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Web Apps Suck at Service

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PCMag today has a nice article geared toward consumers looking to store their information in the cloud, asking cloud providers to answer eight questions that boil down to where is my data and how safe is it. Most of us already have our photos on Flickr and Picasa, and others are using cloud-based web apps such as Gmail, but I bet few of us actually know where that data is stored (question 1) or have a way to get help when things go down (question 2).

Reading the article, I realized that the underlying issue with many web apps and cloud offerings, are that some of the largest providers are not in the service industry. Microsoft (s MSFT) sells software and Yahoo (s YHOO) and Google (s goog) sell ads. But to provide cloud computing, storage or applications involves providing a service — it puts the “S” in SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. Being a service provider comes with certain expectations, such as offering limits on the amount of data one can store (question 6) and clear knowledge of what happens to data should a consumer forget to pay a bill or log on for a few months (question 8).

If I think about my utility service, I know who to call when it goes out, what happens if I don’t pay my bill, and how the utility service makes money from providing me with electricity. With web services, especially free ones, none of these things are clear. If consumers are going to rely on web apps from software, search and portal companies, they need to recognize that these services are window dressing to get them onto a site or chained to other products. Then they need to protect their data themselves.

18 Responses to “Web Apps Suck at Service”

  1. You have correctly pointed out that the companies that are not in services business lack the skill required to manage and bills the customers. As a researcher from UT Austin, I keep a close vigil on developments in cloud computing. I feel that there is a need of companies who can fill this void for the SaaS application developers. One of the companies that I came across is They have done an incredible job of developing the software that can integrate with your legacy CRM solutions and enable you to not only speed up roll out of SaaS but also to predict which customers would make renew contracts and helps a lot in contract and customer management. With the help of such softwares, I am sure SaaS will gain a fast popularity and break the myths about compromising with the organization security.

  2. With the abundance of web apps popping up on the scene each day, customer service is going to become the primary differentiator that makes or breaks the company. It’s not going to be who has the simplest app or the coolest features. It’s going to be who is willing to listen to their customers, engage them in conversation, and incorporate their feedback into the app.

  3. Gary – you are correct in that Amazon does strive to provide a good service. But as cloud computing and cloud storage mature, it will be the true service providers that shine. (Full disclosure, my firm ParaScale provides cloud storage technology). Today’s cloud providers like Amazon, both develop the technology and deliver it. True experts in service creation, service delivery, support are waiting to leverage technology platforms as they emerge. The telecom ecosystem is the perfect parallel with its separation between technology delivery and service delivery.

    Over the next couple of years, more and more true service providers are going to get into the business of offering cloud services, with better SLAs, better customer service, and then demanding customers like Stacey can feel good that they are getting their money’s worth. I say much more on this topic at


    • “The telecom ecosystem is the perfect parallel with its separation between technology delivery and service delivery.”

      This is exactly what I am talking about. Speak English. So, so very tured of this crap. I don’t care that you’re the CEO of some company Sajai, to me you sound like a self-absorbed minion, who couldn’t do a real man’s job to save his life.

      This is hat the internet has produced – a saturation of lifeless buzz talking “people”

      Cheers to you

  4. Gary Orenstein

    “I realized that the underlying issue with many web apps and cloud offerings, are that some of the largest providers are not in the service industry.”

    If service-industry expertise is then a pre-requisite for successful web apps and cloud offerings, I say Amazon is in a pretty good position to succeed. I continue to find their ecommerce service experience best-in-class, and perhaps there is some organizational magic that transfers part of that to web services.

  5. The economic downturn will illustrate the beauty of “software as software.” Once it is written it runs forever at the cost of electricity. Of course web services are appealing during the early stages when they are operating at a loss to gain market share, but it remains to be seen whether they can beat the fundamental economies of distributed computing.

  6. Actually, andjules, you can get affordably priced, per-seat, subscription based project management with great stuff like Outlook integration and automated to-do reminders and also get great support. Project Insight has a customer base that raves about their service.

  7. this reminds of a quote by some ceo. “customer expectations are exceedingly unrealistic and its OUR duty to
    surpass expectations every time”.. (or something in that style) Once you “made music free” by sharing via P2P
    the music market collapsed, we keep devaluing our value chains to re innovate or remarket services/products..
    its our “WAY OF LIFE”…

  8. andjules

    while the questions & your commentary are valid in concept, we need to remember the pricepoint we have chosen for ourselves: gmail is free, and offers no SLA nor customer support. Basecamp changed the project management game partly from using an online collaborative model, but also partly from reducing project management software (ie. MS Project) from $300++ a seat to $10-50/mo for the entire team. This shift is at least partly the result of the incredibly bad support that most traditional software companies offered during the 80s & 90s… we – as consumers – realized we had to depend on ourselves for technical support… and so the web 2.0 companies filled a new niche: you can have the software for (close-to-) free, but no service, no contracts, no suing us… I for one, much prefer this model.

  9. cindyalvarez

    Smart SaaS providers should be leveraging their communities to pick up the slack. For every web 2.0 app I’ve ever used, I’ve found at least one – often multiple – “mavens” who have advice, know the keyboard shortcuts, the cool little features… and the potential pitfalls.

    The average consumer doesn’t always have the time and inclination to seek these people out, but they’re out there. The SaaS provider may not have the time and resources to provide the same full-service as more expensive alternatives, but they DO have one form of very valuable capital: the power of distribution. If hundreds of thousands of people come to your company’s site, you linking to a community member gives them exposure they would’ve had to work months or years for.

    Of course, there’s work involved in maintaining your community and risk when “non-official” people speak for you – but they will anyways, and the alternative is losing your customers to the full-service alternative (OR the tiny scrappy company who does community better than you.)

  10. As important as that is, I think most internet users will take that for granted. That kind of assurance just isn’t necessary at the moment. When Facebook or Flickr loses people’s stuff, then maybe we’ll see that change.