Via Om Malik, a recent survey (PDF) of key Silicon Valley players revealed that over 90% of them believed that unique technology was an important asset of start-up companies in the current market.
Interesting stuff, because honestly, how much new technology is there? They say there are seven main storylines, and I think similarly there’s a finite number of ways in which people communicate. I think the rate of computer-related innovation is slowing down; for sure, there’s a space for a world of further development, but we now have systems that everyone can use. We’ve come a long way since my first computer, the Sinclair ZX81, which loaded programs from tape and spoke BASIC at the command prompt. These days, Microsoft Word – which is still 70 or 80% of what people use computers for – starts up in a second or two, and software can be installed very easily. The web is equally as simple: all I have to do is click three buttons on my mouse and I can read the New York Times.
This isn’t to say that something as revolutionary as the web isn’t yet to come. But everything we have now has been a slow development from the early nineties; there’s nothing we have now that we didn’t have in some form in 1991. Therefore, the difference can’t be in terms of core technology. The key to a successful startup has to be about ethos and company culture – to put it simply, it’s social. It’s not about creating something new and amazing, it’s about taking something that already exists and working out how to make it friendly. People had been keeping online logs of their thoughts and activities for decades before Blogger and LiveJournal came along, but those services turned it into a movement. Voice over IP existed for ages before Skype, but that software made it seem new and easy.
There’s a lot of interesting potential out there – at this stage, as the Internet starts to become ubiquitous, the successful tech companies will be the ones that put that power in the hands of ordinary people.