Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Who's really using web apps, and why?

In my work at Rubicon, we spend much of our time helping tech companies with strategy and product planning. One recurring theme is the impact of web applications. We help web app companies figure out their customers and product plans, and we help traditional tech companies understand web apps and what to do about them.

As we do this work, we repeatedly run into a lack of basic information about how web apps are being used -- how many people use them, who uses them, which apps they use, and so on. There's a lot of anecdotal information from individual web companies on how they're doing, but almost nothing on the usage of web apps across the industry as a whole.

So we decided to fill that hole. This summer we did a survey of about 2,000 US adult PC owners on their usage of web applications. We released the results this morning at the AjaxWorld conference. Some highlights:

--37% of US home PC owners use at least one web application on a regular basis. Usage has already spread far beyond early adopters.

--Usage varies dramatically by app category. E-mail and games are the two most popular web app categories, but some other categories (such as online word processing) have very low adoption so far.

--College students are more enthusiastic adopters of web apps than non-students. More than 50% of college students use at least one web app regularly.

To me, the study was a good reminder of the practicality of most PC users. Although we in the industry worry a lot about the technical distinctions between things like web apps and packaged applications, most users don't care. They just want to solve their problems and get on with their lives. If a web app is better or cheaper than a packaged app, they will use it. If it isn't better in some way, they won't.

If you're working at a web app company and want to create a popular service, be sure you solve a real world problem that people care about. The doors are wide open if you do that.

If you work at a traditional software company and think you're immune to competition from web apps, or that it'll take years for them to affect you, you're living in fantasyland. For about 70% of US PC owners, there are no significant barriers to adoption of web apps.

There's a lot more analysis (and graphs of the findings) in the full report on the Rubicon website. Check it out here.

And there's some interesting commentary about the study here and here and here and here.

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