Is Vendor Lock-In Really A Concern?

With tons of new web services popping up all the time one has to wonder why aren't people switching over in droves? These services offer tons of advantages over their desktop couterparts: cross-platform, secure, and accessible anywhere (with a browser). I'm not talking about any particular services but in case you are lost, here are a few popular ones, Evernote for note-taking, Flickr for hosting photos, or Remember The Milk for to do lists. Search around an you will surely find hundreds of other online services which aim to make those things that we do in a sloppy (storing photos) and unreadable (taking notes) fashion and make it easier to manage. Some of these services even have desktop clients which can be installed so that you can get a richer experience when you are at home, but still have access to it everywhere via the website.

So why are people not switching over as fast as they started wearing uggs? I am confident that many people simply aren't interested in the particular service being offered, or aren't even aware that it exists. Realistically, unless you search for that type of thing, it probably wont fall into your lap.

Now when you start asking early adopters why it is that they don't use or like these services, one of the reasons is inevitably they are concerned about "vendor lock-in". The canonical example is that for some reason service X decides to close its door and with the snap of my finger the service which is storing all of my data disappears without a moments notice. Or what if they simply decide that they are going to hike up prices, or allow only paid users to access their service, what will happen then?

Well I think much of the concern over this issue can be lessened by the announcement Google was going to stop developing its Notebook service, and that Yahoo was dropping its Briefcase storage service. While I'm not happy that either of these services are hitting the dirt (I liked Google Notebook) there is a silver lining here, and that is the way that these services dealt with it. Given that both of these services occupy what are crowded marketplaces there was no shortage of competitors chomping at the bit to corral in their users. Those services went ahead and built tools or plug-ins which allowed users to import their data from their defunct services to their new shiny home.

In the case of Google Notebook for example, CNET made a list of four services which have tools which allow you to simply and easily copy over all of your data from Notebook to their service. While Breifcase only recently (today) announced the news, there are already a few services waiting with open arms.

The fact that these services are behaving honorably towards their customers by providing them early notice of their service's termination and then making it easy for users to get their data out of the service is somethat that definately should be done, but even still I'd like to applaud their work.

While I dont know that every single service that closes its doors is going to do so in such a graceful manner, its good to see these services setting the example for other services which will likely be weeded out in such crowded marketplaces.

Design and User Interface Decisions

    It is probably a result of reading Donald Normans The Design of Everyday Things that I have spent more time recently thinking about design, and specifically UI design. While I don't think I am, or will ever become, a great (or even good) designer I find it to be a good exercise. For me, trying to find what I believe to be is a good design is somewhat akin to the "which is better A or B?" question which you get asked at the optometrist. Except repeated, over and over, and then over again. I have a lot of respect for those who work in design, it can be a very difficult and frustrating thing to do, and that's before you even get to a good design.

    After reading Normans book, one thing that I think most people start doing (myself included) is taking a closer look at some of the common things around us to see if they really were designed intelligently. One of the things I found striking is seen in the picture to the right. Whats wrong with the Eject option for removable devices? itself.
    What I find odd, is its placement, namely directly below the Format option. I know that in my use that those two things are the most (eject) and least(format) used of all of the options in that dialogue. The thing that exacerbates this issue even more is the fact that the Format option is the most "aggressive" or drastic options available, in terms of consequence. If you mistakenly scan your flash drive for viruses, or click the explore option, no harm done. Format on the other hand, eeek. Yes theres a pop up dialogue confirming that you want to format the device, but really it wouldnt be an issue if it were placed more out of the way.