Revenge of the OS


I’ve been trying to write a longer piece on an issue and failing, so I thought I’d put down the five paragraph version here, and see what Twitter thinks.

Roughly, circa 2006 there was an corporate/institutional integration problem and a personal integration problem. The corporate/institutional problem went something like “We need to be THE one stop solution, so we can maximize clicks and get a more global view of the customer.” The personal problem went something like “I’m sick of having to log in to 20 different services in the course of the day.”

These somewhat related concerns pushed on us the age of the mega-service, and the discussion was around which provider would become that mega-service. Would it be Google+, Facebook, Twitter? The idea of the mega-service was total identity management — convenience for us, unified data for them.

Except something strange has happened over the past couple of years. Identity is now maintained on our phones. It’s a device issue. Our portal is our app screen. Our network isn’t Facebook or Google or Twitter. It’s the phone address book that is the union of those three imports. And on the phone we stop dreaming about “If only there was a service that integrated functions of Twitter, Gmail, and Snapchat!” Because there is a service that integrates that — your phone’s notifications screen. The notifications screen is the new Facebook feed. The mega-service — a bizarre artifact of web-based logins, crippled APIs and an embarrassingly outdated cookie-based persistence scheme — is at its height right now, but it no longer solves a consumer problem. It’s about to collapse.


Xbox 360 has looked like this for years now, skipped over portal phase altogether…

So where are we? Well, the consumer-corporate pact is unwinding. Mega-services and institutions still have their data needs an monopolistic dreams, but we no longer have a need for their solution. My daughter, who needed Facebook to hold her life together 4 years ago, now moves fluidly between Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, and Vine accounts, with the notifications panel her point of integration. It doesn’t occur to her that this is a hassle — it feels like little more than switching pages in Facebook. I’m not as much of a smartphone user, but I’m finding the app-based structure of Windows 8 and Xbox 360 pushes me in similar directions.

Identity has been moved upstream. It’s the revenge of the OS, and it’s already spreading beyond phones as app-based design becomes the dominant computing model. Today it’s Facebook that needs to worry. But it seems to me there are interesting implications for edtech as well. Thoughts?

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20 Comments on “Revenge of the OS”

  1. pwik says:

    Yeah, Mike, same thing here — I keep meaning to write a post on this but the issue is so slippery it keeps getting away from me!

    Re: online ed, I think this is the place that LSM providers need to do their best thinking. Stop chasing features and focus on how learning content and course activities can live in the larger “notifications” stream of the student’s life. Canvas has made strides with their core assumption that course events are sent to email etc. THIS is where institutions need more features and control!


  2. Your observations are largely true, but also identifies and reinforces what many already know is the ominous Rise of Superficial Interactions. SnapChat, Instagram, Vine (I’m not a Tumblr user) all cater to the desire to fill that interstitial space between important or deeper interaction space used for things like reading long form content, watching a story or having a discussion. Unfortunately, we are making the interstitial space longer and longer and the deep space shorter and shorter, thus, The Rise of Superficial Interactions.

    For EdTech – Once these applications can find a way to allow an organized persistence of access beyond the notification screen – then, at least, we can make a more enduring reference to a superficial interaction should they find meaningfulness. Google and Evernote already provide ways to achieve some of the persistence with search and capture. Still, it doesn’t change the primary characteristic of these applications being a light interaction.

  3. […] Mike Caulfield has posted an interesting reflection: […]

  4. […] Google+, and Twitter will begin a death spiral this year as the services integration point moves back into the operating system. As you increasingly use apps to log into Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter, these companies won’t […]

  5. […] the world of a multiude of single purpose apps? The answer: what’s enabling that is that the notifications panel of the smartphone. And what’s happening is the OS’s are the only entities around with enough klout to […]

  6. […] any case, Gruber gets at a piece of what I’ve been digging at the past few months, but from a different direction. Responding to a piece on the “death of […]

  7. […] was headed that direction ( I haven’t used it since it became Friends).  Mike Caulfield argues that this aggregation happens in the notification panels of our smartphones and tablets.  I suppose […]

  8. […] in January was that OS-based lifestream would kill the web-based mega-service, discussed most clearly in “Revenge of the OS”, but also in the slightly later article titled The OS-based Lifestream Will Kill the Web-based […]

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