Cycles and Simplicities

by Doc Searls

Om Malik calls this "dave winer's best post of the year". I can't recall a better one, but ranking isn't what matters here. What matters is perspective and experience, and Dave has plenty of both. What he says is,

We're now reaching the end of a cycle, we're seeing feature wars. That's what's going on between Facebook and Google, both perfectly timing the rollouts of their developer proposition to coincide with the others' -- on the very same day! I don't even have to look at them and I am sure that they're too complicated. Because I've been around this loop so many times. The solution to the problem these guys are supposedly working on won't come in this generation, it can only come when people start over. They are too mired in the complexities of the past to solve this one. Both companies are getting ready to shrink. It's the last gasp of this generation of technology.

It's strange to think of Google and Facebook as old, but Dave's right. They are. Search is old. Advertising is old. Online social communities in a big walled garden is old. You can look at it this way: Google fixed Lycos's problem. (And Infoseek's, and Hotbot's, and AltaVista's.) And then it fixed the yellow pages' and classified advertising's problems. And it used the proceeds from both to start fixing many other problems too. Credit where due -- and there's lots of appreciation to spread in their direction. Meanwhile, Facebook fixed AOL's and Compuserve's problem. (I know the latter was dead. But for them that's a problem too.)

But advertising itself has a problem. So do walled gardens. Google and Facebook are in poor positions to fix those, because they have to defend their old positions. They have Innovator's Dilemma. Their businesses have huge underbellies, ripe for disruption. And that disruption won't come from them. Nor are they in the best position to ride the disruptive tide and spread it in all directions.

Railroads were in a lousy position to run the automobile business. But automobiles solved the problem of mechanized rail-less tranport. The "horseless carriage" never needed a horse.

Phone and cable companies today are in a lousy position to run the Internet business. Telephony and Cable TV are railroads and steamships. They "carry" the Net as a "service", but the Net isn't essentially a service. It's just a way to connect things. Connectivity is what matters. Not "broadband", much as it appeals within the context of phone and cable companies' limited offerings and imaginations. Who will imagine what can be done when connectivity is freed up? Phone and cable companies? I'd rather bet on the people leaving those companies.

Here's a question: What comes after automobiles? That's another huge underbelly, as we've been reminded by hearings in Congress over the last few days.

Where does Linux fit into all this? Simple: as abundant building material — just like the rest of the FOSS portfolio, nearly all of which is built to serve functional purposes, more than commercial ones. Thanks to the Because Effect (you make more money because of it than with it), FOSS building materials — commodities all, but so free there isn't a commodities market for them — prove very handy for building an endless variety of stuff.

Anyway, the one place I differ with Dave (and perhaps only slightly) is in expecting young people alone to do the disrupting. That's because I'm working on disruption myself, with a growing community of hackers, businessfolk and other pioneers, of many ages. And learning new lessons every day.

This is the business our work will most disrupt, by the way. Like the railroads, it won't fail. In fact, I think we'll help them succeed beyond anything they've experienced so far in their (I'm guessing) $10 billion/year lives. But I dunno. We'll see.

What I learned from Dave this morning is that we've got to be simple. That's the key.