Choosing the best web based app: Swiss army knife vs. Hammer

We’ve all read it and seen it before. “Our new app is going to be everything to you, it is the NEW solution to every business pain!”

They never tell you that the solution will try to do everything you need, but it will only do it sort of well. Conglomeration of services = the golden chalice of the web. In my early web days we called them portals, but now they are the more fanciful dashboards. Either way you slice it there is a mad rush out there to make the one stop shop for mobile apps, lead generation marketing, web development, etc. Clearly this is successful for many companies out there, but is it what is best for SMBs?

Useful, but misguided?

I guess I should back up a bit. What really started me on this rant was seeing that Seesmic just launched a social networking dashboard that will support about FORTY social media plugins. These plugins are customizable and make it easy to monitor communication.¬† I do understand the practicality in having all of your social media managed in one space. However, on the promotion side of things – why would you want to send the same message out to all of your contacts? Talk about too big to fail! One mistake in a headline can get broadcast to thousands at once. If someone is in your Twitterverse, chances are they are also in your FB, foursquare, etc. The conglomeration approach makes for a spammy experience, it almost feels insincere. I will use a real life example to illustrate my point. There is a local wine merchant I really liked when I first moved to California. They were cool down to earth people, knowledgeable, but not snobby about wine – a rare thing in my experience. Anyway, they asked me to join a mailing list so I said sure, why not. Next thing you know we were connected on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, plus the email list, etc. They clearly use a dashboard like Seesmic, Brizzly, or perhaps TweetDeck, because every weekly special was put forth within moments of each other and the messaging was always identical. Eventually I stopped frequenting that wine shop because I felt overwhelmed by their messaging, it felt desperate and too intrusive. They displayed bad netiquette! Even though I was on the road much of the time, I’d gotten sick of them. There is too much of a good thing.

The scatter shot approach to marketing works best if you are either super interesting or have a massive following or both. Philosophically it sounds ok to centralize your communication tools. It seems like a time saver to use these apps. HOWEVER, when actually trying to do something custom rather than just blast it out carte blanche I think swiss army knives lose. A swiss army knife of years past would be the aforementioned online community / portal rush. About five or six years ago everyone and their mother wanted to build a web community. I helped build a few in my day. I helped to build a great community for a large corporation. Our community did instant messaging, calendaring, document sharing and all sorts of cool things. Unfortunately only about 3% of the features we worked so hard to build were actually ever used. And the rest seemed to be riddled with issues. What was the advantage of uploading a document to a forum rather than just send it to people via email? At that point the whole SaaS ‘n PaaS revolution was a distant dream. We wanted to collaborate but then we got so lazy. Maybe it was apathy?

Without a consistent flow, too many tools and features will only confuse people. Catch all solutions make for catch all results. PURLS and first name insertion will get you so far, but people know when they are in the meat grinder.

That’s why with FinalApproach we decided very early on that it would do one thing and do it well: build landing pages effectively! We aren’t trying to be like Genius, Eloqua or Omniture. We are an almighty web hammer, knocking out a serious business problem that affects small business owners every day. We are not the swiss army knife solution and we’re pretty OK with that. Our clear intentions provide clear results.

<end rant>

P.S. For the record I do own a victorinox swiss army knife that I love. Not trying to be difficult, but in the many years I have owned the gadget, only the screw driver has seen any action…