Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

5yrs - Lessons And Insights: Where's The Disruption From The Internet?

Posted by Tom Foremski - August 19, 2009

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[5yrs: Lessons and insights as a blogger/journalist - This is part 2 published at 4pm Pacific every day (or so). Part 1 is here.]

After leaving the Financial Times in mid-2004 to become a professional "blogger/journalist" I began to think intensely about the nature of media and its changes. Coming from the old world and now jumping into the deep-end of the new world, it triggered some very interesting insights into the nature of the world around me.

At the time, I had the attitude typical of traditional journalists: blogging was merely a hyped up form of self-publishing, a narcissistic trend with very little value, and frankly, we were all sick to death of hearing about it.

Boy, was I wrong, as I soon found out. In fact, soon after I started blogging, I began to see everything as a media "nail" - I had found my hammer. And the more I did it (blogged), the more I discovered . . . and the more I discovered about myself. It's embarrassing to say this, but blogging also turned into an incredible spiritual journey (more on that later).

Who would have thought that an activity that I didn't value at all, and which my colleagues often looked down upon, could turn into such an incredible resource of value to me.

New ways of thinking about old

The more I blogged the more I thought about media and it's role in society, and what it means. This thinking process would happen in the background, it was as my mind would think about such things unconsciously. Then, when it had figured out an answer to a question, it would throw it out into my consciousness, usually during a time when I was doing something else, such as walking down the street.

One of the questions I had harbored for a long time was about the Internet. I had often wondered where was the disruption from this powerful set of technologies?

After all, I could see the disruption from other types of technologies. The microcomputer/PC had had an incredibly disruptive effect. It started off as a simple, microprocessor based technology. The Homebrew Club, a small group of enthusiasts that included Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and a few dozen others, had come together to further investigate the microcomputer and figure out what you could do with it. All the computer companies dismissed it as toy-like.

Eventually, the microcomputer developed into a hugely disruptive force that remade entire industries and threw hundreds if not thousands of companies onto the trash-heap of history.

Where was the disruption from the Internet?

The microcomputer/PC had certainly made my life as journalist, much better, much more productive. And I could see the tremendous disruptive effect it had had on the world. But where was the disruptive effect from the Internet? Surely this was an even more powerful set of technologies. But where was the disruption? Where were the all the companies dumped onto the trash-heap of history?

In 2004 I looked around and the same tech companies were still around as they were when the Internet began emerging into the commercial world ten years ago. Sure, some tech companies were no longer around, they had been acquired by competitors. But this type of mergers and acquisitions activity was normal in maturing markets. Where was the disruptive effect from the Internet?

And then it hit me. I was walking along Geary Street and I almost fainted.

The disruptive effect from the Internet was not in the technology sector, it was in my sector! It was in the media industry. The reason I could see no disruption in the tech sector from the effects of the Internet was because it's a media technology. And so that's where you would find its disruptive effect!

I almost fell over but everything else in my world fell into place. This was why newspapers and magazines had been struggling for years, a constant stream of layoffs and shrinking revenues. It wasn't primarily because of the economy it was because of the disruptive effect of the Internet!

The Internet is a universal publishing technology, it's a media technology, it enables "pages" to be published to any computer screen regardless of its hardware and operating system platform. This was the first phase of the Internet.

I began to see that blogging represented a second phase of the Internet. Now, any computer screen, regardless of its underlying platform, could publish back. It was as if we had wired up the other end of the Internet, now we have a two way Internet. Now we have an Internet on steroids.

I realized that if Internet 1.0 was disruptive, then Internet 2.0, the two-way Internet, would be even more disruptive. Hold onto your hats...

Next up in this series 5yrs - Lessons and Insights: A visit to Cisco and Dan Scheinman - head of M&A and comms... when every company is a media company.

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