Burger Analogy

Aaron Toponce has just written a blog post about online services and how he doesn’t view proprietary online services as a problem. The analogy he uses is that of a Burger joint where the meals and service are excellent and all the recipes are trade secretes.

I wanted to take a moment and explain why a Burger fast-food restaurant is a very poor analogy with proprietary online services. I don’t want to go into whether online services are good or bad, as always that’s an exercise for the reader.

What’s the best way to show a bad analogy? Make it look silly: Imagine if eating where like facebook.

  1. Food can only be eaten if you’re with 100 of your friends
  2. Everyone only dines at a single restaurant for their entire lives
  3. You can’t eat at home, because 100 friends wouldn’t fit and they don’t like your cooking anyway
  4. The recipes aren’t just trade secretes*, their copyrighted. Attempting to describe the taste to someone else can get you 10 years in jail under the Diners Millennium Copyright Act.
  5. There is only a single burger place in every country
  6. Because of network effects it operates a total monopoly on what people eat
  7. The service is tailored for the lowest common denominator
  8. And it poisons every customer because it can effectively leverage it’s size with the FDA.
  9. Half of your friends you eat with every day constantly want you to play the burger game and do so by kicking you in the shin under the table.

These are just some of the silly results that come out of trying to fit the idea of ‘restaurant’ into the idea of ‘software on the Internet’ there could be more.

I think my point here is that proprietary software, including proprietary services are anti-social. Not just rude, when taking into account the network effects. With monopoly mechanics we end up with systems which control us instead of the other way round and the only solution we’ve found as a society to extract ourselves from tar-babies like Facebook and those that came before is a total and aggressive cultural shift from one product to another. A revolution where your job is to convince your friends and family to stop using MySpace.

It’s tiring being a revolutionary for a corporation.

Ultimately I resent being required to use certain products and I resent having to resent my friends and family because they’re using certain high network effect internet-garden-esk services and require me to join them. I shouldn’t need to feel that way and no company should be allowed to insert itself into society in such a way as to make the choice between freedom and friendship an either-or proposition.


* Ironically recipes can’t be copyrighted, they’re public domain as soon as they’re published. Embellishments and prose can be though, so don’t go copying recipe books with copy and paste.

9 thoughts on “Burger Analogy

  1. Well, I think these are valid criticisms of Facebook, but not valid criticisms of the generic idea of “Software as a Service”, which is what I think Aaron Toponce was writing about. It is more a parody than a rebuttal of his arguments. Not all SaaS providers are abusive of their customers – and of course, facebook users are not “customers”, because Facebook’s revenue stream doesn’t come directly from them. Try using the same argument on, for example, UbuntuOne, and see where it takes you.

  2. SteveMot: Is there anything to be gained by putting software in the cloud other than interconnectedness? If it’s just deep cloud (cpu/bandwidth etc) then it’s just super cluster rental. If it’s a general data access service like wikipedia, then those will over time become accessible and freely available.

    The last kind is the identity and social services which you rightly point out I address here. Are there any more you can think of?

  3. @doctormo: “Is there anything to be gained by putting software in the cloud other than interconnectedness?”

    If you mean “is there anything to be gained by putting MY software in the cloud?”, then I think the answer depends on what type of hosting platform we are talking about and what your software does. Paying for only the CPU you use if you are doing something intensive but “bursty” can be cheaper than renting permanent physical hosting. Also, if you are developing a complex infrastructure, cloud hosting can let you very quickly try out a new configuration, then throw it away if it doesn’t work, at very low cost.

    If you mean “is there anything to be gained by using software as a service” ( what Aaron was writing about), my answer has to be, for some customers, using some services, definitely yes!

    Software is only of value because it does something useful to us. I work for a company in the healthcare research sector. There are many specialised processes, both scientific and general business administration related, where it makes sense to use Software as a Service. This has little to do with technology – it’s to do with the service that the provider offers. If the provider can offer a better service, at lower cost, compared with our company’s capabilities and with appropriate protection of data, we would be foolish not to consider it. In this case, Software as a Service just becomes an enabler for using the specialised service provider; it’s the business value of what the software and the organisation behind it does that matters, not the technology.

    The key point here is that the value of software as a service depends on both the customer and the service. We need to evaluate the benefits and risks of doing it ourselves, as well as the benefits and risks of the service.

    Anyway – enough of my rambling…

  4. So you feel proprietary services such as Facebook are actually anti-social but suggest that some portion of your social circle is using such a service in a social way? Would those same types of social interactions have taken place without the presence of the proprietary services? What’s the non software-as-a-service or non-proprietary way to create the same interactions?

    And why is it a given that you need to extract yourself from such a system, since the one under discussion apparently works and, I assume, is enjoyed by the majority of these people that you wish to interact with? The tar effect is surely due to the quality of the recipe (going back to the burger bar) since these people that you know continue to use that restaraunt in preference to others? No one has physically locked them into anything.

  5. DarrenM: Ah then you misunderstand what network effects are. To anwser your questions: yes interactions would have happened, yes there are free software alternatives, proprietary software tempts owners to do some pretty anti-social things and the law is rather weak on protecting users at the moment.

    Personal freedom involves the right to accept the consequences and the right to involve oneself in social systems. Failure of either one results in problems. The burger stand is in essence standing up and shouting “I don’t care about the consequences and I don’t care about any of you!”

  6. Using the term ‘network effects’, in the same manner as one might the term ‘voodoo’, adds nothing to what you’re saying.

    Network effects are emergent phenomena whereby the value of a thing to any one person is influenced positively or negatively by the number of other people using that thing. In what way does that contradict the burger bar analogy? If you get additional value from visiting the burger bar with a group of friends to chat, the burger bar in question chosen because the burgers are full of tasty goodness, then the chatting and banter would be an additional positive network effect. If so many people were going to the same burger bar because of its rumoured tasty goodness that you and your group of friends couldn’t get a seat or service, then that’s a negative effect.

    In what way does that support your stance against SaaS?

    ‘Yes, there are alternatives’ – name them. Name the ones that predated or existed at the inception of SaaS examples in question. Name the ones that clearly provide a better or more compelling service that people just aren’t using because of ‘network effects’.

    ‘Personal freedom involves the right to accept the consequences and the right to involve oneself in social systems’, indeed, you have the freedom to partake in these SaaS services with whatever the perceived associated consequences may be or to remove yourself from them (even taking all your freely-provided data with you when you go) and likewise potentially ‘suffer’ the fact that no-one else is joining you because they don’t see the same value in leaving.

    ‘The burger stand is in essence standing up and shouting “I don’t care about the consequences and I don’t care about any of you!”’. I really don’t see how that follows. Give me an example.

  7. Both you and Aaron make some very interesting and valid points. I have been speaking to quite a few of my girlfriends of recent about just this topic (facebook, twitter etc) and even the burger analogy is extremely difficult for them to grasp. I’ve recently learned that before you can even start talking about Software as a Service they need to understand what proprietary software ‘does to’ the user why this is not acceptable. For many, what they are experiencing is acceptable. You are violating some fundamental beliefs they have about how software works and what they are being given. No matter how many analogies I’ve tried to use and the many different ways I try to spin the idea – I continue to get the same response. It’s free, its safe, it works, its meets my ‘social’ needs, its the way ‘society’ is now and the list goes on. I’ve been trying to spin it so many ways and I keep testing it out on friends to see if the ‘light bulb’ will come on – it does sometimes, but only for a brief second then its off. How can I show them and have them understand these concepts? And even if I am able to do that will it be enough for them to make a change?
    Looks and sounds simple but its really very complex…

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