I recently read of (yet another) tech evangelist pushing his latest SaaS solution of, all things, a productivity platform for workplaces.
Because, you know, we just don't have the right tools at work, right? That's what's really holding back innovation at work, right?
At one point, the author writes that complex web apps are now caught up to desktop apps.
He gives some example of how the industry "progressed" from Excel --> Google Sheets --> Airtable.
Or from Notepad --> Dreamweaver --> Webflow.
Aside from the very arguable equalities he chooses as his examples (all of which are to lead the reader to conclude that his latest SaaS offering is the future/now of workplace productivity), I take issue with the linear path of "progression" he touts overall.
In fact, I fundamentally disagree.
I actually think the arrows are slowly turning the other way. No, not back to Notepad (I hope not), but away from the web as a be-all, end-all, "service" that we should pay for.
Why on earth would most sane people want to write in a web-based document editor?
Does anyone seriously think Google Sheets or Airtable are more powerful than Excel?
Is the author equating Notepad with Dreamweaver? And now Webflow? What? Any web developer looking at the output code of Webflow would have a mild coronary.
The trend is still pointing toward cloud computing and, in many places, cloud collaboration. But there is also a very strong backlash occurring. It’s talked about in not-so-quiet corners of the internet.
I call it the Shadow Revolution.
See? I used the word “revolution” so you must immediately be startled, perhaps even frightened, and also clamor to be a part of it, according to the rules of Social Media.
The Shadow Revolution is people who are:
- sick of logins
- sick of their data being mined, hacked, and sold
- sick of slow interfaces
- sick of things not working
- sick of being 100% reliant on the internet, clunky airport wifi, and ‘the IT guy’ to get things done
- sick of interfaces suddenly changing from Tuesday to Wednesday and having zero power to even delay the change from being implemented company wide
- sick of paying for 87 different Software As A Subscription services and quite literally needing yet another SaaS subscription to help manage and keep track of all them (and people thought bulk Microsoft Office licensing was once arduous)
- sick of those subscription prices changing without warning (unless you count the umpteen thousand emails we already receive as sufficient warning)
- sick of being reliant on the cloud and not sure how/when we can take files with us
- sick of waiting for sync statuses to turn green
- sick of being promised that ‘our data is safe’ and then, lo and behold, finding out it isn’t
- sick of hearing stories about people being suddenly cut-off from their own content and data and having to stir up a twitstorm to even get the company to acknowledge their existence as a ‘user’.
- sick of living in our browsers which, despite the promises, are no match for a stand-alone interface
- sick of not exactly knowing where our own files are
- sick of every company fighting ferociously, usually via their ‘content marketing’ blogs and our email inboxes, for every drop of business we can give them
- sick of companies trying to be all things to all people (I won’t dive into the Unix philosophy here, as that is the other extreme, but seriously, do we need online calculators and document editors really?)
- sick of the entire software industry refusing to truly innovate and instead spending 85% of their time rewriting existing tools into new UIs or new languages (“Wait! What about this? What about a sort-of spreadsheet like thing, but much more limited, much slower, where we store your files ‘for you’, and you pay us monthly for that?”)
- sick of apology blog posts from companies, which we are forced to live vicariously through since their very existence is tied to our use of their software and if they get raided, lose data, get hacked, have bad financials, have their executives involved in a harassment claim, or decide to “pivot”, then we must have an opinion about it, read about it, live through it with them, and spend time looking for alternative options this week (not in two years time), and perhaps even make apologies to others that might be “collaborating” with us via said company. And we must do this for 87 different companies. Every day of our lives. Forever.
I’m not going to say the author's SaaS is going to fail. They are just a product of our culture. I will say that many of those 6,000 SaaS companies will deservedly die-off at some point. If they are on the stock exchange, they will probably survive – and are needed. If they aren’t, I doubt they’ll make it. Too late to the game.
Well, like most shadows, it's a bit hard to find. If I was a more savvy marketer, I'd buy some clever domain name, create an identity marketing ploy, jump on social media, start a "Dump SaaS" day, do interviews, start a mailing list (for which I could one day sell my fledging followers an ebook listing all the ways their data is compromised by Big Tech), and more.
But I'm against all that noise.
Instead, you join (for free — really!) every time you make a conscious decision to do the following:
- own your machine
- own your operating system
- own your data
- own your time
- own your attention
- own your software
- own your software licenses
- own your logins (by which I mean, have less)
- own your email inbox (primarily by keeping companies out of it and turn off autoloading of images)
A converse way of looking at the above would be as follows:
- Can your machine and its operating system still run 20 years from now if the manufacturer and developer of it goes belly up? I don't think a Chromebook could, and I'm doubtful that a Mac could. At least, not in its natural state without a lot of hacking by experts. Yet, I can still whip out my first 80286 laptop with MS-DOS 3.1 and WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS and boot it right up, type up a letter, and print it out (yes, even on today's LaserJets), even though it's 30 years old.
- Do you need "the cloud" to create data? I'm not just talking about "working offline", but do you need a "license check" every time you load that piece of software or content (Adobe, iTunes, Office365, and many more).
- You want to create "a simple list?". Does Apple, the developer, and all the internet nodes in between need to be aware of it? I'm not suggesting using an index card (although, quite often, why not?), but a plain text file on a local hard drive is sufficient. Don't open up Google Docs.
- Can you just share intentionally and collaboratively? Is sharing by default the way in which you've found yourself operating?
- Are you paying $1.99/month for simple pieces of software? $5.99? Is your credit card littered with software subscriptions? Are you paying for subscriptions for things like a password manager, a text editor, an office suite, and many others?
- Is your email box filled with 100s or 1000s of emails each month from all sorts of companies that you once signed up for back in the heyday of "send me everything to validate I exist"? Do you know you can unsubscribe? Don't you think you should? You aren't reading them anyway, but they are tracking you. That hardly seems fair.
- Are you on multiple social networks? Is it because X is on Network A, but Y is on Network B? Email works for everyone. If they don't want to join you on Network A, email them.
- Do you think you have to be on Social Network L in order to get a job? Are you happy helping those companies? Wouldn't you rather help yourself rather than a bunch of tech-savvy recruiters and a billion dollar company whose CEO just got a 60% raise thanks, in part, to your willingness to post your resume on their network?
Lastly, do you feel the need to post your thoughts every day? What if you didn't? What if you just wrote or journaled to yourself?
You don't need a blog. You don't need to tweet. You definitely don't need to comment anywhere.
You can be silent and have value. Let the big companies sort out the mess themselves. Not only do you help yourself (and our super secret Shadow Revolution!), but you help your fellow man/woman who is unable to get off the internet for their own good.
Have you read the comments under articles on most news websites? They are toxic. Don't help. Take your ball and go home. The less noise, the better. Maybe it will give others the strength to go outside and go for a walk rather than tap, swipe, and type. Society would be healthier.
The Shadow Revolution is alive and well. You'll feel our power by our absence.