A Beginning And An End
An end: my 49th, and last, column of the year.
At lunch yesterday, my mate Mark was recounting exploits from his younger days. Now, he confessed with a tinge of regret, he has so many broken bits there's no way he'd be able to do kendo karate or run 100 miles per week. Everything is temporary; everything is fleeting.
For 12 years, Google's domination of search -- and, effectively, of the Web itself --- has seemed inevitable and unshakeable. And in fact it has been: but only of search as we have known it. In the past five years, the Web as we didn't know it arose, and this year the new Web, as defined by Facebook, asserted itself: over 500 million active users on the leading social network, 700 billion minutes a month, and 2 million sites integrated via Connect (increasing by 10,000 per day). Movies. Accolades. Zuckerberg as Person of the Year.
Sounds like game over, doesn't it?
It is a well documented oddity of the human brain that we cannot imagine a future significantly different from our past. You may have heard of Charles H. Duell, the Director of the U.S. Patent Office in 1899, who said, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." This intellectual limitation applies in creative endeavors as well. I'm always amazed at the way aliens in movies have only minor variations on the two-arms-two-legs-two-eyes-one-nose-one-mouth-stand-upright theme -- an especially unlikely coincidence when you take even a cursory glance at the astonishing variety of species that actually exist on this planet.
Despite all the historical evidence to the contrary, we continue to be seduced by the idea that things will remain as they are. But five years ago, Twitter didn't exist. Seven, neither did Facebook. 13, bye-bye Google. Is it really so far-fetched to think that, despite Facebook's domination of social networks as we know them, the playing field itself of five or ten years from now will be virtually unrecognizable from what it is today?
This is the massive challenge facing tech companies in the coming decade: not to win at a single game, but to be the most skilled at continuous adaptation, to become able to anticipate each new game before it takes off -- or, failing that, to learn the new rules faster and apply them better than anyone else. The second you think things will stay as they are, you will be left behind.
Does Facebook have social locked up? Of course, just as Google has search locked up. Facebook has an inevitable and unshakeable domination of social networks as we know them. They will not be unseated by a startup with a slightly different offering. But that does not mean they will not be unseated. Everything is temporary; everything is fleeting.
I'm looking forward to exploring our rapidly morphing landscape with you in the coming year, and I welcome your feedback, via the comments or on Twitter: @kcolbin. Happy holidays, and see you in 2011.