Who will be the next Google?

Looming opportunities for technological innovation

Google is a rich company because it developed the first search engine that really worked.

Someone was going to do it. There were a bunch of search engines. There still are. But Google got it right ahead of the others.

They did smart things after that too of course. Quickly did a 180 on advertising, from considering it bad to making it their business model. And they saw sponsorship of keywords as the way to generate billions fast. They did all of that really quickly. Some might say they were shallow in their original anti-advertising positioning, or cynical in being able to turn on a dime on what they considered a morality issue, but those are not the real answers. I think they were smart. They got the message quickly. That’s a good thing. Not being stuck is a good thing. Being able to look at things anew by sheer self-will is a good thing.

Imagine if back when the Greeks invented the alphabet, there were competitors with alternative alphabets. That was sort of the way it was with search engines, which are a kind of alphabet for finding things in endless meme space.

Apple is a rich company again because they continue — ahead of others — to give consumers the easy and beautiful way to get into computers and other computer-based technology based on computers. It’s really simple to get on the mental emotional side of the consumer and see what they are going to love. But simple does not imply easy or common, in the context of reality as it is here on Earth in 2012. Love is simple but people screw it up all the time. Simple, today, is not so simple to achieve.

AOL was a rich company for awhile because it was the first to make email and chat and an Internet-like experience available to people who were not gadget-minded or technology-oriented.

Facebook is a rich company because it was first to activate people to celebrate themselves and their friendships. The name helped, although MySpace is a good name too, so it wasn’t just that. MySpace somehow did not make it something one had to do. Facebook became something everyone had to do, even if one’s wall is being painted by everyone else including people you don’t know, and you never have time to update it yourself.

The relative yesterday-ness of AOL and Yahoo appears to be the result of not constantly re-inventing themselves to leapfrog ahead with still more technological innovations. Instead falling behind in figuring out what their users love, as our formidable editor Yana Lambert points out.

Perhaps they lost focus on technological innovation when they got caught up in learning the advertising business, which is a complex Glass Bead Game that can take up all one’s perceptual, intuitive, intellectual and emotional capabilities. The lesson at any rate is that if one wants to continue to be a rich company one has to continue to innovate technologically and not just in terms of advertising methods.

Where do the opportunities lie in early 2012 for technological innovation that will totally disrupt the playing board once again in terms of our everyday lives?

  1. Discovery Engine. Like Pandora, but for all content. Helps people discover things that interest and delight them that they are not discovering today. Collaborative Filtering Technique (CFT) as used by Amazon et al is just not good enough. Some degree of scalable content coding (keywords) is needed in order to add insight into why readers who bought Hermann Hesse also bought Thomas Mann. What keyword-codable qualities can be attributed to both authors? (My former company Next Century Media is still nurturing some technology that I started in this area — by way of full disclosure as I still have a little stock.)
  2. Self-Discovery Engine. Same thing but pointed inwards to find out more about yourself. Perhaps a program in whatever replaced Prolog. Carries on a conversation with you. When it strikes a chord, it brings out and shows you content that reveals a side of you, validating that you can now see a new side of you, because you find that content does resonate with you. This technology ideally gets developed in the same stream as the Discovery Engine. Xyte is a company to watch in this field. Freud was the first inventor in terms of popular self-knowledge in modern times but the quest goes back to the Vedas.
  3. Voice/Hand Signal/Eye Signal Command. Military technology carried over to the consumer world making cellphones, tablets, PCs/Macs, TVs etc. more capable of starting processes from simpler commands rather than screen and keyboard touches. Touchscreen is already far ahead of keyboards, but still they require many steps to get to what you want, where a single spoken word could get you there in a second. Today’s smartphones already have some voice command capabilities. One day you will be able to say “That” and look at something and your screen will fill with colorful thumbnails of things the world can tell you about the object you are looking at. Vizkinect is a company to watch. They are bringing down the cost of eye tracking and are currently focused on advertising but the implications of their work are much broader.
  4. Biofeedback for the masses. For years work has been going on to bring down the cost of biometry so that it can scale into a consumer market. One day it will get there and we will be able to afford yarmulkes with sensors and eyepieces that together tell us instantly the truth about our inner state. We can then learn that e.g. the last sentence I thought in my mind is not speaking from my prefrontal cortex but it is coming from the corpus callosum and limbic interactions that drive my ego. People will use this instead of drugs. It will literally get them high — higher than EOP that is.
  5. Agent. Apple in the era of the failed Newton device talked about a “consumer agent” — a bot that you could send forth to roam the Web for you, tirelessly doing your bidding to bring you insights, schedule your calendar by dealing with other bots and with real humans, etc. This will be a huge productivity booster when someone invents one that is really usable.
  6. Idea Mobilization. Technology that brings ideas and thinkers together automatically and suggest the ways their ideas already fit together. You get an email from a bot that links you with other people who turn out to be exactly the right people you should be meeting and working together with to solve problems you are both working on. LinkedIn being a baby-step model.
  7. Marketing the Individual. This turns advertising around and advertises the individual over the Web. The next natural evolution of Facebook. The kind of thing I have long thought would be the perfect premium incentive to offer people to opt-in to ongoing research online. Is this where Facebook is going with its new Timeline feature?
  8. Genomics. Seattle is a hotbed of innovation in this field. We are not far from the day when every person can afford to know his or her own unique genome early in life. Genomics should not be used to limit opportunity as in the State deciding the course of a person’s life based on the person’s genetic strengths and weaknesses as in the movie Gattaca. People should use their self-knowledge the way they want to use it, freely. They would do best to focus on their potential genetic strengths. Will be interesting to see if genomics correlates with astrology.
  9. The New Grid. As more people begin to generate their own electrical energy (solar, wind, biofuels, geothermal, etc.) they will have surpluses that can be uploaded as a way of gaining discounts on their energy bills, and later as a way of earning income. This is being held back by the old energy grid that sends electricity outward but is not everywhere capable of two-way traffic. Ironically the cable companies have some of the right-of-ways. If such a two-way grid existed everywhere, T. Boone Pickens would have gotten his Texas wind farm and could have sold cheap electricity to the whole country. Con Ed is said to be one of the players working on two-way grid.

Those are some areas where technological innovation will be popping disruptively in the years ahead. Companies will get rich by being first to get it right in each of these areas.

Best to all,

Bill

One thought on “Who will be the next Google?

  1. David Hawthorne

    It’s all true -relatively, Bill. I would emphasize only this: The end of epochs, or what seems in retrospect to be the noticeable ‘fin de siecle,’ is often off by a wide margin. Indeed, in most instances we never see it coming, except in hindsight.

    I stood in the ruins of Pompei on a rainy, cold, gray day, marveling at how contemporary everything seemed. Even the frescoes advertising the available sexual pleasures for sale in the brothel (established sometime before AD64) seemed remarkably modern. (No surprise there, I suppose).

    As I walked through the town, marveling at how modern it all seemed, I noted the cluster of short stone pedestals that appear regularly, rising from the cobble stone roads, at intersections. The guide explained that these were “stepping stones” erected at street crossing ‘because, the cobble stone streets were used as open sewers that drained the awful and other wastes from the homes and buildings. Sandal-clad pedestrians uses the step stones to cross the street.

    The seemed like such a odd contrivance in a place that otherwise was at the apex of ‘smart’ design. From houses to bakeries, to amphitheaters, the buildings and amenities were perfectly sensible.

    The guide explained that waste drained into the streets and ran down hill (now that’s contemporary) all the way to the bay of Naples, down to were the ordinary people lived.

    Why, in all this dazzling display of ingenuity was it o.k. to let the crap run down hill? Why not underground sewers?

    I reasoned I might be observing the effects of slow innovation rates –the speed at which people transmit and adopt new ideas. After all, the citizens of Pompei in AD64 were among the social elite of the Roman Empire, the most advanced culture on Earth.

    So, I briefly researched the history of sewers and learned that the earliest recorded “underground” sewer system is thought to have been built in the Indus Valley region of modern-day Pakistan, 3000 years earlier! Surprisingly, Europeans didn’t start building underground sewer systems until sometime after 1000 AD.

    So what does this tell us? I think it tells us that the most advanced societies (organizations, are societies too) are often the last to adapt, rather than the first. We hang onto the idea that we are on the leading edge, when we are often on the trailing edge. We are too often convinced that we have “already solved” the problem, even though we don’t even know what ‘the problem’ really is.

    Someone, somewhere, has already solved “The Next Big Problem.’ We just haven’t learned about it yet. We are two busy looking at the trailing edge to even know what humans will want to do next. Nothing is a bigger drag on progress than believing that we understand the problem. We are, in a sense, always complaining about ‘gas prices’ when we ought to be focused on better ways to be in more than one place at the same time.

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