Fat/thin client and differentiation

rVibe LogoHere’s an obvious statement:  there are so many web sites out there (by website, I mean n-tier server architecture with a web server delivery mechanism which is accessed via a thin client/web browser).

In the on-line music distribution space there are also many websites out there.  In the social networking music space there are starting to be many websites out there. It’s proliferation!  It’s web 2.0 proliferation!  It’s a differentiation nightmare! 

Yes, I know – web sites are lightweight, fairly easy to build, and capital efficient (at least to launch). Yes, the barrier to user adoption is typically low, leading to rapid user adoption. They are also on the way to becoming ubiquitous – which is a real problem for new market entrants.  And since they are limited in manipulating the hardware they tag along on, they are also limited in their functionality – limiting the experience for users.

All of which is why rVibe is a fat client.  For music delivery and management, a fat client has a better user experience, better long term retention, richer functionality, stronger differentiation.

Now of course, I’ve heard that desktop applications are obsolete, out-dated and dead.  The writing is on the wall – the bells are tolling. That on-demand computing (a la Google applications) is the next wave and we’re onto a thin client revolution.

Of course in the late 90’s we said the same thing for desktop computing – and originally VAX terminals were the hardware equivalent of thin clients.  It’s simple – desktop computing is here to stay – that’s all there is to it. Even when the devices get smaller and the notion of hand held, laptop and desktop merge, there will still be desktop applications. 

HOWEVER – you can’t rely solely on the desktop environment. You have to tie into the lightweight web environment as well.  Maybe that means a web interface that mirrors your desktop environment, or RSS feeds, or some other “widgets” that leverage web-only technologies.  Whatever it is, you have to have some of it.

And conversely, if you’re a web only application, you should have a desktop computing component to flesh out your offering. 

So – we chose a fat client as our primary product and thin elements hanging off of it.  Some others (Last.fm, Goombah) chose the opposite approach – web primary with a secondary fat client.  

I like the loyalty that a fat client brings.  It’s harder for a user to part with an installed application than to move on to another website.  Similarly, I expect we’ll see slower user ID churn (where users create new IDs and discard old ones), leading to a more stable experience.

Posted on April 25, 2007 in Management, Technology

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