A Beginning And An End

A beginning: my first official column at Online Spin, following on from three years as a Search Insider, with a couple of cameos over at Social Media Insider. It's nice to meet you.

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.

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5 comments about "A Beginning And An End".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , December 17, 2010 at 11:48 a.m.

    ;) ;) ;)

  2. Mike Patterson from WIP, Inc. , December 17, 2010 at 12:01 p.m.

    Great introductory column Kaila...you must be familiar with the Buddhist principle of impermanence. Certainly Yahoo and MySpace are familiar with them by now! Thanks and I'm looking forward to your future columns.

  3. Rita Allenrallen@freshaddress.com from FreshAddress, Inc. , December 17, 2010 at 2:46 p.m.

    Thanks for your informative and thought provoking column, Kaila..one thing will remain as it was introduced maybe 20 years ago adn that is Email...and no particular brand owns it...so we can at least count on the grandparent of them all to continue to be available for everyone's utility. Happy New Year!

  4. Derek Gordon from Re:Imagine Group , December 17, 2010 at 4:08 p.m.

    My favorite MediaPost columnist; I'll follow you wherever you go, Kaila!

  5. Kaila Colbin from Ministry of Awesome , December 17, 2010 at 5:16 p.m.

    Wow, thanks! You are very kind. Rita, something to consider -- Facebook's attempt to revolutionize email as we know it... :-) Warmest regards and happy holidays!