Subtracting to multiply

A recent article on Stratechery connected a few dots for me on digital transformations and how tech evolves.

I’m a fan of Notion. Lately, I’ve been playing with the Bulletproof Workspace template. I now better understand why people are building on Notion.

The interesting thing about Notion and Airtable is they are part of another digital transformation trend (in addition to no-code/low-code). They use the database to standardize and commoditize, which opens up new opportunities for others (especially for no-coders) to build on top of.

Standardize on a lowest common denominator

Twitter/Facebook did the same thing as Ben described: They standardized news, images, video, links, updates, life events, etc., into a more consumable format: the newsfeed, which unlocked something new and exciting. The feed is now how most of us consume information.

Something similar is happening with a subset of business applications. Over the past 20+ years, we’ve seen the era of monolithic applications: this one for a website, that one for an online store, this one for flyers, that one for client proposals, this one for business cards, etc.

But through the same standardization and commodification lens: an image, paragraph, heading, media card, form, etc., are similar in each context (HTML → $format). The document dimensions, selection of features, ‘publish’ action, etc., might be different, but the creation experience is consistent. It’s all just an editor moving HTML around.

The Gutenberg project of WordPress leverages this concept well: the fundamental element is a block. I expect we’ll see more here in the future since the implications for the customer experience (learn once, do anything) and the developer experience (build once, run anywhere) are compelling, e.g., one app marketplace to rule them all.

The ‘good enough’ threshold

Though, it’s still TBD when this new ‘thing’ becomes greater than the sum of its parts–when it becomes good enough to replace the current model (better doesn’t matter until it’s good enough).

For example, my iPhone’s camera, phone, calculator, flashlight, etc., are all worse than the standalone version of each, but the iPhone as a whole was good enough to outweigh that years ago. 10X better would be an understatement, but that’s why these digital transformations are so powerful.

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