Recently, I was discussing the naming of the application delivery track for our Gartner Catalyst 2014 conference and bouncing ideas around with colleagues. Some of the suggested names included the term “software development” while others used “application development” and “app dev”.
My gut reaction was that “software development” sounded a bit “old skool”. A phrase from back in the day. Something I would have said when I was writing embedded software in C or building a client-server system in Borland C++ using OWL. I had to acknowledge to my colleagues that is was pure instinct, but it left me with a nagging question of whether there was anything to it.
So, I did a little mining using Google Trends to see how ) interest in these terms had changed over time.
(Caveat: Google Trends is opaque about how it calculates the “interest” in a search term, and these terms could appear in other contexts. I fell into this trap myself recently when looking at interest in “PaaS”. Every Spring time there was a spike interest. Was this some major cloud conference or annual vendor press release I was unaware of? No, it turns out that PAAS Easter Egg decorating kits are quite popular at that time of year in the US)
If you want to play around you can view and modify the Google Trends query
Back to the results…I think they suggest:
- “Software Development” does seem to be “old skool”, in the sense that it used to generate much more interest than it does now.
- “Application Development” is less common and pretty flat
- “App Development” rose quickly after the iPhone appeared but has plateaued
Note: if you add “programming” and “coding” to the comparison they these terms but they have common alternative meanings, for example “programming” in TV and media and “colour coding”. Both terms also refer to a part of the development lifecycle, so aren’t really synonyms either.
To dig further I tried removing “development” from the query and this shows a different (but perhaps not surprising) picture.
I think this gives us a little more insight:
- “Software” as a term is on the decline in it’s own right, not just when combined with “development”
- “Application” is still pretty flat, perhaps even increasing, but since “application” has other common meanings I don’t think we can read much into this.
- “App” rose quickly after the iPhone appeared but seems to have plateaued. I think it’s reasonable to attribute this rise to broad consumer use of the term. Everyone is looking for apps, not just IT people.
So this left me wondering where I could get data that was less skewed by consumers and more relevant to an IT Professional community. Fortunately www.stackexchange.com provide a data query interface that let’s you query data about each of their Q&A sites, including posting data for StackOverflow, which happens to have a development focused audience and is vendor/technology agnostic.
There’s no pretty charts on the site and you query using SQL, but that gives you much more control and let me extract monthly data for posts created with the words “software”, “application” and “app” (and not “application”) somewhere in the title. I didn’t want StackOverflow’s own growth in popularity over the last few years to skew the analysis too much so I combined the data with total monthly posting statistics to show the number of posts with each of these terms as a percentage of all posts per month:
As you can see, this data correlates quite closely to the Google Trends data, suggesting that the term “software” is falling out of favour to “app” and “application” is holding steady.
So apart from making me feel my gut reaction was pretty good, what else does this tell us? Well, firstly, this is just an informal exploration not a scientific analysis, getting concrete data is much harder. I think it does show our terminology and technical language is evolving and we should all evolve with it. It probably indicates some transition of focus for developers (e.g. mobile driving focus on “apps”) rather than just a change of terminology. Perhaps it also suggests we simply that we like short words, especially when they achieve some kind of ubiquitous meaning (err…lol).
And after this brief foray into web stats and development terminology I’m still left with a few questions :
- Are there other terms emerging?
- Where do programming, program, code and coding actually sit within the IT context? Although these terms reflect only a part of the development life-cycle.
- Is use of the term “App” plateauing and why?
- Will we write “software” rather than “apps” for devices to populate the “Internet of Things” and will that affect our terminology?
If you have thoughts on these or other ideas please share them by comment.