Microsoft completely missed the rise of social networks, but amazingly so did AOL, who had AIM as a great starting point.
I wrote about possibly building something cool on top of AIM based on the Buddygopher experiment, way back in 2006, and I was contacted by people reporting to Jim Bankoff, a VP at AOL. We set up a project to build what would have been a very cool app: project name Nerdvana. My partner, Greg Narain, and I were pushing at content curation through a stream-based, open follower architecture leveraging the 400M+ AIM accounts then in use.
Alas, Jim Bankoff, now CEO of SB Nation, left AOL after Randy Falco joined AOL. The project petered out without serious sponsorship, the budget pulled away to other AIM related projects. We never even got to build the prototype.
But Microsoft and Yahoo also failed to try to make the transition from disconnected buddylists to a unified social network. Likewise my client Jabber, who opted to not build a social network solution on top of its distributed protocol, and is now a part of Cisco.
You can say that these ideas were too early, but these are companies that had all the motivation in the world to experiment ahead of the wavefront.
Perhaps this failure to attempt to design speculatively is another proof of Ven Rao’s Manufactured Normalcy Field: the sense that the present will last a good while into the future, instead of the continuous creative destruction mindset, where the present is being relentlessly consumed by the future, which is only a few weeks, days, or minutes from now. But the bigger the company, the more likely they are to act as if the present is eternal, and the future is retreating as fast as they amble forward.
That’s why Microsoft has fallen so far, to the point where Apple’s revenues from the iPhone alone are more than Microsoft’s entire top line. That’s why AOL has fallen like a meteorite, vaporizing on a death trajectory toward the center of the Earth. That’s why Yahoo has lost its mojo. They stopped speculating, and tried to treat the future as the back porch of the present.
This is a problem all companies face, but tech companies suffers from this the most because their main product is innovation…