THE BLOG

Beyond The Valley: Billions Blown On Bingo?

09/05/2014 15:36 BST | Updated 08/07/2014 10:59 BST

It's toxically tempting to assume a deep reason for a big company's actions.

The realisation that they're gambling on a game of chance with no clear winners is far less satisfying. Especially when you realise it's a game in which innovation is the loser.

The Titans of Tech are on a buying spree. Facebook snagged the latest attempt to make Virtual Reality real. What's the deep, secret rationale?

Nothing.

Just a sensible, defensive strategy that kills innovation at the root.

Call in the therapists

The dark thought that keeps Mark Zuckerberg and friends up at night is 'Are we the new Yahoo?'.

Doubt plagues any winners. If you can print money why not salve sad feelings by wishing them away? If you don't know what the 'Next Big Thing' is, use the alchemical power of shares to ensure you own anything that might be cool, and prevent any competitor from getting it. In In-Between Days it makes perfect sense.

We are in such an intermediate period. Between, across and within truly tectonic, world changing innovations. Yet the pundits, moneymen and early adopters are dangerously, foolishly bored.

Social media, "Big" data, analytics, and the smartphone (should we stay alive future historians will say App-laden pocket rockets are a more epoch changing innovation than the PC) are old hat to the neophiles and Wall Street.

What's next?

No-one knows. It's Quixotic question.

The ever prescient Om Malik suspects that the platform vendors realise there is an inherent limit to push marketing, desktop biased, advertising ecosystems in a fragmenting, attention deprived world. The big running taps of advertising cash may run dry, soon, as consumers move on. Thus they need to throw darts in hopes of hitting something they can monetise.

If he's right things are even worse.

A coin operated nightmare if we're not careful

In a world devoid of advertising supported models, consumers had better get used to paying up for everything they take for granted. Much like in some Philip K. Dick Ubik nightmare, the digital equivalent of a coin slot will appear everywhere in your life. If the Fundamentalist Prophets of Privacy get their wicked way, depriving content providers and platforms of revenue other than subscriptions and micropayments, then the same coin operated toilet awaits in your pocket.

Intermediate periods, like the early 90s and 00s, throw up lots of possibilities

Quarter baked ideas interest loud minorities, like gamers, and seem important. A new thing comes that will change everything, then disappears before being cut into a thousand pieces with bits integrated into a valid, existing proposition. Like Augmented Reality becoming a training and support tool rather than a sad advert activation mechanism.

Remember the Power Glove? It was gesture control without purpose. This expensive add on to pathetic games and limited consoles was a prototype of how you make your iPhone do stuff. In 1989.

What about The Clapper? Late night US TV infomercials provide a cock-eyed buffet of things that might be relevant but probably won't be for a long time. If at all. The Clapper was a sound activated switch. Clap at it, and it turns off. Amazing? Maybe not until its part of a Smart Phone Internet of Things world. Yet this novelty turned up in 1986.

That's not a wait. That's a generation.

If you are sitting on a pile of equity, that doesn't matter. The Elephant in the Room is that we have been here before. The results are scatological.

The future was cancelled. Or severely delayed

PayPal could have had a vigorous, viable and independent future - founded by revolutionaries who sought to build a firm of world historical importance. They got rich by getting bought, but one doubts that the first meetings at PayPal had 'selling up', 'selling out', or 'investor exit' as agenda points. All the great firms in history from Ford to Facebook were founded on a dream that did not include being swiftly acquired.

This time it's the same, but darker

A plutocratic poverty of ambition is making mayfly swarms of buzz, bluster and fuss which will leave behind just novelties, hints and vague directions after the casino crowd moves on. A far thinner gruel than than the shining survivors of the last bubble gave us all.

Any innovation from this bubbly Baccarat is incidental, likely to be tangential, and certain to be less fully formed when gobbled up by the giants of the moment.

Revolutions are powered by dreams, not offcuts of some successful someone's market capitalisation.

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