Should we look for the killer app for Solid?
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This post is in reaction to Looking for the killer app for Solid. There were some, admittedly, very interesting ideas mentioned in this thread so far. But I’d argue that none of them so far could be said to constitute “The Killer App for Solid”. Now, why do I have this feeling? 🤔 Let’s elaborate on that… Back to basics I have been confused about and discussed the positioning of Solid in the past. It was advertised on the community website. Since then the landing page of the Solid…

This post is in reaction to Looking for the Killer App for Solid.

I am posting this to !fediversefutures because I think that ActivityPub and Solid, led by Tim Berners-Lee, are kindred technologies: they complement each other. There are already some great projects ongoing that implement both, most notably OpenEngiadina (contributing great research to DREAM), and Startin’Blox.

And I am concerned about where Solid is going with its technology. Most worried am I about the lack of a strong community that evolves Solid for the Free Software Movement.

There are great opportunities. Will we grasp them? Here’s the copy of my post to Solid community forum:


There were some, admittedly, very interesting ideas mentioned in the killer app thread so far. But I’d argue that none of them so far could be said to constitute “The Killer App for Solid”. Now, why do I have this feeling? 🤔

Let’s elaborate on that…

Back to basics

I have been confused about and discussed the positioning of Solid in the past. It was advertised on the community website. Since then the landing page of the Solid project has markedly improved. Now, Solid in itself constitutes of a rather low-level set of standards. What they offer - when implemented - in terms of Unique Selling Points are all Non-Functional Requirements.

Listing from the landing page:

  1. Data ownership
  2. Interoperability
  3. Open data
  4. Privacy & Security

Then the landing page mentions what Solid can be used for when widely adopted:

“Data stored in Solid Pods can power ecosystems of interoperable applications where individuals are free to use their data seamlessly across different applications and services.”

Note that I have highlighted “can power” because it refers to the Vision of Solid…

Vision

The vision is about offering the NFR’s above, then combined with ambition:

Universal, global adoption of the Solid suite of open technology standards.

In other words, Create a Better Web.

Killer app?

My original confusion, and also what tempered my enthusiasm to delve deeper, was that Solid in her positioning overloaded the terms of “App” and “Application”. Seeing them as the ‘old way’ of doing things, and offered “Solid Apps” as the new and exciting alternative. Solid essentially made a call-to-action to completely reinvent the web, and fully rebuild from the ground up. Every app should be replaced with a solid app along the way.

No!

Imho this is unrealistic and will never happen… at least not in the way this community thus far approaches achieving the Vision.

Going back to what started this thread:

@mthorner wrote: What are the areas, which could profit from user controlled access and data repositories?

personal health, smart home, personal media, personal finance, car data, smartphone gps, genealogy, knowledge taxonomies, personal search history, …

The answer is obviously that all these application domains could profit from Solid. In fact, any business domain could. And where they do, they start forming aforementioned ecosystems together.

Though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with building your own Solid-enabled apps, I feel that in general the original proposition is what has led this community astray in her pursuit of making Solid a resounding success. And here I highlighted “community”, because I think that e.g. Inrupt is not led similarly off-track… they are right on top of the money!

Let me explain more, why I think that is the case…

Who’s the customer?

Take these two statements:

  • Software has eaten the world. There are billions of software projects, and trillions of dollars invested.
  • Solid is not an end-user technology. The USP’s it offers are mostly not manifesting as end-user features.

Do you think an app will be the disruptor here? An InstaSolid, or SolidFace, SolidTube maybe? Of course not.

Solid not being end-user technology, means that end-users are not the direct audience that should be targeted. They are the developers, the product managers & marketers, the IT decision makers, any techie involved with software development!

Solid target audience is anyone involved in software development

I see most people in this community dedicated to Solid’s success trying to target end-users with things like “Here’s my MVP of AppXYZ with Solid in it! How do you like that?”. Most end-users will not be easily impressed, I think.

And even the majority of developers looking at your example apps won’t be. In a world where new projects pop up every second, they’ll give a quick look at the code and go “Meh, NodeJS + Typescript. I am Elixir and Go… next project”.

Note that Inrupt et al doesn’t have this positioning. If they enact their vision, they’ll be a unicorn before long.

Stripe   – – –   — — —   – – –

It is funny that when I duck out “stripe” the first pages of search results all refer to the unicorn company of that same name. It is well chosen 😄

Let’s look at the definition of the original word:

Stripe

(strīp), taken from Idioms:

  • (one’s) (true) stripes
    • One’s true or honest beliefs, thoughts, convictions, biases, desires, etc.; one’s real personality, character, or disposition.
  • earn (one’s) spurs
    • To prove one’s skill in a particular area.
  • earn (one’s) stripes
    • To prove that one is deserving of a particular position or designation.

Appropriate, right? Rock-solid name for the Stripe.com company. And guess what… Solid has equally nice idioms 😎

I am, of course, mentioning this because Stripe is doing things the way that the Solid community should be doing things - again, imho - to be successful and attain the Vision. What does Stripe do then, and do so well?

They do not provide an app, or apps. Stripe has productized a concept, namely that of “Payments” in any way, shape or form. And their audience are not end-users either. It is software developers across the entire spectrum, anyone involved in IT. In this they have proven their skills in a particular area:

To make it dead easy to integrate Stripe whenever one thinks Payments.

Solid … A Killer Technology !

This then is the gist of this long post…

Forget the pursuit of the Solid Killer App !

If you manage to create a killer app, it will probably not be because it is a Solid app (though Solid support may well be an important contributing factor). Your app will be killing because you built unique end-user features in a particular existing or new domain.

Instead strive to position Solid as a killer technology. Right now it is mostly an emerging standard specification. It is a set of draft papers. (Though by all means you should continue to build new apps, if that has your passion)

Killer technology means:

  • Tools
  • Libraries
  • Documentation
  • Processes
  • Best-practices
  • Events
  • Education
  • Advocacy

These types of things. And if there is a library, and it is NodeJS + Typescript, then the community should actively seek for “Who implements this in Golang, who in Elixir, and who in Java / Kotlin?”. For documentation it means “Who translates to Spanish, who to French?”. For processes “What are the current procedures? How can we make that easier? Can a tool suppor this”. If something is end-user facing e.g. a UX component library “How can we make this as frictionless as possible?”

Most of all what this community really needs is more active members.

Members coming from all across the target audience. Here advocacy, education, events come firmly into the picture.

Community of Action

This community of technologists - it has been discussed before - is not well-supported by those developing the standards. They have Inrupt and some other parties as central focus and a commercial audience as target customers. That’s fine, and a good business decision, from their perspective. Unicorn status, fame… possible, if executed well.

What will their products look like? There’ll surely be a lot of open source. I guess the business model behind this will be mostly open core technology and value-added services. How long will it take for free software, FLOSS, to catch up? Dunno.

Right now, by developing end-user apps, most of this community is effectively in a “wait-and-see” modus operandi. Passive, rubbing hands to see what next great things become available. It is a pity, and it may be a missed opportunity later on.

AFAICS there’s no one taking community initiative, doing the community chores and trying to make this tech lift off and skyrocket in the free software movement.

Right now you are in a Community of Interest and for Solid’s Open Vision this should become a true Community of Action.

Question is…

Do you want to take charge?

Battery emoji from Apple

@humanetech
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Copying my follow-up which clarifies some things, highlights relation to SocialHub, and has a TL;DR…


Note that I am not saying that Inrupt, SolidProject are doing anything wrong. On the contrary. Also in general I wholly subscribe to the cause and purpose that Solid stands for, and addresses with their USP’s. And I greatly admire the fact that - in a world where walled gardens are all too common - there is passionate work to craft new and open standards. I am even not suggesting that this community is not aligned with Inrupt. After all, that is for the community to decide.

TL;DR

What my long post boils down to - let’s say the TL;DR of it - are consideration of two questions that involve the community itself:

  • Killer App vs. Killer Technology?

  • Community of Interest vs. Community of Action?


Note, btw, that these same questions also apply to the Fediverse in a way. The W3C Recommendations have seen great success so far, by early adopters embracing them and creating great apps. Much more apps, in various domains, are being developed. But increasingly the interoperability between those, becomes an issue, and ever more complex (other than on a case by case, app-by-app, basis). While app developers focus on their own projects, they need to see that there are win-wins to be actively engaged with SocialHub where standards are evolving. There’s need for coordinated action, and v2.0 versions of the specs.

At SocialHub I am addressing this in: Organizing for SocialHub Community Empowerment

Both Fediverse and Solid are fragile gems. Their future is by no means assured. Great disruptions may come, e.g. in the form of the EU Digital Services Act or even Twitter’s Bluesky project. At the time when Semantic Web was at the top of the hype cycle, the entire dev community was excited by it. Yet it failed, and now remains as another of the many tombstones in the landscape of the Decentralized Web (and I know it still exists in some circles, and - who knows - may be revived in the future).

Strong communities create strong ecosystems.

@humanetech
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Fedi Poll: SocialHub active community engagement Yes / No

Note that Strong community creates strong ecosystems also applies to SocialHub in their service to Fediverse innovation. I sent a poll to fediverse about this. It will still run for 5 days and has 44 responses thus far:

#decentralization are key success factors of #fediverse … but they also come with weaknesses.

Fedi is still a brittle flower, and the #activitypub techbase it stands on is developed ad-hoc. Fragmented across projects & groups we create custom app extensions. #interoperability is on case-by-case basis, with few deep integrations across different app domains.

We must foster more cooperation, inclusive and growing community, advocacy at #SocialHub so we can go next-level.


  • [ ]   I agree. Strong community creates strong ecosystem

  • [ ]   It is fine as it is. Things move at their own pace

@humanetech
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creator
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PS. I have tooted about this post on fedi.

Social Media Reimagined

This is a companion to Fediverse Futures on SocialHub to elaborate the Fediverse from high-level, non-technical perspectives, brainstorming our visions and dreams.

We need a more holistic approach to fedi development and evolution. We need product designers, graphics artists, UX / UI / Interaction designers, futurists and visionaries to join the dev folks. Everyone is encouraged to join here and enrich our views on what Fediverse can be with diverse and different viewpoints, and to stimulate brainstorming, creativity, thinking out-of-the-box and crazy, wild ideas.

Some guidelines

  • Choose a descriptive title that speaks for itself.
  • Be substantive in your comments and stay on-topic.
  • Treat others as you want to be treated, respectful.
  • Don’t be overly critical, we are just brainstorming.

Our fedi hashtags

#FediverseFutures #SocialNetworkingReimagined #UnitedInDiversity #YearOfTheFediverse #SocialHub #ActivityPub

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