Frank’s post about Social Search reminds me of some work going on in artificial intelligence right now. On the down side, this area is being called Web 3.0. Other than that unfortunate moniker, as the NY Times reported last November, the growth in using AI to build a semantic Web — that is “a system that can give a reasonable and complete response to a simple question like: ‘Iâ€™m looking for a warm place to vacation and I have a budget of $3,000. Oh, and I have an 11-year-old child.'” — may displace how we search the Web. The article details the difference in data mining techniques and “more organic fashion, from technologies that systematically extract meaning from the existing Web” of Flickr and Digg are early examples. If these new approaches occur and some service displaces Google (which I believe will happen), they will do so because of a new way of approaching search (as one commentator noted).
Google will likely try to hang on as Frank suggests, but the killer will come from an unseen mover. “Bridging the Gap Between Stewards and Creators,” a recent paper by Robert Austin and Richard Nolan (a good discussion of the ideas in the paper is here), tries to explain how an established company will have stewards who are managers and creators who are the tech geeks who create high value and the gaps between them. More on the tensions between risk takers and managers and the impact for technology businesses is below the fold.
The tech people may find a disruptive technology, but whether it is seen as such and taken to market is a different problem. The study interviewed folks at Xerox PARC as well as people such as Vint Cerf to unravel the disconnection. The paper also shows how people ignored the Internet and other technologies for quite some time because managers focus on seeing where the return on investment would occur as opposed the dedication to visionary goals. That these two clash is not that new, but the paper details the way in which entrenched companies may stop taking risks and some new company will jump in to change the business landscape because it follows a vision. Of course the story is not so simple. The video presentation has commentary by panelists on of whom points out that capital requirements and timing impact success such that one must appreciate Microsoft’s development of exchange took $500-750 million. As the commentator put it “The tricky thing within startups is that you have this tension between the need for immediate market engagement and this desire that you want to do a market risk disruptive technology and those two things are in incredible tension.” (approx. time stamp 21:40-22:45).
As far as the law is concerned, there is a danger lurking within this dynamic. Google or some other group will cry out that the law must rescue its business for others are stealing or pirating or some other evil ing. The armies of lawyers, spin doctors, policy wonks, etc. will rally and lobby Congress and/or sue small companies out of existence. Both processes will encourage new laws or applications of the law to protect a perhaps transient business model. The danger is that the law will now curtail the ability of others to compete in general or foster even more claims regarding X is a property or Y cannot engage in Z activity because it impacts X’s alleged property. Domain names seem like a good example of this phenomenon. In short, it seems that it takes years for the law to catch up to technology and by the time it does technology has again moved forward such the law has difficulty in managing the new conflicts. All of which is not to say that the law should or will stop having something to say about the conflicts. Rather, it seems that the policy here should be guided by more than claims that protect transient value. To be honest, I am not sure that I have a good answer as to how to resolve the tension between transient value and the real need to protect certain aspects of business. The Stewards and Creators paper simply reminded me of this tension and indicates that the business world faces a similar problem within companies which is curious by itself.