Underestimating the ubiquity of data

Via FlowingData, I came across “Hal Varian on how the Web challenges managers” from the McKinsey Quarterly.

Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, speaks on a wide variety of issues, but all of them centre around the ubiquity of computing and free information. We are in a time of “combinatorial innovation”, where there’s an abundance of raw components, and innovation lies in using what is already available in the right combinations. In other words, we are standing at the start of a period of potential: we have what we need to innovate and now need to play around with it. Such periods revolve around a specific innovation (electronics in the 20s, integrated circuits in the 70s), and this time around, the fulcrum is the Internet.

This is similar to the point I suggested in a paper last term, where I argued that the ubiquity of tools positions us at the beginning of an “age of innovation” (borrowing the term from Felix Janszen). As more people become comfortable with computing and as tools for software innovation become more accessible, we have been and are going to continue seeing an acceleration in the realization of good ideas. Business practices and marketing, I predict, will take a back seat to quality and value to society. This is why the most successful online companies, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, concentrate on the product first, and the revenue stream later. I have seen this baffle tradition business-types (and of course journalists), but a quality product is the only way a company can ensure that a better service created in some kid’s basement bedroom won’t pull the rug out from under you (as Facebook, Twitter, and Google have all done themselves).

2 thoughts on “Underestimating the ubiquity of data

  1. hey Peter,
    I enjoyed your post.

    I was wondering if you could expand on your prediction that “Business practices and marketing will take a back seat to quality and value to society.” I think what your getting at is that a business model that puts social capital at the forefront will be far more successful in the value it generates for its users?

    I might be joining a Research team at Ryerson that is undertaking a multi-year SHRCC project on the impact of “always-on” technologies (I dont need to explain those to you!) in companies and organizations. I will keep you posted.

  2. Hey Jeff,

    Thanks for the comment, and sorry for the delayed response.

    Recently, a friend of mine observed that the wild imaginings once restricted to science fiction writers are now approaching achievability and that struck a chord. It seems that, as it becomes easier to do so, yesterday’s thinkers are becoming today’s creators. This is a trend that’s still developing, but humour me as I work it out what is means if it keeps unfolding. What I suggest is likely exhaggerated and overhyped, but to simplify the idealistic results is best for conveying my point. Also, note that I’m approaching this from the technological angle, on the premise that the Internet will be the fulcrum of cultural mentality in the future.

    As tool creation becomes more accessible, the digital masses are able to create products that they need. These tools undergo a form of new-age Darwinism, whereby the products which benefit society, and therefore most deserve it, survive. We see that this has begun in open source communities, where a project that doesn’t listen to user demand is simply branched off into another project.

    Open-source mentality has progressed into internet culture. The online world is approaching a phase of “if you wish it, you can make that” –provided, of course, that somebody else has not already implemented it for you. This is why I think that quality of content is surpassing business prowess in achieving success.

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