What Can The Last 30 Years Teach Us About The Next 10?
7 Insights From Reading How The Internet Happened by Brian McCullough
Why Read This Book?
First, Crypto Mania. Is bitcoin a bubble or truly a revolution? Have all the blockchain opportunities been exploited or are we still early to the party?
To answer this question, I decided to study the history of the internet. It’s the closest situation we have for comparison’s sake.
Second, General Interest. I’m passionate about technology. Learning the history of any subject typically proves to be useful and enjoyable.
* all quotes are from How The Internet Happened by Brian McCullough
1) User Interface as a Barrier To Adoption
Widespread adoption of the internet did not occur until it was user-friendly.
The Internet, in short, needed its own GUI revolution, that application/user interface innovation that would make the Internet user-friendly just as the graphical user interface had done with computing itself.
Mosaic, an early web browser, was a good example of this.
Mosaic had become the most successful project in computer science by leaving the computer scientists behind and appealing to the mainstream.
Simplication, dumbing down, and layers of abstraction (enabling people to use crypto without needing to know anything) are some of the clearest opportunities in the space.
2) Mindboggling Paradigm Changes in Speed & Scale
The internet brought about multiple paradigm shifts that ultimately made the world orders of magnitude faster.
Companies could release products and updates faster.
They had discovered that you could dream up a product, code it, release it to the ether and change the world overnight…. The old era of two-year product cycles was over.
Services could grow faster.
By 1999, usage of the search engine was increasing by as much as 50% a month. From 100,000 searches a day at the beginning of that year, Google searches grew to an average of 7 million per day by the end of it.
Money could be made (and lost) faster.
It had taken twelve years before you could begin to talk about all the millionaires Microsoft had minted. Netscape had done it in fifteen months.
3) Infrastructure and Timing
YouTube wouldn’t have worked if it was launched in the 1990s.
Storage was too expensive, and internet speeds weren’t there yet.
All of the money poured into technology companies in the first half decade of the Internet Era created an infrastructure and economic foundation that would allow the Internet to mature.
It was only when high bandwidth, cheap storage, device ubiquity, and mindshare (cultural adoption) of technology matured that an idea like YouTube could succeed.
The hidden opportunity? Consider what good ideas failed in the past because of insufficient infrastructure or bad timing. Maybe you could revive them?
4) Have We Gone Backwards — The Old Way Seems Better
I was too young to use AOL’s AIM. Reading about their features excited me.
AOL’s chat had an extra feature called the “Buddy List” that alerted you as to which of your friends were online at the same time you were, so you could hit them up for a quick conversation.
The system also allowed you to leave an away message so that your friends could know when they might expect you to be online again.
Why is this not a feature on every messaging app? This would resolve an incredible amount of uncertainty in communications.
Just as Ryan Holiday has made a career off of rewriting ancient Roman texts, tech entrepreneurs would be wise to do some grave-digging.
Some great ideas live in the past!
5) Overlapping Social Circles
The Paypal Mafia is not the only alumni network of serial winners. This book exposed a few additional examples of how the same groups of people seemingly popped up over and over again in big ways.
General Magic was an Apple spin-out that Pierre Omidyar of eBay; Tony Fadell, the father of the iPod; and Andy Rubin, the inventor of the Android operating system, all worked at before going on to fame and fortune elsewhere.
General Magic itself eventually failed and shut down, but the relationships and ideas that it nurtured lead to many eventual successes.
I take this as a reason to be optimistic. The people who commit themselves to the mission of finding beneficial uses of innovative technology seem to eventually do so.
6) Finding New Fundamentals
Speculation around internet companies created a new set of challenges for investors.
Plenty of commentators were shocked that a company that had yet to make any sustained profit could be valued so highly.
Before the internet, P/E ratios were a pretty durable method for appraising a stock.
A traditional old-economy stock like General Electric was trading at forty times earnings.
What do you do in the world where companies could go from not existing, to having millions of users overnight? Old models can’t keep up!
The internet’s paradigm shifts make it necessary to find new measures of projected future value. This problem is still largely unsolved for Web 2.0 tech firms (Facebook, Google, etc) and presents an even greater challenge for pricing Web 3.0 technologies such as cryptocurrencies (BTC, ETH, etc).
7) We Are Still Early
“I thought I had missed the whole thing,” Andreessen would later say of his arrival in California. “The overwhelming mood in the Valley when I arrived was that it was done. The PC was done, and by the way, the Valley was probably done because there was nothing else to do.” — Quote from Marc Andreessen in the 90s
It takes a long time to mix and match all of the new ideas that emerge from the new possibilities that emerge from new technologies.
It takes an even longer time to mix and match all of the new possibilities that emerge from the ideas that just emerged from the ideas that also just emerged from the other new possibilities and technologies.
That was purposely overwhelming. Computers and the internet shatter multiple paradigms all at once. Then, the subsequent inventions shatter even more paradigms. This positive feedback loop leads to exponential innovation.
We are still in the early innings of computers, software, the internet, e-commerce, cryptocurrencies, and blockchains.
To think it would only take 30–50 years to fully realize every potential beneficial implication of these technologies is extremely naive.
You haven’t missed the boat.
As Dickie Bush would say, “grab a shitty rod and start fishing.”