Killer-app is the name we give to those IT applications that turn out to be unexpectedly useful and help propel the success of a new product or service in the marketplace. Most everyone will agree, for example, that spreadsheet and word processing were the first killer-apps of the PC era, helping transform PCs into must-have business and personal productivity tools.
Customer self-service is my preferred candidate for the killer-app of the early days of the Web. These kinds of apps were relatively easy to implement, yet so useful that they helped convince companies that the Web was something real that they had to pay attention to. The universal reach and connectivity of the Internet were enabling access to information of all sorts for anyone with a browser and an Internet connection.
Any business, by integrating its existing databases and applications with a web front end, could now reach its customers, employees, suppliers and partners at any time of the day or night, no matter where they were. Companies were thus able to engage in their core transactional activities in a much more productive and efficient way. And they could start very simply, initially just web-enabling their legacy applications and databases.
Customer self-service is an excellent example of recombinant innovations, which UC Davis professor Andrew Hargadon defines as innovations that “rather than chasing whole new ideas, [are] focused on recombining old ideas in new ways.” The basic premise behind these kinds of innovations is the search for breakthrough ideas that might lead to the creation of new products, markets and industries based on novel combinations of existing technologies