Between LAUNCH and DEMO, this last week has seen more than its fair share of startups. Among these companies, we've seen a number of DIY mobile app creation tools throw their hat into the ring and promise a world where getting your company into someone's hands is as simple as dragging and dropping a couple of buttons.
With all of these democratizing, empowering tools hitting the market, there's just one question - are we about to relive the era of <blink> tag text and marquee side-scrolling banner ads?
In the late 1990s, the Web was the new promise land, and programs like Microsoft Frontpage brought optimistic adventurers to the Information Super Highway. Rather than dealing with cryptic HTML, users could create websites as easily as they could format documents in a word processor. It was freeing, it was democratizing and it was absolutely terrible.
During this self-same era, I worked as a freelance web developer and designer and was therefor subject to all manner of requests. I turned down bids for veterinarians who wanted their website to bark and chirp at visitors and I regularly ignored requests for background music, mystery meat navigation and irrelevant weather widgets. I simply refused to plague the Web with such terrible design and, I feel, singlehandedly saved several hundred folks, at the very least, from visiting yet another site with an animated "Under Construction" GIF. That, I felt, was part of my job.
Since that era of multi-font, multi-color websites, however, we've seen a movement to standardization. Businesses, instead of creating their own online presence, have come to rely on sites like Google, Facebook, Yelp and any number of other online services. The restaurant manager and the veterinarian are no longer moonlighting as creative directors, they simply fill in the blanks and it all gets plugged into a user-friendly, uniform online presence.
If DIY, drag-and-drop mobile Web app creators are the future, however, then we may come full circle. We may return to the land of irrelevant features and terrible design just yet. These apps may handle the complex coding aspect of creating a mobile presence, but they don't teach the end-user the most important skills - design and user experience.
It all dawned on me when one of these companies got up on stage and showed off how quickly and easily anyone with a Web browser could create their own app. Look, they said. You can add a map. You're a restaurant - you can add your menu. And while your at it, why not add a tip calculator?
It is but a short mental leap from tip calculator to word find puzzles for the kids and trivia games for the whole family.
What do you think? Will the next generation of user-created mobile Web apps be the resurgence of the Geocities generation? Or is that beast well-contained and a relic of our folkloric past, only to be found in the dark corners of the Internet and in the archives of the Wayback Machine?