There's a lot of nothing going on in the tech industry because companies are no longer motivated by technology, but by crazy, super-fast success. We see this nothingness in the social media bubble, which feels very close to bursting these days with Facebook about to have its big-bonanza IPO after buying up Instagram for way too much money. It's just a lot of me-tooism, as The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal put it. After seeing a model that works, a bunch of other companies take that idea, tweak it (barely, if at all), and sell it as a new concept, hoping to make money off of something that looks like it works in a very short period of time. Think: Pinterest, which operates like Facebook plus Tumblr plus Twitter. It's certainly not a tech pioneer, yet it achieved its success at breakneck pace. But this mentality rules the tech space today and it's hindering innovation, as Fast Company's arhad Manjoo notes. "These megahits present a danger for the tech business," he writes.
If these companies are attracting huge audiences, why does Manjoo see danger? Well, problem: tech success, these days, is quantified by super, super fast growth. Manjoo gives Path and Pinterest as his examples -- two social networks that within a year got millions of users. Again, this sounds like a favorable outcome, but, there are two problems with this setup. First, these companies haven't added anything to the world, in terms of technological innovation. "Thousands of startups are doing almost exactly the same thing, minor variations on a theme," wrote Madrigal a few weeks ago. (He's basically talking about the social media bubble.) He continues:
The dominant idea has been to gather users and get them to pour their friends, photos, writing, information, clicks, and locations into your app. Then you sell them stuff (Amazon.com, One King's Lane) or you take that data and sell it in one way or another to someone who will sell them stuff (everyone). I return to Jeff Hammerbacher's awesome line about developers these days: 'The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.'
The desire to be the next Facebook, or an even better, more successful, faster-growing, version of Facebook has pushed tech "entrepreneurs" to create uninventive twists on Facebook. These aren't inventions. But, it's the quickest path to "success."
The other issue, Manjoo points out: Some of the greatest innovations don't succeed quickly. "The iPod's early years suggest that the industry will lose something in the rush to kill off products that don't catch fire immediately," he writes. By today's fast-paced standards, the iPod would have been on the same level as HP's TouchPad, which got nixed after months of slow sales. The iPod took years to succeed. And, compared to most tech innovations today, it was an actual technology game-changer. Today, not many products see that long of a lag between inception and widespread use. (Again, see HP's TouchPad.)
Madrigal believes this new approach to tech is a result of our own inability to comprehend this digital world. "Internet technology used to feel like it was really going to change so many things about our lives. Now it has and we're all too stunned to figure out what's next," he writes.
That make sense, but maybe it's just that people like to get rich—the quicker, the better. Thinking is hard, taking risks and waiting for them to pay off is harder still. Riding the bubble? Well, that's just a lot easier
Image via Shutterstock by violetkaipa.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.