Saturday, September 19, 2009

The "Front-end" and User Interface (UI) as competitive advantage

There's a story on TechCrunch that highlights how Adobe and Yodlee created the technical backbones that allowed for the success and ultimate sale of YouTube and (for $170M USD on Sept 14, TechCrunch):

A lot of people at Adobe weren’t all that happy when YouTube was acquired by Google for $1.65 billion in 2006. After all, YouTube was just a pretty front end to the core Flash web video technology created by Adobe. YouTube got rich. Adobe got peanuts.

Mint, which sold to Intuit earlier this week for $170 million, is Yodlee’s YouTube. That’s because, like YouTube, the core technology behind Mint wasn’t developed in house. It was licensed from Yodlee, who got paid very little for what they provided.
I think this just highlights the advantage of a good user interface (UI) / front end relative to a web product or service. In fact, you could almost say that it's the most important point of differentiation when it comes to the web. It's the interface that allows users to leverage the underlying technology and without which, the technology would be useless - but take care to put function before form.

At ReadWriteWeb, designer Warren Benedetto distinguishes between design and the user interface, cautioning: "If you have a great app that is easy and intuitive to use, it doesn't really matter what it looks like (e.g., Craigslist,, Google, 37signals' products, the original Twitter design, even Amazon and eBay). By the same token, a great-looking app with poor usability will generally not fly very far. Quality trumps aesthetics every time."

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