What great software invention or idea never gained adoption?

ben profile image Ben Halpern ・1 min read

It takes more than a good idea to gain traction. Do you know of any interesting projects that just couldn't catch on for one reason or another?


markdown guide

I remember Google Wave, a way of share and collaborate on projects together that comes much early than the live feature of Google Docs. The beta started in 2009. Here you can find more info about it.


Wave got folded into a load of other products, so it's with us spirit.


First thing I was thinking of too!


Honestly I think VR is one of these. Neat but many years down the line and we aren’t all spending two hours in VR every night. I think it was more driven by science fiction than actual demand


I mean, speak for yourself. They literally cannot make Oculus Quest units fast enough.

The fact that I can jump into Unity and throw together a concept and then walk around in it in a few minutes to blow off steam is amazing.

I guess I wonder what you thought it would be like? On the inside of the VR ecosystem, things are happening way faster than we'd anticipated, not slower.


OK, so what I, and I assume Sam, thought it would be like is that VR would be a major consumer product, like TV or video games. The latest VR bubble has been going for 10 years now? I have many techy friends and acquaintances in an affluent area and I know 2 people who have VR systems. And they don't have them setup at home. They bring them to techy meetups for other people to try.

I expected VR to be popular like, like Sam says people "spending two hours in VR every night". But we're not. We're still gaming on PCs or consoles, or binge watching some streaming video.

Maybe it's taking off in academia or for military applications, I don't know about that, but that's not what I was expecting from the VR industry.

P.s. I'm looking forward to when AR takes off. Like Google Glass but with a company I don't yet distrust.

Let's first establish that my perspective and your perspective are both highly subjective. I haven't owned a television in well over a decade and I honestly have no idea why anyone with a computer needs or wants a console gaming device. Also: I am way too busy for that stuff. In other words: we belong to different demographics.

Next, as I attempted to explain in my last comment, the only people who were expecting a faster ramp up were people writing clickbait journalism and the people who read it assuming that if it's in a publication, it's relevant or true. Again: everyone actually involved in the VR community is thrilled at where things are at. You keep ignoring the part where it's difficult to buy an Oculus Quest, which has blown open the doors for accessibilty. There is no more "setup at home" because it's not plugged into anything. It is close to a miracle device.

It is almost certainly taking off in academic and military, but you forgot collaboration and industry. COVID has ramped up adoption of apps like Spatial so quickly that they are having trouble keeping up.

VR is nowhere near casual mainstream yet, but your mistake is the assumption that this is problematic or unexpected. Meanwhile, you shouldn't decide how you spend your time based on what the people close to you are doing or what you read in trade journals that have to post controversial things to spark discussion. If you only know two people with VR, maybe meet some more?

I don't think I've made any mistakes. You asked what my expectation was and I told you. You have expert insider knowledge, so your expectations are more grounded. I understand that, but your question was not "why don't you believe what I believe".

If you want to change hoi polloi's expectation of VR you need better control of the narrative. At the moment nobody but VR devs and scant technology enthusiasts care about VR.

Also, I don't care about VR. This is my point. I'm active in the technology scene in my area, and so few people care about VR it's remarkable. I can't get out and meet more people who have units because those people don't exist.

Not having enough units to ship doesn't tell me there's "high demand", just that demand is too high to be covered. It's not like if there weren't enough iPhones. It's not surprising that small to medium manufacturing enterprises can't keep up with demand.

I'm glad you're doing well and that things are how you want them and expect them to be.


Im not a minecraft player, i may have tried that game for like 2 hours at most. But Minecraft VR or a game similar to that would be awesome!


Totally. I was so hyped about VR a few years ago but I just can't use VR goggles for more than 10 or 15 minutes. Maybe VR will only gain adoption when they get a Holodeck-like style 😅


Why can't you use them for longer than that period? I'm able to play VR for a hour or so before I have to stop but that's because my headset presses too tightly on my forehead. I might be able to play longer with a different headset.


I once imagined that as developer you would not use moniyors but vr gogles where you would have multiple screens. but barrier is price. It is cheaper to buy few monitors than vr gogles.


Lighttable. Real-time coding and data visualization. Programming without being able to see your variable contents is kinda like programming blind in my opinion.

Unfortunately it was way ahead of its time. I made AREPL (similar concept) but isn't gaining users either. I still think the overall idea is great - AREPL has a 5-star rating, after all - but fully realizing the dream while smoothly integrating it into a existing editor is extremely difficult.

I should note that jupyter notebook and linqpad, although not live programming, are successful at rapid data visualization. So that part has been proven achievable at least.


Looking at it, it feels a bit like quokka...


Yep! It's similar. I use quokka sometimes and I like it. I'd like to try out wallaby too but it's kinda expensive (120$). Maybe I should give it a trial 🤔


Yesss, Lighttable was awesome. Way too bad it lagged behind in support.


I backed LightTable on Kickstarter!


The late Pieter Hintjens once said in a tweet that there are three things that more developers should know about:

  1. State machines
  2. The actor model
  3. Model languages

We now have X-State for using state machines to manage state in web applications, and state machines are used extensively in game development.

The actor model doesn’t get as much love, but you have actor model frameworks for every language, plus you have Erlang, plus Actix is one of the fastest web frameworks (written in Rust) and I’m pretty sure it gets its name from the actor model.

But model languages? I still don’t really understand what those are. I remember Hintjens clarifying that they are not mere domain-specific languages. I think they are languages used for code generation? I’m not sure, and he isn’t around to ask.


I think the actor model doesn't get as much love because the original idea was misunderstood and object oriented programming as interpreted by Java arose as the defacto standard. Such a shame, if only it was implemented correctly like how it was meant to be like in erlang, the actor model may now have been the most popular paradigm instead of OOP...


The actor model will be the most prominent next step after the micro-services hype. It's already here and a lot of vendors are preparing their product for/with them too.


Smalltalk and LISP both were way ahead of their time


I never used Smalltalk, but I agree with Lisp


I mean Lisp is alive and kicking, and actually growing in popularity, especially with modern variants like Clojure


I'll be the one and say I loved windows on the lumia phones. Man what a pleasure the UX was to me. I really liked the tiles and the plethora of information you could get, just by staring at your screen long enough.
No tapping, swiping, nothing was needed, once you configured your tiles to fit your needs.

I do hope MS brings it back one day. I think it was just too different for most people to get widely adopted.


Absolutely YES, I had it on a 1020 and still I am looking back at it when swiping and gesturing around with Android on an Xperia or something like that. They were ahead of the times in terms of simplicity and effectiveness, but no one noticed(((. Well, maybe there were economic reasons too)))


For an oh-so-brief period of time, I counted myself as a "Flex developer". Say what you want about Flash. But Flex was pretty damn cool. When you consider that it was a technology that preceded jQuery, it allowed you to go lightyears beyond what was available in "plain ol" sever-side languages.


I think I even bought a book about migrating from Flash to Flex. I also initially thought that Flex was going to be a thing. Then I guess HTML5 came along...


Ted Nelson’s Project Xanadu is probably the archetypal revolutionary software idea that didn’t go forth: ingenious abstractions no one understood because they succeeded in breaking many paradigms at once.


I first heard about Xanadu while at college eons ago, and then it surfaced again while doing research for a project I'm working on.


Google Glass is a good example of this, in my opinion. I remember where it was first announced lots of folks thought it would be a game changer and lead to an augmented reality revolution. Apparently it's still sold to businesses (news to me) for things like warehouse management, but it definitely didn't catch on in the consumer space.

I suppose Snap Spectacles are a bit of a spiritual successor (not quite the same though), but I don't think those are doing so well, either! 😅


Google did recently acquire North so there seems to be renewed attention maybe? North had really good product but was still a bit bulky and lacking in support. With google behind it, maybe they could make something more practical. They cancelled second gen Focals so who knows?


The Motorola Modular Phone which Google killed it.


It was actually one of the few projects that Google kept and continued developing inside the ATAP group, even after Motorola was sold off to Lenovo. Project Ara was near to launch in Puerto Rico, but it was ultimately cancelled due to unsurmountable problems with interconnections, signal speed, power consumption and overall device robustness.

It was indeed a revolutionary idea.


It's really a shame but the nearest that came to its the current representation of FairPhone

Well, not really. Fairphone is a great product, but it's not a modular phone, it is just simple to repair (replace broken parts with the same working). It doesn't enable upgrading the phone in any way.
I would say the closest thing is Moto Z with its mods.

Yeah but if your context in having a long term repairable phone it looks like something like that. Moto Z is good with it mods is really something one of the best from the big brand.

For me, Project Ara was about making the phone not only repairable, but also upgradable long term and also more usable in different use-cases by switching modules (eg. adding more battery for a hiking trip).
The last case is partly solved by Moto, the first one is addressed by FairPhone. Sadly, no one seems to have a solution for the upgradeability.


Microsoft's Macro Recorder, back in the Windows 3.1 / Windows 95 days. Basically it allowed recording user activity (mouse movements, clicks, keystrokes) and turning it into an editable VB script, making it a useful tool to automate repetitive processes like editing spreadsheets.

I seem to remember this technology was abandoned because of public fears it could replace office workers.


And here we are, surrounded by automation anyway 😆


I came across something similar today, but now it's called Robotic Process Automation :-)


I did a talk about Visual studio Codespaces and github codespaces and this concept is not a new idea. almost 10 years ago Koding.com started to create environment online to create collaborated code and forget to set up a local environment. Some ideas or projects are released very early in the time. I think this happed for Google Wave.


ReactOS is one of those projects I WISHED actually got adoption... but they have had 16 years to make it good, and it still doesn't run almost at all.


I'd submit RSS. It is so helpful and convenient, but it's continuing to die. It's such a shame to see it go in real time.


Not just RSS, all feed tech seems to be dying outside of podcasts. It's really sad.


When Avi Bryant showed off his MagLev prototype, showing Ruby running on a Smalltalk VM, I thought I was seeing the future.

Sadly, he never intended to spend more than a summer on it, and nothing came of it. Huge letdown.


Agreed, MagLev held so much promise. I wanted so badly to see it become something I could use in production. The ability to persist arbitrary Ruby objects would’ve been a game changer.


There was this thing in the 90s where everyone was trying to make what I'd describe as "pluggable systems" for the desktop. Microsoft's OLE is a leftover of that and probably the only thing people know anymore these days (KDE has/had? something similar called KParts).

The most impressive incarnation was OpenDoc. The idea was that you don't think program-centric. Instead you have documents that can consist of elements originating from different programs. Like, as we still have it today, using an Excel table in a Word document, but more sophisticated and generalized.

Now we're back at square one, using primitive webbrowsers to hop from one company's website to the next, losing track of where all our stuff is...


I remember like 10 years ago that I've got to implement some little app for Ginga-based HDTV receptors.
You have to use a declarative language for UI called NCL and for logic Lua, in a couple of minutes you have running cool things and I really thought that this could be the only way to write software for TV... of course AndroidTV appeared later and you know the history.


webOS. It had multitasking, global search, worked with many backend services and a host of smaller features that took a decade to reach other mobile operating systems. But its apps were JavaScript, before HTML5 and PWAs made web apps low friction. And the market for smartphones is brutal. theverge.com/2012/6/5/3062611/palm...


I don't understand why 3D photography doesn't gain traction. In the early days you had the ViewMaster. And now almost every cheap-ass smartphone has a camera much better than in those days, but (almost) never you can make 3D photos let alone videos 😢
My hope is on the lightfield cameras...


Most of things shown in this presentation:


Oh yes, that stuff is amazing! The closest thing I can think of is org-mode.


I remembered the only startup I'd ever backed called Plastc. It promoted a black credit card with an E-Ink display where the name and credit card number would normally be. The idea was a user could scan regular credit cards, loyalty cards, etc., into the memory of the Plastc card. So at check-out, the user would enter their pin and then select which card to pay with. They then swipe or insert the card and the data from the selected card is read into the machine. Not sure what happened to it, whether the company was mismanaged or if the product just wasn't viable, but it was such a cool ideas.



Microsoft tablets. They arrived way before the iPad, but apparently it was not the right moment.


I read somewhere that they made it work with an os derived from Linux. But Steve Balmer insisted that they should make it run Windows, which they couldn't do and hence it never came about.


Did you see them at time? I remember them, and it was a laptop of the time (bulk, tons of ports, CD Rom drive etc) with a screen instead of a keyboard, and they were terrible.


Yes, I've seen them. Like many, I thought it would be a first version and it would evolve to a better version, something like the first iPad.


*well, no one's ever made a sans simulator...