyping all kinds of ideas. In almost every case I was employing disruption theory, looking at how each of the Office products were being used (what job it was hired for) and attempting to imagine ways in which web, connected devices and modern technologies could improve those processes. Ironically the one I didn’t originally see as disruptive — Equals — is the one we chose to pursue.

[1] One-time sale at a sustainably high price with upgrades. See my Mobile Portland presentation for details.