Thoughts on Point Solutions

Lately I have been thinking a bit about the advantages of small, tightly focussed web apps (so-called “point solutions”) that scratch a single little itch, versus larger, more powerful and general web apps that tend to deliver more of a total body rub. This question is of utmost importance to a company like Biarri that needs to place its development time and effort into the best channels.

The question was highlighted by a real-world problem a colleague posed recently: how to assign foursomes in rounds of Golf so that all of the players got to play with each other player at least once. It is not trivial to construct such a solution (if one even exists) by hand, if the constraints are “tight” enough (for example, 20 players and 8 rounds).

Small point solutions that solve a small but non-trivial problem like this might be fairly quick to develop and deploy on the web. But it doesn’t take much feature creep before you get a pile of extra “features” (particular requirements for some players, minimising the number of repeated pairings, right through to printing out score cards etc); before you know it (or more precisely, after months or years of hard coding) you’d have a full-blown Golf Tournament Scheduler. Such a web app might sell for much more, but would probably attract many less customers. And what happened to the poor casual golfer or golf tournament organiser on a shoestring budget who just wanted to solve his or her original golf player assignment problem?

In the spirit of acknowledging that the future is impossible to predict, I think Biarri must address more wide-ranging, lightweight “point solutions”, particularly at our fledgling stage. More mini-apps with a wider potential customer base will allow us to gauge which itches need the most scratching; more complex apps, as every seasoned developer knows, seem to always cause issues and problems – in short, sheer complexity – quite out of scale with the larger code line count; not to mention being harder to use and understand for users (more buttons!)

Those who have test-driven our Workbench solution will also know that, to some extent, we’re trying to have our cake and eat it to, by allowing these smaller “point” solutions to exist as workflows (standalone web apps) in their own right, whilst also being “nestable” – that is, able to be composited in a larger, more powerful workflow. Look out for Geocoding as a sub-workflow inside Travel Time Calculation, coming to the Workbench very soon. And who knows if the Biarri Golf Tournament Organiser will ever eventuate!

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