Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Increasing 'Socialization' of Technology...

The Most Significant Technology Trend of 2006

Well, it sure was an incredible year for technology.The ghosts of the tech bubble burst of 2000 were well and truly buried this year. While much of the 1980s were spent in apprehension of technology (thanks primarily to the cold war and George Orwell's 1984), and much of the 1990s were spent in irrational exuberance over the prospects for technology (thanks mainly to the rise of the internet), this decade seems to be the one where the world finally came to terms with technology, and a balanced outlook on technology emerged. And if one year is to be singled out where this maturity gained the most, it was 2006.

Exuberance there certainly was. Companies in the technology space grew and grew. People talked and talked about technology (and mostly used spanking new cellphones, wireless devices, and VoIP to do the talking). But it was exuberance of a much more understated variety than the unbridled euphoria of the late 1990s. And it was grounded in, and tempered by, a firm grip on reality. And oh, tech companies did make blowout profits - yes, real cash profits. And those profits generated real cash flow which those companies used to buy real things, including other companies.

In this last post of the year, I thought I would place my vote for the most important tech trend of 2006. Without hesitation, I plonk my vote down firmly in favor of the increasing 'socialization' of technology. I refer, of course, to the rapid increase in the use of technology to meet social needs - collaboration, sharing, getting together, interacting with family and friends, and so forth.

The defining moment for this trend was, of course, when Time magazine, with somewhat characteristic hyperbole, named 'You' as its Person of the Year.

However, going beyond the hyperbole, it can be seen that technology indeeed is coming to be harnessed for social needs. This was not something that magically appeared out of nothingness this year - it is merely the culmination of developments that had been afoot for avery long time, perhaps since the industrial revolution. In fact, perhaps the most important technology trend of the last century was that technology came off its high perch as something used only by giant corporations and governments, to something that helped common folks meet everyday needs. This trend may be labeled as technology moving from 'corporate' to 'personal' uses. Next, people discovered that the newly 'personal' technology could be used to meet a very imporant personal need, that of interacting with other folks. Thus, as the trend played out, its logical continuation was to create 'social' uses for technology.

And so, whether it was digital photography, communication technologies, wireless or entertainment technologies, people found uses that served social needs. More deals were cut for cellphone- based access to social networking sites such as Myspace. Manufacturers from Nokia to Microsoft designed their products for facilitating social uses. The Zune made swapping songs wirelessly its USP.

The terms that people search for on the internet, which should certainly count as a significant index of what's important, figured many terms that indicated social needs - Myspace , Wiki, Wikipedia, Radioblog, Podcasting all figured in Google's list of Top 10 searches of 2006.*

And in 2007 ? More power to the people...!
* It is worth noting that each of these terms not only represents a social use of technology, but the fact that people are searching for these terms on the internet itself indicates the use of a technology (internet search) for meeting a social need!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Google: Time for Some Soul-searching?

The world-leader in search should find a way to make innovation pay

The now-famous "Peanut Butter" memo at Yahoo undoubtedly holds lessons for the wider world of business, and one of those lessons is, don't spread yourself thin and thus lose focus. And don't be scared to pull the plug on parts of the business that aren't pulling their weight.

Now Google is, quite possibly, the most innovative and exciting company of our times. But do they need those two lessons? You bet they do.

In a recent interview with Fortune magazine, a senior Google exec was asked how long Google Finance can ignore making money. Her response: "Theoretically, forever" is admirable for its forthrightness, and shows the immense confidence Google has in itself. But the response also smacks very faintly of hubris. In the real world, a product or service can be given only so much time and resources before it's asked to start pulling it's weight on the top- and bottom-line.

Does this mean Google should stay happy being a one-trick pony? Of course not - they must innovate, and are doing a great job of starting new services. Now, all they need to do is figure out how to make sure those new services bring in loads of cash - or shut them down.

For all its admirable innovation prowess, Google is yet to show a really spectacular new product or service after web search. Even those who have no particular liking for Google would surely not want to see it becoming a latter-day version of the fabled Xerox PARC - a poster child for marvelous innovation that never made it to market.

And even in search (or at least making search pay), there are smart and nimble new rivals catching up.

Are the folks at Google listening? Apparently, Yes!

The fact that Google Answers has been discontinued last week shows that the need to make services pay up or pack up has been realized at Google. See what the LA Times news report on this said:

Google admitted this year that its internal audits discovered that the company had been spending too much time on new services to the detriment of its core search engine.

Perhaps not the greatest news for people who had come to like Google Answers, but comforting evidence that the folks at Google have their hearts (and brains) in the right place!