Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Future of Tech: The Web's Not Dead (it's just not sexy, anymore)

Technology can be thought of as anything invented after you were born. As it matures, it fades into the background and it's taken for granted. One of the most prolific inventions of the 20th Century was the automobile – entire cities are designed around this invention – but it's no longer cutting edge technology.

The Web has reached this level. It's hard to find cutting edge Web sites. I saw the writing on the wall when I left the Apple Online Store in 2007. At the time, the Apple Store was headed up by Eddy Cue as part of Apple's engineering department. Engineering, at Apple, is the talent. I could see there were no revolutions on the horizon. E-commerce on the Web hasn't changed much since I left the store. It's not dead, it's just mature. Buying online, today, is the same as it was 10 or 15 years ago.

Blogs (Web logs) are another mature technology – they haven't changed in the eight years since the invention of Twitter as a micro-blogging platform. Dave Winer described it best, yesterday, in his interview with The Guardian on the 20th anniversary of the blog when he said that some of the spark is gone.

A couple of years ago, in Two Ships Crashing in the Night, I wrongly predicted that the next big thing would be random video chat for social media. Today, I see that the Web, social media, blogs, e-commerce, e-mail, etc, have plateaued. None of these technologies behave much differently, today, than five or ten years ago. I used to implement cutting edge entrepreneurial ideas enabled by the Web such as SMS payments and classified ads, URL shorteners with revenue models, race photo distribution before the proliferation of RFID, etc. These technologies aren't dead, rather their growth is dead.

So, what's the next big thing?

The Future of High Tech

Without a doubt, the future is in wearable technologies. Eyeglasses have been around since the late 13th Century so it's only natural to incorporate a heads-up display into them now that networked computer displays can scale down and be (almost) fashionable. The ubiquitous smartwatch isn't far away. GPS in shoes isn't just for endurance athletes – Alzheimer patients won't remember their phone and they may forget where they put their shoes, but they're not going to forget to wear their shoes – it's self-prioritizing. Silver alerts will become a thing of the past.

Entrepreneurs looking for the next big thing on the Web will be challenged. It's hard to be revolutionary in a mature industry. Instead, entrepreneurs should to growing markets in technology. The longer a technology market moves sideways on its plateau, the harder it will be to make a difference since small, incremental changes aren't sexy. It's like adding a catalytic converter to the internal combustion engine. Sure, it's great for the environment, but a typical consumer could care less.

If you want to put a dent in the universe, you'll need a hockey stick, curve jumping idea in a growing market.

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