13 Comments

Summary:

Platform-as-a-service provider Rollbase launched today, marketing its offerings as web-based software geared toward small- and medium-sized businesses. While the PaaS terminology conjures up images of Rollbase competing with something like Force.com or Bungee Labs, Rollbase is gunning for the same users as Coghead. Rollbase allows business […]

Platform-as-a-service provider Rollbase launched today, marketing its offerings as web-based software geared toward small- and medium-sized businesses. While the PaaS terminology conjures up images of Rollbase competing with something like Force.com or Bungee Labs, Rollbase is gunning for the same users as Coghead.

Rollbase allows business users to upload their data to its servers (which are hosted by OpSource) and then “build” applications to make that data useful. The process of building basically consists of dragging and dropping forms and tools on the page, but tech-savvy users can also add their own code for more customization.

What’s amazing to me is the rapid evolution from hosted applications such as Salesforce.com and hosted computing services such as Amazon.com’s Cloud Computing and S3 to hosted development environments such as Bungee Labs. And now here comes services such as those of Rollbase and Coghead, which obviate the need for programmers altogether. At least in smaller offices and internal business units. I don’t see Oracle or SAP giving up the ghost anytime soon.

Much like easy blogging tools have allowed anyone to be a publisher, I’ll be curious to see how tools like Rollbase and Coghead change the business of building code. It may no longer be enough to deliver software as a service, it may have to be infinitely customizable as well.

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  1. As a smart programmer I know said recently, “people are wrong to think that ‘programming’ just means typing out lines of code.” Services like Coghead, Dabble, and Rollbase can only be used by programmers — that is, people who can organize and break down a complex business problem into its logical components. That’s a skill that most folks don’t have, so I don’t see how any of these services will gain real traction with end users. Engineers and analysts aren’t valuable only for their understanding of C# syntax and the waterfall model.

    I would add that the frankly lousy usability of all of these products makes it that much less likely that they’ll find broad-market success.

  2. There is no innovation here. I’ve been using Caspio Bridge (www.caspio.com) for the past two years doing everything these newcomers have to offer. For developers Caspio even offers APIs.

    Don Wilson

  3. Rollbase Beta: Has the PaaS for Business Arrived? Thursday, February 28, 2008

    [...] (PaaS) that enable them to create custom applications for internal and external use, reports Gigaom. Utilizing drag’n’drop technology, you can pick and choose which types of applications [...]

  4. Rollbase Beta: Has the PaaS for Business Arrived? | Social Media News Desk Thursday, February 28, 2008

    [...] (PaaS) that enable them to create custom applications for internal and external use, reports Gigaom. Utilizing drag’n’drop technology, you can pick and choose which types of applications [...]

  5. Rollbase Beta: Has the PaaS for Business Arrived? : Tech Web Daily Thursday, February 28, 2008

    [...] (PaaS) that enable them to create custom applications for internal and external use, reports Gigaom. Utilizing drag’n’drop technology, you can pick and choose which types of applications [...]

  6. alexis richardson Friday, February 29, 2008

    Well in a sense Amazon EC2 is ‘infinitely customisable’ in the same way that a computer is. Surely the real value comes from increasing structure without decreasing scope. Ruby and Rails does this, and Macs are another example.

    “On the Mac choices are limited, and so freedom grows”, to borrow from Mr Monkchips…

    (ref: http://www.redmonk.com/jgovernor/2008/02/28/on-douchebags-db2-and-rails-dhh-not-pragmatic-enough/)

  7. I’d have to agree with Adam. Writing applications isn’t just about being able to use a development environment. That said, there’s Saas/Paas applications like Trackvia (a client), HubSpot (employer), zoho db, ning that make it easy for non technical people to do things typically done by webmasters.

  8. I foresee problems with the “businesses can just upload all their data” and then attempt to drag-and-drop canned components to try to make use of it model. While this might work for organizations that only need to store and retrieve non-sensitive/non-essential data, any business that requires real processing of the information will have to retain the services of living, breathing software developers.

  9. Stacey Higginbotham Friday, February 29, 2008

    Adam, I agree with you. A good programmer is someone who has a certain way of looking at the world, plus a set of skills that allows them to implement their vision. I’m not trying to reduce programmers to only those who churn out lines of code, much like I wouldn’t limit the term journalist to only those who work at actual newspapers :)

  10. Stacey: Of course you wouldn’t. :)

    Having worked at the intersection of business process and technology for 14 years, time and again I have seen small and medium business reject complex applications in favor of familiar ways of doing things. I suspect that the business automation app with the largest installed base by far is Excel. But I also would argue that automation in Excel is more often about process than programming.

    Which brings me back to UI. I just cannot see a SMB manager, comfortable with technology but not a developer, taking the time to build an app in one of these environments. For one, like any programming language they require an understanding of the API, even if the API is visual. Second, the finished apps are complicated by the constraints of the UI and the visual API (which I suspect is even more limited than a programmatic API because it needs to operate within the constraints of the usability affordances familiar to users). It follows that apps built in Rollbase et al. are unlikely to survive in the Darwinian workplace because net user productivity, initially and ongoing, is lower than other more familiar options.

    The corollary to this argument is that a well-designed online spreadsheet that closely mimics the familiar Excel UI might be a winner. The challenge is to incrementally expose new features — those enabled by the centralized hosting of the app — without complicating it to the point of declining utility. Google/Zoho may achieve some success here; options like Smartsheet have not, because the functionality upgrades available to a hosted app are offset by the hassles of a UI that deviates from traditional spreadsheet norms.

    So I remain extremely skeptical about this market, though there are no doubt some exceptional cases out there (medium-sized business with forward thinking IT staffs that want to train users to control some of their own data and workflow, perhaps?). But how big a business are exceptions?

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