Where is Toad going?
It is a question that has been asked from the day Quest purchased it, and it
seems to gain relevancy with each passing year. Since it is clear that we have
had strong user-based direction from the very start the question belies a deeper
anxiety: Can Toad keep going? With sales numbers which have completely surpassed
anyone’s wildest expectations it is natural to ask where all this is headed, how
long can it last? What is fascinating is that this question with its underlying
anxieties has been vocalized with ever greater amplitude for probably a decade.
But more dangerous than assuming our direction will wane with market saturation
is the assumption that our momentum will simply keep carrying us. Eternal
vigilance has always been the price of freedom, and never being able to fully
rest has always been part of the Toad spirit.
The question “Where is Toad going?” used to exasperate Jim. “I don’t know!” he
used to bellow. “The users will tell us what they want.” And tell they did,
sometimes in such detail that they provided the complete specification for the
feature on the boards (Colin Wright explaining in detail the idea behind the
Project Manager comes to mind as one of many examples).
In time there was a natural reduction of user-driven feature requests as survey
responses increasingly came back with the declaration “Toad pretty much has what
I need.” Developers develop, though, and salespeople sell. So Oracle itself
became the road map and we selected what we predicted to be the most attractive
and necessary features to implement.
The early to middle years saw an explosion of features and a shotgun approach to
options and settings. If one user requested one oddball option they got it
implemented, irregardless of the broader interests of our burgeoning base. In
time we began to see the results of this level of indiscriminate coding and
started to use a more measured approach. The recognition of the need for
moderation and judgment attained its most visible manifestation in the Toad
Naturally the technologies themselves dictate direction. Newer versions of
Oracle, newer operating systems and newer processors all provide an ample supply
of work. Yet these sources are not given their rightful due as providing true
long term direction but are rather seen as assumptive. Or perhaps people just
need something more to excite them. “C’mon, what do you really have up your
New Forces, Unexpected Realities
Today we find ourselves in a situation nobody could have predicted. Toad has
become the de facto standard of Oracle development tools. Competing products
imitate us, often distressingly so. We have a large, healthy active user
community which numbers in the millions. Two million is the official number
conservatively offered as the paying user count, but the actual number of Toad
copies when including freeware and stealware may be closer to three or four
million. In what I believe to be a deeply strategic move years ago our upper
management insisted in not getting too upset with the ease with which Toad could
be stolen. “If they are stealing Toad at least they’re not using a competing
So saturation means numbers, big numbers. Maybe even exciting numbers from a
socio-behavioral perspective. They may enable us to do things which simply
weren’t possible in years past. To stay intentionally abstract and a bit guarded
I’ll use an amusing example. If I attend a friends party where there will be
three strangers, and I have an eye out for a prospective mate, I’m not going to
be fully on my game simply because of the realities of the numbers. On the other
hand if I attend a party where my five most trusted friends are there with their
own circle of friends, ten each, my demeanor will suddenly change. I can explore
the scene from a trusted place, my local circle of friends, while leisurely
meeting a much wider group of people with whom I already share a good measure of
influence. The game has changed, the scales have tipped in my favor.
The world, especially the online world, seems to be moving inexorably toward
requiring a level of trust it has not needed before. People are willing to
sacrifice privacy in order to share with their friends. I’m captivated by the
topic of trust in the social arena, and have recently purchased Bruce Schneier’s
new work “Liars & Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive.”
The inside jacket states “We don’t demand a background check on the plumber who
shows up to fix the leaky sink. We don’t do a chemical analysis on food we eat.
Trust and cooperation are the first problems we had to solve before we could
become a social species. In the 21st century they have become the most important
problems we need to solve - again. Our global society has become so large and
complex that our traditional trust mechanisms no longer work.”
We are achieving the kinds of numbers we need to try to open up Toad with
sharing mechanisms across users. I think science and experience have borne out
the fact that many more users are needed than expected. (Imagine using Facebook
if it only included 50,000 people). I also think that there remains a level of
deep mistrust in many spheres which will have to erode for businesses to keep
up. I think software has a role to play in all this. I recently completed my
taxes fully online using TurboTax. I don’t know anyone at TurboTax. Yet they
have all my most private financial data stored on their servers. Furthermore,
while doing my taxes I was in communication with other TurboTax users who, from
all appearances of one not versed in the technology, could have seen or accessed
my data even as I was getting assistance from them.
Each new neuroscience study which comes out in the area of social cognition
shows just how deeply social we are. We are wired for communion, whether we want
to admit it or not. (Those of us in the West tend to have autonomy on the brain,
or rather in our psyche, perhaps due in part to the American frontier persona).
Technology demonstrates, through the internet, texting and so forth, just how
much we humans tend to come together.
Whither Toad? The answer ultimately lies with the Toad community itself, in the
cycling out of generational biases and the breaking down of outmoded barriers.
We will be trying some things in the years ahead to facilitate this. I hope you
will join us.