There's a human tendency to root for the underdog--to hope that the losers who start at the bottom of the heap, who have the odds stacked against them, can fight their way to the top and stand tall in victory while the credits roll. Thus, the popularity of Rocky, the Mets, and, yeah, Firefox.
However, most of the time, things don't work the way they do in the movies. Just this morning, I received e-mail from a reader who had just found a story we did back in February comparing four Web browsers: IE7, Firefox, Opera, and Maxthon. He wanted to explain about why he preferred Maxthon to the more well-known browsers. You've heard about Maxthon, right? You haven't?Unfortunately, in our coverage of the stars of the software firmament--for example, "Internet Explorer Vs. Firefox: The Battle Heats Up"--the tech media often neglects the less-publicized products. Which is too bad because these are the products that are developed by people who are truly dedicated to new ideas--and are then picked up by users who become fans of the product in the best sense of the word. Have you ever read the blogs or discussion forums on these sites (such as this one from 30 Boxes, a calendar/social networking site)? There's a real sense of a community of enthusiasts--they push the product to its limits, discuss it on online forums, and argue with the developers as to where to go next.
It's extremely difficult for these small companies to get themselves heard over the cacophony of other, competing products. If they can become noticed, they have the hope of being the one in a thousand that attracts the attention of the public and the media--in other words, the next Firefox. If not--well, the virtual highway is littered with the bodies of good ideas that just didn't make it.
That's a bit of oversimplification, of course. There are actually several paths that developers can take with an innovative product. They can hope to at least attract enough attention so that a larger company looking for an interesting addition will buy them up--for example, the online word processor Writely, which was bought by Google and is now part of Google Docs & Spreadsheets. They can develop, expand, change, or even drop their product in the hope of finding that major formula that will spell success--for example, JotSpot, a business wiki product that has pulled its group note-taking applet, JotSpot Live, in order to rethink its place in the company's product line. Or they can just keep the faith, trying to get publicity, upgrading their product, staying in touch with their users, and keeping their corner of the market. Like the folks at Maxthon.
I've always admired the folks who have the imagination and courage to bring new and innovative products to the market--and have always enjoyed trying out their applications (and hardware). We've covered a few--for example: Info Select 2007, Roboform, Picosearch, and Flock. We've also done some interesting roundups of alternative e-mail packages and Ajax-based online apps. The problem is that there are so many of them out there that it can be incredibly difficult to find all the really interesting apps (and to find the time to write about them).
What have you seen that really rings your chimes? Are there innovative new applications and concepts out there that need to be written about? Or do you think that the cream will rise to the top whether we review them or not? Let us know.