(Taking a quick break from the SummerLovin series today – we’ll be back at the end at the week.)

DISCLOSURE:  I know people who work at several of the companies mentioned below.  The opinions of this article are 100% mine and mine alone.

I think I am suffering from a case of SAAS fatigue.  SAAS = software as a service.  You might not be familiar with the term (it’s been around for quite some time), but you are familiar with many companies who are software as a service:  Hotmail, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter.    Almost all software is run “as a service” these days – meaning, the company who runs the software actually hosts it and you go to their website or app to use it.

SAAS was touted in the early days as a software revolution: a way for companies to monitor licenses better, to bring down costs significantly, and improve the experiences of customers (think no more crashed applications on your computer that you need to call support for help).  All of that was/is true and has happened, but software as a service is giving me a headache.  


I’m a software guy, almost from birth.

Flashback time, folks – queue the trippy music.  I was VERY young when I had my first software experiences; my dad let me learn BASIC programming, which allowed me to make really simple games and programs.  This is back when computers didn’t have permanent hard drives and you had to swap out the floppy disks several times just to get programs loaded into memory.

In school, I learned more programming, and I spent most of my professional career at what is now the world’s largest software company (PeopleSoft –> Oracle).  I have a variety of certifications from all those years of experience.

Why do I mention all this? Because if the guy who has been around software his whole life is finally getting stressed by it, that’s not a good sign.

The problem with software as a service isn’t the software.

It’s great that software keeps making such progress – faster than the hardware that runs it, even, and faster than the pipes and networks that provide us all that connectivity.  It’s that the companies who run the service don’t really think about the people who are on it.

You might think that I’m just talking about a bunch of millenials being whiny that their Facebook feeds keep changing.  But if you’re a business owner or manager, your employees are probably spending more time than you admit on those social networks, and all that stress-response is going to bleed over into your workspace.  Human factors studies (like this one) have proven that software changes, slow software, and software disruptions activate our human stress response, which can – if overactived over time – can lead to a variety of health disorders, from heart disease to cancer.  Yes, the stress of change can eventually kill you.

But change is good, right?

This issue isn’t new – ZDNet even complained about it in 2007 –  but when John McCain, who had Apple CEO Tim Cook on the stand testifying on Apple’s shady business practices, starts asking why does he have to keep updating his apps all the time, I think it’s time to take a closer look.

For example, in just the past week:

  • Flickr changed their entire website design, and pretty much got rid of their pro plan, which I pay for just for the photo storage.   Their “update” to users on the changes was so confusing, I had to go read the Mashable article just to understand.
  • Gmail kicked me into their new “composer” menu, which violates a whole slew of user experience principles.  They’re Google, which i suppose gives them license to do what they want, but it breaks Rapportive, the second most important tool for my business (as when you put in an email for a new contact, it shows you their social media links, bio, etc.)  And neither Google nor Rapportive seems to care.
  • Producteev (acquired by Jive Software) has basically closed down my entire backoffice the past 2 days, with no end in sight.  They did an unannounced software upgrade, removing key features that we chose Producteev specifically for. But the worst thing is they didn’t tell anyone about the upgrade, and it’s not gone well, so ALL of my mission critical data is now floating in the ether – business development lists, editorial calendars for my magazine, future billing schedules – all gone.   And I am a paying customer – I paid because I didn’t trust a free service, and I got burnt because of it.

These are just serious disruptions – I didn’t mention all the other myriad of minor annoyances, like esoteric changes to Google Plus and Skype. And so much of my business (and personal) life is tied into software.  What if Google locked me out of my account (don’t Google that – the stories are scary)?  What if Xero, who runs out accounting platform, goofed up and we lost all our accounting data?  If I got locked out of Twitter, there’d be several people I couldn’t contact – it’s one of my primary tools of communication.

It’s all terrifying: you should be thinking about it and taking steps to ensure that you’re not too dependent on any one platform.  Make backups, keep copies elsewhere, have a contingency plan.

And, please, do not use Producteev. I can’t speak for Jive’s other software platforms, but if this is how they handle their business, I suggest you take your business elsewhere. I mention it because Jive made Producteev free – I suppose to entice people to use the new, weaker version and then upgrade to their paid platforms – but, I can speak from personal experience, your data is not safe there.  But maybe, sadly, your data isn’t safe anywhere.  Anybody else get the feeling it’s 1984?

UPDATE (MAY 24TH):  Our data access has been restored, and Jive has agreed to refund 1 month’s service fees (although the product now is ‘free’.)  Many services on the site are not functioning, including data exports, so we’re stuck until we can export our data and run far, far away.