Want to see the future of the Web. Hang on, where you are going? The Bay Area? No, hang a left and keep driving for, say, 13528 kilometers or 8407 miles, which ever measuring stick you prefer to use.
If you’ve listened closely to your NavMan instructions, hopefully you’ve arrived at Chennai, India. India, in case you’ve been to one too many Mike Arrington Web 2.0 shindigs, is a country of more than a billion people and is home to many of the world’s fastest growing Information Technology start-ups. Think Infosys, Satyam, Tata. Every day an increasing amount of development work heads offshore to get bashed up in these gigantic codehouses. You might remember before Web 2.0 came about, people were talking how programmers in the western world were ready for the scrapheap, because there were literally thousands of codemonkeys in India and other developing nations lining up to take their jobs at greatly reduced salaries.
Then Web 2.0 arrived and suddenly we begin hearing about this incredible “shortage of talent” that is forcing Web companies to fork out millions of dollars to buy startups just so that they can get their hands on talented coders. You’d think learning AJAX development was akin to deciphering long lost, ancient hieroglyphics.
Anyway, back to Chennai, and you might want to drop into the office of AdventNet, who primarily develop enterprise IT, networking and telecoms software. However, over the past six months or so, AdventNet, have been working under the much funkier name of Zoho and have spat out a series of online apps ranging from its flagship Zoho Office collaboration suite, ZohoCRM, a Salesforce.com clone, ZohoWriter, an AJAX word processor and a number of others. The most recent offering is Zoho WebSheet, an online word processor.
What has absolutely stunned me about Zoho has been the speed of development. They arrive on the scene and in what seemed like just a matter of months they were suddenly boasting one of the world’s most impressive stables of online applications.
So let’s lay to rest the myth that only developers with a view of the Golden Gate bridge can develop these cool, new whizbang applications. Want to see just how difficult it is to get this stuff built. Log on to Rentacoder.com and request a clone of Flickr or any such web application. We’re talking just hundreds of dollars for your friendly developer from India, Russia, Bangladesh, Argentina, etc.
But while you’re talking to the folk at Zoho ask them how much they charge for these oh-so-neat web apps. You can get ZohoCRM for just $US12 per user per month (and the first 3 are free), ZohoOffice, a fully-fledged collaboration suite for just a couple of hundred bucks total. ZohoWriter and many of the other web apps are free. What do these kind of prices do for the monthly subscription model that is one of the few real business models Web 2.0 companies are making money out of.
Critics of Zoho have described them as copycat developers, mimicking the work of 39signals, Writely, etc. But some of the Zoho offerings like ZohoCreator which lets end-users create simple web applications with no coding knowledge can certainly be put into the innovative bucket.
Zoho has to be a prime acquisition target. And not just for their product line-up but also because if I was a software company, I’d be wanting to take advantage of the cost efficiencies of offshored software. And if a company like Zoho does happen to get snapped up by one of the big boys, watch a hundred and fifty million Indian start-ups gang crash the Web 2.0 party.
Software development was on the road to commoditisation before the Web 2.0 blip. And it will be a blip. What’s more, after this movement starts to head offshore, and these developing IT nations start to rack up some entrepreneurial acuman to match their base of coding talent, Squash wonders if this might be remembered as the last great big Silicon Valley party.