Saturday, April 25, 2009

Original Giants

When I think of Yahoo, it is definitely as a throwback to my early days of internet navigation. Yahoo, AOL, Tripod, Geocities. All OG’s (Original Giants) from the dawn of the marketisation of the internet. These were the planned communities built to house the virtual baby boom. The anti-business geeks who ditched college, and wowed VC’s were serving notice: Business as you know it is dead.

Office buildings became playground lofts. The shelves of Toys ‘R’ Us were emptied. Children wept as wave after wave trampled through the parking lots and returned to the idea factories. Air hockey tables, and Nerf cannons became staples in the boardrooms. Seasoned CEO’s and Ivy League players sat patiently awaiting interviews with the generation Wired offspring of Wozniak, Jobs and Gates. They would play the on-screen persona's of the Wizards of Slashdot, working the controls from their parents basements.

It all came to a halt in the early days of the new millennium. The revolution was not over, it had merely been the victim of buffer overflow. When the system came back online, the OG’s were still seeing population growth. But the game was about to change.

New media was being introduced now that most everyone had access to broadband. Video, music and news were not only available, the content was being provided by the users. No longer did creative people dream of going to the big city to make it. Stardom was attainable from the home. The middleman was being eliminated. And so was the need for pre-planned communities.

The place to be was MySpace and YouTube. Google became much more than a search engine. Their free line of software, incredible Earth application and blog hosting has changed the virtual world for good. The blog quickly sent the print media running for their lives. MySpace is the place to go to hear new music and interact directly with the bands. YouTube was the place to see videos. Now, it’s the place to put your video. In the future, it will be live feeds. It will range from routine everyday life to watching a sporting event from the perspective of a participant.

The road to ‘killer apps’ is a myth. It is a path carved by undeterred dreams in a jungle of false prophets and corporate quicksand. Brush, thick with old systems must be cleared to make room for relevant applications. The OG’s lost their edge when their bellies became full and the siestas lingered. This led to arrogance and ultimately, irrelevance. The merry meeting room pranksters still haven’t noticed that the fragging has begun. They are still under the assumption that they are operating in god mode.

Yahoo reported a 78% drop in profits. They also plan to cut 5% of their workforce.* I would not be surprised to learn that a Yahoo or AOL rebuffed offers of a Twitter or Facebook type integration at some point in time (much like the storied IBM brush off of Microsoft). AOL is hanging on by the grace of their merger with Time Warner. Their platform is crumbling and population dwindling. The netizens have dared to venture outside the walls and have been rewarded with imaginative, and spontaneous content.

The important trend developing in the online content arena is that nothing will last for very long, much less forever. MySpace is being abandoned for Facebook . It will survive as a music destination until someone does it better. The wait will not be long. The next 'big' thing in online music will be live captures of bands writing, rehearsing and recording material. The release of material will be instant and it will not be physically purchased for bookshelves. It will always be available, no need to purchase stored media. As for Facebook, it is in decline as well. The last remaining users of Facebook will be the late arrivals. They too will move on when they read about it’s demise in People magazine.

Ebay, a true innovator has chosen to abandon it’s roots, charm and usefulness by turning itself into a haven for counterfeiters and cheap novelties. The founder started it as a way for his girlfriend to trade pez dispensors. The auctions were a great platform. As a former Powerseller, I had a blast making quite a bit of money selling my personal collection of oddball items, vinyl LP’s and books. Those who won the auctions were thrilled to be using their expensive computer for more than charting tax returns. It was the participation factor. The items could be found cheaper elsewhere.

Craigslist is taking heat now that the criminal element is abusing it. Before Craigslist, they abused the newspapers with their deceptive adverts to contact victims. Unfortunately, this element will always be with us. And they will use any means available to ply their trade. Craigslist remains one of the most important community service tools ever. The potential for good far outweighs the negative. The the needs of the many must continue to be met.

And then there is Microsoft. So desperate are they, the notion of acquiring Yahoo! has been put into play. It is a useless effort to transport itself to the present by catching up on the good ol’ information superhighway. And if search was really their game, how was it that the ‘best and the brightest’ evaded the massive Redmond radar to begin with? The problem is MS has been trying to get out of the ditch for some time. The tow truck never arrived and Bill has moved on to philanthropy. Firefox, Chrome and other browsers are now sharing space with IE on desktops worldwide. If you are going to do search, bring something new to it.

The last upstart to ‘bring it’ to Google was called Cuil. Former Google employees started it. They talked a good game, but could not produce. Their searches were slow and when results finally arrived, they were for the most part incomplete and inaccurate. The search business model has been around for decades. An example is the free weekly ‘Chicago Reader’. It was a mainstay because young grad’s arriving in the city to start their careers loved its resources and advertising. People were offered free access to information and then given contacts to interact with. A Google-Craigslist hybrid. My brother coined the term, “feels free” and it applies. But with all of our complexities, we humans will settle for that. After all, we rationalize issues every day to accept the world we live in.

* WSJ Apr. 22, 2009

No comments:

Post a Comment