The speech by Paul Saffo this evening was very interesting. There were many points he brought up that jive with the stuff that I’ve been working on. There was a lot of stuff he said that meshed well with the events I’ve seen and heard about. Here are some of the points that I found most interesting.
One of his initial points was that while most successful technologies follow the S curve of adoption, engineers still think in terms of straight lines. The S curve means that a technology spends a long time growing very slowly, has a period of rapid growth, and finally tapers off. Paul said that engineers know this, but for some reason still expect a constant slope for adoption. This leads to overexpectation of demand initially, and underestimation once the technology makes it past the inflection point. I have seen this happen with the technologies I’‘ve worked with. There are areas that I almost gave up on because they didn’t appear to be catching on, only to see them explode with sudden activity and broad uptake. I think it was quite insightful to call out that this over enthusiastic approach leads to late comers being able to dominate the area. If the early company doesn’t adjust their outlook they end up underestimating the market and leaving room for someone else to move in.
He also cautioned about telecom companies going after wireless networking by fighting the technology with regulation. He said that 802.11 and VOIP is a real threat to telecom companies, and that once those telcos start failing they’ fight wireless networking using regulations (telco requirements for emergency services, FCC regulations, international regulations, whatever). As a point in this argument he said that 3g and 4g wireless are really hurting. It’s quite likely that these networks will fail, and that the technology in general will be abandoned if it does.
The final point that I want to call out is that he said that us software people just haven’t gotten the interactions with software correct yet. We’ve never been good at interfaces and we probably never will be. But users can figure out what the interface should look like. If they get their hands on the technology they will determine how it should best be used. I think what he was driving at here is that tech is not dead, it just needs some time to get swinging into the next generation. At some point someone will pick up the right mix of rubble from past failures and give birth to the Next Big Thing. I like that point quite a bit, cause I like to think I’m one of the next generation of Silicon Valley. And it gives me a degree of hope in my constant quest for the way that things should work. Eventually something will kick off. And even if it isn’t one of my ideas, hopefully it’ll be something I can be involved with.