October 22nd, 2008 | Categories: blogs, content, design, launch, networks, social media, trends, usability

The way I see it, micro-apps are the future of the web application. These tiny apps only do one thing in particular - but they do it well. As opposed to more robust applications, micro-apps focus on a single task and target that problem with a specialized solution.

The most obvious example of this type of application is Twitter. This micro-app vaulted to the top ranks of the Internet in less than a year. The idea itself is extremely basic. The design, experience, and functionality are also quite simple. In fact, I would wager that any major technology company could replicate such an app with a reasonably-sized development group in less than a month.

So how come Twitter continues to thrive as the industry leader? First-mover advantage does account for some success, but only to a certain point. Once again, the idea can easily be copied. The secret formula lies in the name, reputation, and large user base, all used as protection against the competition.

Yet again, it must be stated that a micro-app isn’t overly complicated. Truly, it should appear ridiculously simple at first glance, but surprisingly remarkable upon further inspection. Complete focus on a single feature maintains focus and clarity, providing a utility that can’t often be matched by a more sophisticated offering.

Many times, these applications can be built in a month, week, or even a day. The magic lies in the simplicity. Therefore, a shorter time-line demands narrower vision.

Some use APIs, open source code, or RSS, while others may use a combination of elements to create a mash-up. In the end, simplicity will affirm feature purity, ultimately leading to product success and user adoption.

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  1. Paul Says:

    Do you know of any micro-apps that have a fee-base revenue model rather than an advertising-based one?

    So far most of the good ones I have seen exist largely to build the reputations of the developers who built them. I have also seen a few that are ad-supported. But I haven’t seen any that charge fees. Are consumers willing to pay to use what “appears ridiculously simple”?

  2. Eric Berlin Says:

    I very much agree, Aidan. Before reading your article, was thinking how bloated and unintuitive a lot of recent social media platforms seem to be. If I can’t figure out “why I’m here” very very quickly, I’m out of there, and I suspect the same is true for most people.

    To Paul’s point, the biz model part is tricky obviously. That said, I *still* don’t get why twitter doesn’t throw (at the least) a 728×90 across the top of every single profile page. They’re waiting to do this… why? Even a low CPM will bring back some costs… or am I missing something here? And some (Jason Calacanis for one) has advocated for a Twitter freemium model. Not sure how many would opt into that, but you have to think that the clock starts to tick a little loudly at some point, right ?

  3. On social media “micro-apps,” Twitter, and business models ¦ Online Media Cultist Says:

    […] piece called Micro-Apps over on Aiden Henry’s Mapping the Web. I responded over there with the following thoughts: I […]

  4. Eugene Says:

    Nice article. Thanks. 🙂 Eugene

  5. Derek Says:

    Ok fine the name is easy to say and type/spell but wouldn’t you agree that the user base and reputation are a result of first mover and innovation?

  6. Aidan Says:

    Derek -

    I’m not referring to ‘name’ in a literal sense, but rather a branding sense. This deals more with reputation and loyalty. Add to that the Network Effect that starts to kick in with a large user base. The combination of all these factors leads to increased distance from competitors and barriers to entry.


  7. Mike Templeton Says:

    Your argument about simplicity can even be seen in the current microblogging alternatives to Twitter: Pownce, Plurk, etc. Some of these other microblogging platforms have many more features and the ability to execute very unique functions, but they are not as simple and streamlined as Twitter, which is why they haven’t won out.

    Even though I love the idea of the micro-app and its ability to do one thing and do it well, I do believe there will come a time when people get tired of using 50 different micro-apps daily to complete a set of tasks. They would probably much rather have one big app that is robust and able to do all of those things at once, but the key is that this larger app must still be easy to navigate and utilize. If aggregation = bloat, the more powerful app won’t succeed.

  8. Josh Atkins Says:

    Great post — I guess we’re talk about, other than Twitter, FriendFeed, bit.ly, et al. (oh, and don’t forget http://www.isobamapresident.com)

  9. Webdesign Twente Says:

    Keep on the good job!

    — I guess we’re talk about, other than Twitter, FriendFeed, bit.ly, et al. (oh, and don’t forget

  10. alex Says:

    Apps really are the future as we all know by now, just take a look at the big success of the ipad and iphone wga premie

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