Tech is cyclic

Note: I posted this as a comment on Medium under Matt Carroll’s post that included a link to Evan Williams saying that the open platforms are over. This is my rebuttal.

Tech is cyclic. First there was an open platform, then silo-makers were able to build something higher level by foreclosing on the openness. Then they stagnate because big companies get stuck in the Way Things Always Have Been, and the users get skilled, a new generation comes along and they see how to make progress outside the silo and enough people use the new open system so it gains traction. It’s always more exciting than the stale corporate silos, so for a while they blossom, until the cycle repeats.

The winners of one cycle always think they see how to get to the next level without being open and they always end up very rich but off in a cul de sac far away from where the new stuff is happening.

I saw this happen, in my career, the first time with the winners of the minicomputer era, who didn’t understand why people loved the underpowered PCs that could do a tiny fraction of what their big iron could do. (We loved the PC because it was ours to do with as we pleased.)

Then Bill Gates boasted he wouldn’t get stuck when the next thing came along he’d embrace it and he did, but it still rolled over him, as it had to, because he had too much invested in preserving his victory in the previous cycle. That story is fully documented in the early archive of this blog.

And so it goes. No one ever seems to escape the loop, though there is a way out of it, they are all super impressed with their success and believe it has to do with some innate superiority they have. But so were the founders of DEC and Microsoft and Google and even Facebook now. They were all super smart, and they all got stuck when they won. The only way out of it is to shed the results of victory and get back down in the trenches. That’s what Steve Jobs did when Apple rebooted in 1997.

That’s why Ev is right and wrong. He was able to improve on RSS with Twitter because it controlled the subscription process. It was a much-needed improvement so Twitter caught fire. But it’s now ten years later. Enough time has passed, there’s a new generation around, and the cloud technology today is vastly better than it was ten years ago. Hold on, because the ride is about to get interesting. And Ev’s analysis just couldn’t be more wrong for today. It was right a few years ago, but we’re at a different point in the cycle now.

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