Pushing Four Dimensions Into Two – It Just Won't Go!

It’s all Dave Winer‘s
fault. From a seemingly innocuous tweet
comes an avalanche of thought. Winer tweeted the following;

The always interesting Om Malik took up his cry and posted, initially about Facebook Connect but more generally looking at the bigger
issue of federation vs aggregation for social media.

First some very quick definitions;

From Wikipedia

describes the technologies, standards and use-cases which serve to enable the
portability of identity information across otherwise autonomous security
domains. The ultimate goal of identity federation is to enable users of one
domain to securely access data or systems of another domain seamlessly, and
without the need for completely redundant user administration.

while aggregators;

reduce the time and effort needed to regularly check websites for updates,
creating a unique information space

Which brings me to SaaS, and specifically business SaaS.

The way I see it we’re approaching a crossroads for business SaaS, one where
users will either demand seamless and pervasive federation, by way of deep APIs, or mass aggregation, probably by way of

At the moment it seems SaaS vendors are focused heavily on enabling API
federation, so that I can have all my nice little web apps talking to each
other. But does this really solve the pain that SaaS was intended to alleviate?
Or have we gone from the situation of old, having a multitude of desktop apps
open at any one time, to what Phil Wainewright cleverly named SoSaaS or same
old software, as a service? That is a multitude of web applications, all open in
browser tabs.

And yes, I know that Google’s Chrome offering was, in part, about making the
multiple browser tab situation more efficient – but isn’t this a case of
attacking the symptom and not the cure? When the real solution would be to allow
a user to build their own single browser tab, that aggregates the parts of the
different services he or she want, in a format and user pattern that is aligned
with their own preferences?

It’s a subject we’ve covered here on CloudAve previously. If the browser is really the platform, and if one
of the high value attributes of SaaS is its inherent connectedness, should we
not reinvent the way we work with software and the entire mindset behind

Steve Borsch also touches on the subject – complaining that, while the consumer
web 2.0 world is well provided for by mashups and the like, there isn’t much
thought (at least as far as us humble commentators can see) going into ideating
what this sort of product will look like in a business case. But Borsch doesn’t
take it far enough – he asks where the dashboard aggregators are – but dashboard
implies that we’re looking at a primarily one sided aggregation – one where the
primary focus is on displaying disparate data sets all in one locale.

But we’re looking at something much fuller than that – something that can
truly aggregate multiple applications in one place. Like Borsch I’m having a
hard time describing what this thing would look like – every time I try my arms
start waving around drawing pictures in the air – and maybe that’s the problem –
we’re trying to constrain four dimensional user patterns into only two
dimensions – it just don’t fit!


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Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. His business interests include a diverse range of industries from manufacturing to property to technology. As a technology commentator he has a broad presence both in the traditional media and extensively online. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

More about Ben here.

2 responses to “Pushing Four Dimensions Into Two – It Just Won't Go!”

  1. PaulMiller


    an interesting point, which I sort of touched on in a paper for SemanticReport about a year ago – http://www.semanticreport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=62&Itemid=79

    Like you, I struggled to nail down a good expression of what this means… We’ve clearly got some work to do! 😉

  2. sborsch


    You deepened the view that I skimmed over…namely that it’s creating and delivering composite applications…not just views into disparate data systems in an aggregated page or bunch of browser tabs.

    Slowly it’s becoming easier to sort of integrate social media: Google/Facebook Connnect; blogs posting to Twitter and bring Twitter back in a widget, for instance; Friendfeed trying to pick up our digital breadcrumbs from all over the ‘net. It’s not enough.

    What I really liked in your post, frankly, was the last line about “we’re trying to constrain four dimensional user patterns into only two dimensions – it just don’t fit!” since THAT is the issue. It’s the “herding cats” analogy and it’s not enough.