Ever since I wrote a piece in February called the Point of Utility (http://www.davidworlock.com/2012/02/the-point-of-utility/) I have been plagued and victimized by my own invention. I thought, as we all do, that I would invent something clever by way of a yardstick or a definition, and then my name would be made for all time – “Utility? Anything to do with Worlock’s Law on the Point of Utility?” and more in that vein. Instead, I have created a definition that I now see manifesting itself everywhere I look, almost as if I cannot look out upon the world except through Utility – coloured spectacles. My original definition suggested that network intensity and commercial inventiveness would concentrate and proliferate at points where the network application cut corners in real world workflow and enabled you to be more productive on the network – mobile and internet – than you were in non-virtual life (Yes, I really was that inventive!) and that these points of utility would be the take-off points for new network service growth.
Don’t try this at home, and heed my warnings. Having invented my definition I now see it everywhere. In fact, I see nothing else. As an example, look at route planning. Sat Nav is the old world of maps made digital, slowly adding value through associated events (where can we stop for lunch? etc). And all roads have the same value, since from the map, or even Google earth, it is hard to tell those things which only other users of those roads could tell you. My friend who runs Elgin, the database of UK roadworks could add a bit, and his service is vital to a composite view of travel. But you, my friend, can tell me about the tree branch that blew over the road, or the fact that you cannot turn right at the end any longer, or that this is a far quicker route across town than the signposted one. So the point of utility is reached when our GPS is on and mapping every road for us, and we ourselves provide user-generated advice for others. Point of Utility Bingo! Please turn now to www.waze.com and start mapping a street near you, and when you reach your destination turn to https://Path.com to share these experiences socially. See what I mean?
So I have stopped looking, for a moment, to the endless roll-call of utility points which is Salesforce (and Jive and Yammer), though I was delighted to note Docusign (www.docusign.com) – at last, a real point of utility around document signatures that does not involve 30 minutes of scanning and attaching. Instead I have decided to look in places where the workflow is as alien to me as the service values – shopping, designing household products, decorating. Many people will testify to my inadequacies here. And I started out on the task of finding things just because of the rapid decline in local newspaper and directory classifieds. There is a beta called www.Zaarly.com which is interesting in this regard, and I also looked at www.taskrabbit.com and the optimistic attempt at www.FiveRR.com to persuade us that we can still buy something meaningful in terms of tasks that people will do for a fiver – £ or $. Here is a massive onward search for localized points of utility which can be used in the local context to create service values which will, in turn, replace and upgrade some aspects of what the newspaper and yellow pages once meant to us. I would say that, from this sample, the work is ongoing, but once several aspects of utility emerge by trial and error, we shall have the virtual utility we seek to replace the lesser print usefulness which we have now lost.
Much the same could be written about the world’s 190,000 health information services. Sometimes, however, you just need to speak or video skype a doctor. In the UK we have a long history of this, now replete with NHS services designed not for the utility of the patient but to relieve an overloaded health system. In the US they order things differently, so I was pleased to see www.ZocDoc.com and www.teladoc.com emerging. ZocDoc (backed by Jeff Bezos and Goldman Sachs), is a system for locating and making quick appointments. Doctors pay $250 to join, patients get the app free, and use the service to get into gaps/cancellations in the physicians schedule. Works best with a paid-for medical service I would say, but it demonstrates that the point of real utility can be on the service side of the equation as well as the user side.
Then came the shopping. I was impressed by www.onekingslane.com but it was a bit too much like a discount departmental store for me to find utility beyond catalogue. But when you engage buyers at a different point – as www.zazzle.co.uk does when it enables me to run through the whole ghastly choice of customizable items for the home. Point of utility – all types of customization in one place, and no sniggers and public denigration when I customized an apron with “Dave and ‘Beks Country Suppers Served Here”. Then look at www.etsy.com, and get into design at www.fab.de. The point is not to emulate shopping but to extend it in ways that would be hard in a shop.
One final note. When I wrote here about 3D printing I was told that I would not see real applications in my lifetime. So go to www.shapeways.com and have a look at ways you can make your own designs and print them through additive manufacturing. OK, its keyrings and things, but this is a visible tip of what will eventually emerge as the new manufacturing mountain. And when you can print it for yourself on a small $200 gizmo (now available in prototype) the point of utility will have landed in your own front room: “I designed what I wanted, downloded it from the design site , and printed it in my own front room!” Bet they still don’t call it Worlock’s Law, though.