The (genius/mentor/funny) man, who I worked for in the late 90s had a phrase that went along the lines of; “If you spot a gold-rush, don’t scrabble about in the dirt, sell shovels.”. The now infamous ‘dot com boom’ was at the KA stage of it’s resultant BOOM. The internet was alive with conversation and exchange, at the speed of thought. New ideas were coming to light all the time – sometimes on a several times a day frequency – and were all being bounced around things like forums, newsgroups , and chat clients like mIRC. These guys, were the provider of shovels.
My own experience of this –
I was obsessed at the time with a line of watches called the Casio WQV. A wrist watch with a digital camera built in. Pre camera phone, pre facebook, very cool. It turned out, that there were thousands of other people around the world equally obsessed with these watches, and having recently built and deployed a forum on this very site, (complete with a ‘watchcam’ category) a large number of watch cam fans, found their way to the forum. As well as these guys, there was a large, exponentially increasing network of friends and associates, making frequent visits. The forum eventually became a victim of its own Not For Profit success and literally went into meltdown – I didn’t have the hours in the day to police the content, or fix the bugs. One night, it went *pop*. Properly.
Fast forward a bit to 2006. The birth of Facebook. The internet conversation, that looking back now, was being held by an absolute minority, was all of a sudden, joined by millions of new voices. The vast majority of non facebook conversation stopped within a few months. It was phenomenal to watch. Something that I’d been doing for around 10 years by this point, was now being done en masse. People other than a limited number of professional journalists, and the burghers of Geekville, were putting content, on the internet.
I think we are now, on the brink of a change. It reminds me of the time when the world started turning a bit sour for Microsoft. There was a time when Microsoft ruled the world. They were the unquestionable, untouchable supreme overlords of computing. Bill Gates smashed his original goal of “A computer, on the desk of every home in North America” by a staggering amount. You couldn’t conceive the use of another system being employed by anything close, to the same scale. You couldn’t see how anything could topple such a sturdy giant. The same could have been said of Nokia. They were a staggeringly successful company, who’s future looked mapped out for generations. Everyone, used Microsoft. Everyone used Nokia. Less than 10 years later and Nokia are a shadow of their former self, and whilst Microsoft is still quite huge (particularly in the corporate arena) others have taken the top spot for ‘go-to’ mass market computing, namely the iProducts, and Google – the number one device has outgrown the ‘every desk’ benchmark, it’s now in every pocket.
If we were to draw conclusions from the above story, we could summarise by saying that every big dog, has his day. Could the same be said of the big dog of social networking? Could we be on the brink of a Social Network gravity shift? Have Facebook reached their zenith, or are they still on the way up? Are consumers being fed enough innovation to remain faithful, or will the fiscal pressure to monetize on this recently floated, now very corporate super giant, get in the way of it being loved by it’s huge user-base?
Only time will tell. One thing is for sure – the world now needs A LOT of shovels.