Harmony and Focus

Posted on August 10, 2012 by

Both as a user and a provider of Internet services, I find myself talking often lately about the big ecosystems (Apple, Google, Facebook) versus little “best of breed” solutions.

The comparison is pretty simple.

With the big ecosystems, you get simplicity and harmony. You buy into one all-in-one solution. Everything syncs together beautifully. And, generally, because the companies who have ascended to the ecosystem level are pretty smart, everything is pretty good.

With little best of breed solutions, you get just that. Somebody has focused on solving one problem or doing one thing better. You take a chance on a less familiar provider. You possibly endure a bit of pain to make it work with the rest of your stuff (sometimes because the ecosystems want it to be a bit painful). But very often you get some hard-earned awesomeness.

It’s certainly not a new conversation. We confronted this with Microsoft on the desktop many years ago. (The smart kids knew that there were better spreadsheet and word processing documents. I actually didn’t.) We’re even essentially talking about the same sort of thing when we compare Walmart to the “mom and pop” shops.

Sometimes there’s a price thing going on. The ecosystems have scale. They also tend to have alternate revenue streams. They give you this for free so they can make money on that. So, sometimes big means cheap or free and little means paid. But that’s not consistent across services. There are a lot of paid services from the big guys and a lot of free services from the little guys.

It really does come back to harmony and a guaranteed level of quality versus focus and the potential for awesomeness.

Now, as a user, I go back and forth. I’m not really an anti-establishment sort of guy. I bought heavily into Apple for my music and video world about 5 years ago and have gotten a lot of joy watching my media bounce effortlessly from cloud to laptop to flat screen TV. Likewise, I use an Android smartphone and I have discovered tremendous value in running more and more of my life (contacts, mail, calendar) through Google.

But quite often, I have an itch that these guys can’t scratch. And I have to admit I get more than just satisfaction when I find someone who can. I get some sort of thrill that genius is everywhere. (You know what this is like for me? It’s sort of like when some kid who went unnoticed by every major NCAA basketball program comes into Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke and lights us up for 30+. I love it.) Nobody will ever be the best at everything. Insight, necessity and focus will always breed worthy competitors.

Evernote gives me stuff I couldn’t find in any of the task features of the major mail programs. Google Maps is wonderful but it doesn’t quite give me what a Runkeeper or MapMyRide does. Rdio finally pried me away from iTunes. Someone here at Tucows pointed me to IFTTT the other day. Brilliant. It gave me exactly what I needed. One dashboard where I could trigger email alerts from tons of different social media.

Ah, so sometimes we also need little guys to help build bridges between the ecosystems.

That’s where I think we’ve landed on Hover. If I was forced to pick one, I’d say Hover is invested in the best of breed world. And I’ll admit that, as an organization, we tend to love discovering and celebrating those lesser known geniuses. (I think we fell in love wth Sparrow long before Google did. We just didn’t have the cash.) But we also devote pages of tutorials and hours on the phone every day to helping people use their Hover email address with their Gmail. We basically want to foster a world where Internet users get to choose what’s best for them. We have talked about our mission to reduce friction in our own customer experience. That’s exactly what we want to do across the Internet. Specifically, we want to provide an important piece of your web presence and then do everything we possibly can to help you use it with any other pieces you choose, inside or outside of the big ecosystems.

(By the way, Hover is also one of those little best of breed solutions. You can likely manage your domain name with the same service that you use to build and host your website and get half a dozen other related services. But you will not get the same sort of experience you get with someone who lives and breathes domain names like we do.)

So, my advice is this. Enjoy that feeling of harmony you get floating around your chosen ecosystem. Keep an eye out for folks that might be doing one thing even better. And please come to us if we can help you figure out how to make it all work together.

Oh, and if anyone feels like contributing, I’d love more examples of best of breed solutions that solved a problem the big guys just weren’t solving for you. Thanks.