Lichens of the Internet

Making the online landscape fertile

Looking back, it seems to me some companies existed to make the online landscape fertile for other companies. In the process, these companies end up getting crowded out by new companies taking advantage of a more hospitable growth environment. The early companies are like lichens.

CompuServe. America Online. Prodigy. Hotmail. Yahoo.


Declining nerd levels

CompuServe made it comfortable for 50% nerds to regularly use online tools. By 50% nerds, I mean those who were not already using online tools as government or higher education employees.

America Online blazed a trail for 25% nerds. Then with a marketing push that flooded the country with AOL floppy disks and CDs, they widened the trail all the way to 10% nerds.

Prodigy did it with email and message boards. Hotmail did it with webmail. Yahoo did it with search.

Preparing to die

What these companies and countless others did not do is continually renew themselves. From my perspective, they got to the top of the mountain and got cocky, became proud — decided to just stay there. Meanwhile, the mountains eroded out from under them, forming diversified hills.

Continental survivors

By contrast, companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Amazon stick around for the long haul. They like going up mountains and hanging out, but they take time to visit the valleys, lakes, and deserts, too. When you get tired of hanging out on Facebook’s mountain, you’ll still see these big players when you come down.

Growth Facebook facilitated

Most of the stuff people use Facebook for was around, and even free, before people knew what Facebook was. Again, Facebook just made the environment friendlier for these people to come online and start messing around. (I could make another list for Yahoo fairly easily.)

Activity updates (Twitter,) Photo sharing (Flickr,) Videos (YouTube,) Online games (Countless predecessors,) News feeds (RSS,) Live chat (AOL Instant Messenger, IRC,) and so forth.

Granddaddys and wannabes

You might think Facebook could plan their future by making money from new ventures that came about on their coattails. Sure, they’re making money from games, and from other apps here and there. They have their ad network going. But they just haven’t convinced me they are a solid player. (Their ads even make me wonder if they hired some MySpace designers.)

When I think of Facebook and any other things I want to do on the internet, I do not feel confident they will do things right.

When I think of Google, on the other hand — I feel like they are the granddaddy of all. In fact, I feel like Facebook often is just wanting to play catchup with Google. They want to be like granddad.

Social is dying

I’m glad Google Wave died. I’m not too confident Google Plus will be around in 3 years. I also don’t think Facebook will be much more than another Friendster and MySpace in 5 years.

I think social is here to stay, but it will become more distributed.

P.S. on the Twitter

Oh yeah, and Twitter? I’ll give them maybe 3 years before they start going downhill, and that is generous. I think their user base is aging, younger people don’t want to waste their time with it, and there is no viable strategic evolution for the company’s core service.


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