Is that first down line one of the four horseman of Web 3.0?

5 08 2011

Long before I was an “integrated talent management” guy, I was a plain old software /Internet product guy.  Veering from the HR focus of this blog for a post I thought I’d talk a little bit about technology.

Like every person that’s worn a product hat, I’m easily “jazzed” about technology trends and “what’s next.”  In addition, the promise of the NEW NEW thing is always tempered by the market power of the status quo, or at least those vendors that have “locked in” large segments of their markets.  Back in the year 2000 (pre bubble crash) the “four horsemen of the Internet,” were Cisco, Oracle, EMC, and Sun Microsystems.  The growth of all things web 1.0 was perceived to be on the backs of these four vendors.

The great thing about High Tech is it is the technology itself that drives the “creative destruction” inside markets and creates better and cheaper solutions for consumers.  In 2000-2001 I worked for about ten months for a great little Telecom Hardware switch company.  The basic premise of the entire company was – take the team responsible for building a super successful “warhorse” switch used by all the major RBOCs.  Wait ten years (it had already been ten years at that point).  Poach them all away from the old company.  Now, have them solve the exact same problem they did the first time, AFTER Moore’s law had worked its magic for a decade.  The result was a faster, smaller, cheaper set of hardware that attacked an already massively proven market problem.

Unfortunately, the telecom crash ensued and that didn’t work out so great for me or the startup, but I did take away the lesson of using the new to “re-solve” the same problem in a better way.  You see it everywhere today.  Most notable in our own Human Capital Management technology space is the very successful founder of a SaaS company re-doing the same thing his team was very successful for in on premise enterprise software (I don’t like to use names in this blog, but you know the white haired gentleman I mean).

Of course, the second time around your talent is “smarter” and more informed by all the learning that happened along the way the first time.  Harder to quantify, but likely equally, if not more important than the technology trend (uh…everyone’s heard of Moore’s law by now, so speed is still important!) However, talent and experience aside, the most fun as a “product guy” is to prognosticate on what are today’s “horseman” as well as tomorrow’s potentials.

So below is my list of candidates.  They are roughly in the order of having most current impact to most future potential, but it’s my subjective judgment so don’t hold me to it….

  • Virtualization & “Cloud” – Amazon Cloud services and the like is probably the single biggest driver of new innovation today.  Silly buzzword marketing aside, by making the required infrastructure to innovate new services available to any creator and then allowing it to scale with success…. it’s the Henry Ford Model T of our day, “any tech stack you want, as long as it’s cheap (and scales)”
  • Social media – oy, I’m so bored with “social.”  Totally jumped the shark for me.  It’s here. We’re doing it.  Not cutting edge anymore, but it’s like oxygen now –you just need it.
  • Worldwide Mobile Adoption– I think this is the most interesting one of all to watch.  This isn’t your usual “everything is mobile” these days claim.  This is about emerging countries around the world and what becomes possible when more and more of the world’s population can be connected.   Can’t site the source off the top of my head, but more people have cell phones in the world than access to clean water (a shame, but the phones can help that too).
  • Location based services–  This has been a favorite of mine for over a decade.  The emergence of mobile devices that _know where you are_, and where other people and things creates enormous potential for new applications.  Foursquare and Gowalla only scratch the surface of what’s cool and possible.
  • Ubiquitous Broadband – This is an almost boring development.  Why?  Because at least in the States we are all spoiled by great connections all the time.  We almost take it for granted.  Tough to remember that five years ago none of us even had smartphones – I remember being blown away just three years ago because I could walk down the street in Boston and watch Red Sox games ON MY PHONE as they happened.
  • Non browser Internet traffic , a.k.a. “Apps”  – This one amuses me to no end.  At a time when read articles saying our government is contemplating anti-trust action against Google for being a monopoly – Google and the web browser is already losing a step to different ways to access the Internet.  I’m old enough to have started in technology  pre-web browser (Gopher+ anyone?), it’s nice to see specialized clients come out that serve customer segments with a tailored user experience.
  • Big Data – hard one for the human mind to…er….get its head around, but this is a big deal.  The price of computing power is coming down so fast that new techniques are emerging to handle massive data sets.  The ability to manipulate massive data sets will change computing…er…massively in the next few years.
  • HTML 5 –In the weeds again, but the web just keeps getting better.  I remember when I marked up html by hand for a couple months before someone released an HTML editor.  HTML5 brings rich user experience to browsers and keeps bumping up what’s possible for web based applications.
  • Semantic Web – The web, and much of computing today is “syntax” based, meaning the computer reads directions and does them exactly the way they’re put in front of it (I’m dumb-ing it down for myself here), but the computer doesn’t know what it means.  The rise of the semantic web is a way of tagging data sets so that one computer can understand data from another.  It’s not quite the ability to think, but it will change the way computers improve our lives.
  • Augmented Reality – and the best for last.  This is my absolute favorite.  Augmented reality can be thought of as a computer created “layer” that you look at while you are looking at something in real life.  The easiest example is the first down line on TV in American football.   That bright yellow line you see marking the distance to the first down line is an example of augmented reality.  It used to take a full Sun Microsystems system to make that yellow line show up and still let the players walk “through” it – today it is probably an “app.”   Ubiquitous broadband, Smartphones everywhere, Location technology, PLUS Augmented reality — thar’s gold in them thar hills!

And all of that is leaving out biotech, nanotech, and robotics, but I don’t know much about those.   We’ll see what shows up!

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