Unbundling & decentralization
"You can make money in software in two ways: bundling and unbundling.” ~ Jim Barksdale, Netscape, 1995
I found this quote on a recent a16z podcast with Benedict Evans and Steven Sinofsky where they discuss the recent trend of unbundling in mobile apps - a topic that’s been a curiosity of mine for a few months now as cofounder of a decentralized content management system.
It seems as products add features, they reach more verticals, but eventually somebody comes along and “unbundles" certain functionality to serve a particular vertical or use case more succinctly, without the overhead of a big bloated app. Products like Facebook, Instagram, and Foursquare have all spun out separate, smaller apps to serve a single use case.
In my mind, this is a trend toward the decentralization of content management.
The CMS is one of the last vestiges of bundled software… Writing, photos, quotes, links, and files all wrapped in a giant WYSIWYG for editing, and wrapped again in a theming layer for presentation. Although newer offerings are more beautiful and user friendly, the basic premise of content management hasn’t shifted much in the 20 years since Jim’s famous quote. We’ve been bundling ever since.
Contrast this with the trend in mobile apps. Photos are shared on Instagram, writing is done in Evernote, files are stored in Dropbox, status updates are relegated to Twitter, happy birthday’s shared on Facebook. We’ve seen publishing fragment into sharing of content by type, with an app to serve each purpose.
Products like Prismic and Drafts unbundle content authoring from it’s presentation. Prismic is like Wordpress or Blogger with an API where theming would normally be. Drafts is a a simple Markdown editor that can be connected to other apps for presentation.
Services like Instagram and VSCO do a great job of capturing and editing photos. Flickr stores them, and even Dropbox can automatically sync photos from your phone to the internet.
Twitter, Snapchat, and WhatsApp all provide messaging facilities along with Gmail of course, and Facebook has even unbundled messaging from it’s core experience.
Products like Pocket, Evernote's Web Clipper, and Pinterest allow people to collect and organize third party content in ways that make sense to them. This curation layer is an important part of decentralization in a world where billions of posts are created daily and tastemakers are left to sift through to share the good stuff - something Boris Mann called Harvesting Knowledge in a recent talk at Lighthouse Labs in Vancouver, BC.
The Death of the CMS
Our mobile phones are full of excellent tools for creating and collecting content by type and purpose, and therein lies the death of the CMS as we know it. We’re entering an age of decentralized content management. Even the New York Times is decentralizing, recently describing the virtues of Scoop, their de-centralized CMS.
“...Scoop does not render our website or provide community tools to our readers. Rather, it is a system for managing content and publishing data so that other applications can render the content across our platforms… This separation of functions gives… the freedom to build solutions on top of that data… allowing us to move faster than if Scoop were one monolithic system.” ~ Luke Vnenchak, New York Times
Services like Buzzfeed and Vox also employ new kinds of content management systems to meet their needs in a decentralized way. Even Medium purports to create a better writing experience, honing in on writing with some distribution mixed in.
In a recent article by Fast Company, April Joyner discusses the challenges facing content management systems and describe how they eventually decentralized to solve their own headaches.
"It was my stance that the only rational way forward was to consolidate the CMSes and create a separate presentation layer.” ~ Matt Mankins, Fast Company
These new systems unbundle content authoring from content presentation, in ways that free people to use the tools that make the most sense for capturing the specific type of content in every moment. The challenge moving forward is wrapping all this content in some kind of personalized theming layer. It’s a challenge that we’re eagerly taking on at Postachio.
It’s my thesis that we’re entering a time of decentralized content management, a new period of unbundling as Jim would say, I’m looking forward to playing a part in it.