The Wikipedia defines “Killer App” as a marketing term for “any computer program that is so necessary or desirable that it proves the core value of some larger technology.” Not surprising that the term comes from marketing, that branch of business devoted to competing for customers and trying to kill off the competition. But if we remove ourselves from the context of dog-eat-dog, and then start from that definition and work backwards to come up with a single word that it defines, well, “killer” hardly seems right. “Mother” fits much better. Those applications that seed the growth of whole new realms, we ought to call Mother Apps.
VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet app, often gets used as the prime example of a Killer App. Lots of folks bought Apple II computers just so they use VisiCalc. More broadly e-mail (as a category of App) frequently gets nominated as the Killer App for the Internet. Pretty obviously nothing was killed in either of these examples but lots got birthed. More recently the term Killer App has become diluted in common usage to mean any indispensable computer program. Just try typing into google “X is the killer app”, and substitute for x with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, and you’ll see what I mean.
But I find it really useful to maintain that distinction of source or spring-board. So I offer this definition of “Mother App”: a computer program (or class of program) that uses a technology in a new way to both reveal and unleash its power.” I hope it catches on!
2 thoughts on “The App: from Killer to Mother”
Did the “killer” in “killer app” originally mean an app which killed off the competition? I always read it as “that’s a killer app, man!”, a positive slang word.
In my understanding, a mother app would “host” her children in her space, with her resources—she feeds and clothes and house the kids until they are ready to go off and be separate. But a “killer app” doesn’t necessarily do this—rather it is one app among many, but the attractiveness of it is so strong that it brings many people to the platform upon which it is housed. I.e., the killer app has a mother which is the platform, but as a child of that platform, it is contained in that mother (or linked to it at least, if we have clear boundaries and a server-client model) and receives its existence from that connection (can’t have the app without the platform).
So I see a “killer app” less as a mother relationship (which would be the platform), but more like a messenger relationship. Bringing this into a symbolic concept, this would be more like Hermes the connector than Gaia the Great Mother. Email is a good example of this—the draw of distributed connection was so intense that it became the killer ‘messenger app’. So maybe it should be called a ‘gospel app’, spreading the good news of the platform by repeated duplication of spreading its own good-news (good-spiel) information? And that message is the replication pattern 😀
In the Oedipal family structure, there is the mother archetype that, if we don’t create separation from it, can become the Devouring Mother archetype. So maybe iTunes would be a gospel app whic became a devouring mother app—sucked everyone into the App Store and Apple’s closed-in business model—and now they can’t get out without abandoning the entire platform (mother). (And where is the father in this whole situation? I guess it would Apple or the platform developer.)
Meanwhile I feel like the killer app would be more like a cool sister—making all kinds of trips and connections for you that make the platform exciting, drawing in more activity from everywhere, making it a party.