Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Surf is On

The Surf is On

In a recent Business Week article Steve Hamms quotes Navi Radjou from Forrester Research that "these Web 2.0 companies are surfing on the old wave. They're not creating the next one", asking "what's wrong with silicon valley?".
Maybe nothing is wrong and this is exactly the way it is supposed to be.
In her book about technological revolutions Venezuelan scholar Carlota Perez clearly distinguishes between two phases:

  • The installation phase where the main discovery sparks innovation in related technical domains
  • The deployment phase where innovation happens by applying that new technology in many other domains.

Bursting bubbles and clanking crashes in technological as well as financial areas would indicate the transition between phases. As we are now also witnessing the financial bubble bursting - while we were before hoping the Internet bubble would have been the only one out there that "had" to burst - her startling prediction not only for the bad, but also for the good times should be analyzed more closely.
Perez describes the deployment phase we should be in by now as the start of a golden age where people are harvesting the innovation made in technology. By taking e.g. the infrastructure of the Internet, the ease of application programming in Web 2.0, the pervasive communication via mobile devices and the ability to apply algorithms to massive amounts of data (a combination we now call Cloud Computing), we can create innovative solutions for really hard problems that are part of Earth 3.0. The breadth of these solutions one can build are already startling:
  • Create applications can enable people to find again and stay in touch with friends from various decades of their life (Facebook.com, Stayfriends.com, Reunion.com etc.)
  • Automate the processing of loans and and loan collections in a way that even micro-loans become profitable, thus enabling rural villagers to become part of the formal economy
  • Learn a foreign language interactively, but fully automated by reading from and speaking into a mobile phone
If Perez is correct, this is just the very start of deploying the innovation that has been made in the last decades. Obviously, in parallel to this deployment phase, many unrelated research will happen eventually sparking another technological revolution (and corresponding bubbles).
But right now the bursting bubbles created perfect waves that we can surf on. We should enjoy and embrace that opportunity.


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