12 April 2007

The new betamax?

I remember when video recorders came in. (Yes, Dr T is that ancient.) Anyway, there were two rival formats, betamax and VHS. (Wiki it if you're too young.) All my highly educated, thoughtful friends — well those who were geeky enough to have a view — were sure that beta would win the competition.

Fast forward ten years: beta is dead. If you have any beta cassettes (weddings, rare movies) you can play them until your beta player packs up. After that you've had it.

Beta probably was the superior format. It was smaller, for one thing. But VHS won out, presumably because of some historical advantage (sorry but this is so boring I can't be bothered to wiki it myself to check) compounded by the network effect.

Moral? Markets aren't perfect. Well, whoever said they were? I, for one, not. All I ever say is: markets are the least bad option.

To get onto the real point. I wonder whether Typepad is the betamax of blogging.

When I started blogging, a certain well-respected blogger, fairly high in the blogocracy, advised me to use Typepad. "Far far better than Blogger", she said. "Be aware that blogger.com will let you down sooner or later." And what she said seemed to be confirmed by online commentary, and by the fact that among the most highly regarded quality bloggers, there did seem to be a distinct bias towards Typepad. Plus by one or two teething problems when I started using Blogger. For example, the image upload facility was extremely dodgy. "It's okay in Firefox," the "help section" helpfully advised. (Isn't it ridiculous the way many current help sections take a "can't be bovvered" approach, and leave it to the victims to form mutual error support networks? And that's how I came to use Firefox for posting, though not for browsing. Technical note: the mediocracy blog is best viewed in IE7.)

However, for some time I have taken a very defensive approach to technology. Don't try to be clever. Don't be the first to try something sexy and new. Do what everyone else does; follow the crowd. I used to slightly look down on people who took the "you can't go wrong with IBM" approach. Now I think it's the best thing you can do. And it's not just a question of age. It's simply the safest option in a world becoming dominated by mediocracy. (BTW, thanks to those who left comments on Mediocratic Microsoft. It's possible I will be forced to try Linux or Apple at some point, but meanwhile I'm staying as put as possible.)

Typepad may well have been the better choice, even as little as six months ago. But the trouble is, we live in an increasingly monopolised, big-players-only world. (So much for the phoney "end-of-competition", "lots-of-little-players" fairy tales from techno-utopians such as James Moore or Don Tapscott.) That's why I stuck to Blogger, because it seemed to be the slightly more dominant player.

And I'm starting to see slight signs of a crack-up. Just little things so far, nothing major. One or two Typepad sites that don't load properly, or load slowly, or don't load at all.

I don't want to alarm anyone, and I certainly don't want to accelerate anything already in progress. And I'm not saying it's the right thing to happen. I don't know if Typepad is "better" or not, it probably has some pros and some cons.

More importantly, I don't think it's at all healthy if the duopoly collapses into monopoly. Unfortunately, web stuff — and software generally — has a distinct tendency to do so. Trouble is, there are relatively few diseconomies of scale for a business that is purely technological. The efficient size for such a business may well be equal, or nearly equal, to the total size of the market. Unless you get a natural division into two distinct markets, as has happened with IBM/Microsoft vs Mac. But that's the exception to the rule.

Sooner or later, one side will start to dominate, and that is likely to be the beginning of the end. Unfortunately, purely on the basis of current economic strength, it is likely to be Blogger.

Talking out of my hat? Please use the comment function.