Thursday, November 19, 2009

Secret to Innovation - technology and social movement together. Thoughts from PhoCusWright Innovation Summit

Another follow up from yesterday’s Travel Innovation Summit at the PhoCusWright. During the presentation I saw a lot screens and tech diagrams from innovators showing the latest in Web 2/3.0 technology. Lots of impressive looking technology touching on search, collaboration, analytics, content aggregation, mobile and more. Despite the impressive nature of the technology on display I came away reminded that technology is not enough for innovation. With innovation there is also critical need for an execution element and timing the product with social readiness for its adoption. For a new piece of technology to be capable of becoming an innovation it has to be timed to match the social movement and consumer readiness to use it (or be capable of holding on long enough for consumers to catch up).

This was particularly front of mind for me because only recently we learnt about Yahoo! finally shutting down GeoCities (TechCrunch story here). A business it bought for $2.87billion. At the height of GeoCities (wikipedia here) popularity it was the number one place for user generated content and destination information. It was the blogging platform before there were blogging platforms. Countless personal GeoCities pages were set up by individuals to talk about their lives, animals, home towns, travel experiences and more. Millions of words of local content were available through GeoCities years before TravelMuse, Nileguide, Geckogo, Tripsay, TripAdvisor, Uptake, etc were a glint in an angel funder’s eye. Yet it died. Clearly not for lack of user generated content. Sean Keener of BootsnAll said at breakfast yesterday that GeoCities died because Yahoo! blew it because they did not know what to do with it. There is something in this. But another reason why GeoCities died was that it came out too far ahead of the desire for consumers to share themselves with the InterTube world. When GeoCities was at its peak in 2000/2001 the traffic was high, the usage was ok but there was no revenue model (no AdSense or equiv) and no sharing and distribution mechanisms (twitter, facebook, URL shortening). The consumer trend for writing, sharing and engaging in social commentary was not there to support the business. The product/technology was launched too far ahead of the social desire and trend to use it.

Don’t believe in this need for technology and social change to be together? Let me give you another example. In 1996 – as a young lawyer- I was excited to load PointCast as my screen saver. Without me having to click a button or search a site, news and information was pushed to me. All the information I used to have to surf around to find was coming to me in a means that was more convenient, faster and “hands free”. Everybody in the firm followed suit and downloaded the product. Then in Jan 1997 (wikipedia story here) Murdoch offered $450mm for company. While PointCast was holding out for more money network admins across the corporate world were finding their network s crashing down under the load of constant information queries. Employees were banned from using PointCast. Without complaint we shrugged and uninstalled PointCast. The critical part was “without complaint”. We liked the feature but did not need it. It was not that big a deal to go back to reading the local paper, BBC and CNN online. Within moments Murdoch pulled the bid and PointCast was later sold for (a paltry) $7mm and shut down a year later. Fast forward to 2009 and each of us has a newsreader indexing hundreds of information and news site. If companies tried to block newsreaders there would be an employee revolution and drop in productivity. PointCast was the first prototype of a news reader but socially we did not need to fight for it and did not miss it much when it left because there wasn’t enough content out there to compel the need for an aggregation product. Technology came too early for the consumers.

My point from these two examples is that when trying to innovate it is critical to focus as much on timing and social readiness as it is to focus on the technology and product. Making sure consumers are available and ready to pick up what you are building.

I talk about this in my EveryYou concept. Our ability to develop a specific and targeted recommendation of one based on the unique combination of desires, needs and interests of each individual at any moment in time is only now becoming available because of the matching of technological capability (near unlimited processing power) and consumer desire to share information and data and receive targeted advice and replies.

What do you think? How important is timing in innovation?

thanks to Vermin Inc for the photo

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