Most of the people here are classed as geeks in some way or other, or have an equivalent moniker
associated with them. For the geek in all of us, the computer is the big technological 'thing'
that we know about and use every day. We all know about
Moore's Law, and the
technological marvels it has effectively predicted for the last 36 years. However, that is purely
a measure of hardware efficiency; software certainly isn't getting logarithmically better over
I find it an interesting disparity, especially as a programmer, that rather than ramping up with
the speed of our hardware, we prefer to use that improvement as a way to beautify the status quo.
Sure, improved hardware gives you more free cycles to animate that paper clip that dances all over
your screen as you write mail or crunch numbers in a spreadsheet, but those cycles don't really get
you working any faster. For some people such as scientists, improvements in hardware speed result in either
faster or more accurate results to experiments. For us mere mortals though, the real gain is seen in
corporate bottom lines. Hardware innovates to provide, while most software innovates to market itself.
Innovation to provide pretty much drives itself. We're seeing a silicon equivalent of the space
race, and all the players involved want to be able to publish a "we're king of the hill" press
release as often as possible. So long as that continues, consumers don't need to be involved, though
they need to be informed, and willing to act should Bad Change be on the horizon. Software
is a very different can of worms though. People need applications, but do they need them to have
the amount of functionality we see today? The role of software marketing is to make people
feel left out if they don't have the most up-to-date version of a particular application. A clever
application of peer pressure. If the software manufacturer can't get to you that way, your friends,
company or clients will. You can rest assured that someone you interact with has taken the bait of
the upgrade, and has left you in an ever-so-slightly incompatible state. Nature abhors a vacuum, and
human nature abhors non-conformity.
What can you do to change this? Open standards in file formats is one method. Sun's Star Office
suite is moving towards an XML-based format for saving files. In theory, you could use open-source
tools to transform this format into any other, be it PDF, Excel, or Photoshop. This isn't in the
market leader's interest though, as they have a user base to protect. For the time being, the best
way to erode a market leader's share is to copy them as much as possible, while offering some other
form of value which they cannot provide due to their business process.
Lets look at another group who are currently close to me (although, ironically, I am not
allowed to use their products): the global
industry. Now, before we all get into the normal
conspiratorial view of things, lets take a look at their product (and yes, I know Bill Gates has
used them as a reference in the past too).
Cars are a very different beast from computers. In the case of the computer, you can drive a
market (no pun) with perceived features such as speed and efficiency. That can work on cars too
(especially the efficiency), but cars are more look and feel than anything else, because of the
constraints put on their use (unless you like going to court with great frequency). The car
industry is extremely conservative. Production of a new line of vehicles is so expensive that if
you fail, it can destroy your profits very quickly indeed. As a result, the motor industry
innovates to expectations.
As expectations are so important here, changing expectations change markets. Witness the SUV
explosion of the last few years. People made it clear that they wanted a vehicle that was
capable of carrying a good number of people around in solid comfort. The manufacturers complied
with this, and the SUV was born. Looking at them all today though, you could say that The
SUV was born, because they are all basically the same.
How can you make such a homogenous industry a little more... interesting? Get involved. Let
the makers know that you like things about their concept cars. Push to have these things built
for real; it's been shown to work in Europe. The Mercedes A Class is a wonderous vehicle (inital
problems nonwithstanding) - small externally, but with larger interior space than a C Class and
as safe in an accident. Having the public directly express its opinion does make these people
sit up and take notice.
Finally, as they are the current poster children of the online world for all the wrong reasons,
lets turn our field of vision to the music industry. How can you innovate here? Surely it's all
bands, concerts, CDs and marketing videos.
Well, bands innovate by being human and finding new ways to express themselves. In a somewhat
Darwinian fashion, however skewed, some succeed and some fail. Concerts can provide a better
experience to the viewer, either through better sound, vision, or both. Video content is now
frequently a story in 3 minutes, and if it hasn't happened already, I'm sure we'll see the
time when a series of videos combine to tell an overall story (the video as medium for an epic).
CDs and other prior media have seen innovation as better ways to get the audio content from a
band to a consumer, but as I mentioned in a recent article response, today's market
yet another distribution medium. Not the consumers at least. Music is now an industry that
innovates to exist.
Music is an industry ripe for change. The individual has serious power here now, and the industry doesn't
like that at all. Introduction of copy protection, and lobbying of legislatures is all part of
their goal of continuing to exist. The most basic role the play, as an intermediary, is still relevant,
but their larger purpose (making lots of money at the expense of many people) isn't. People are
trying to get the traditional companies out of the picture here, through systems like Napster (which
is still heavily dependent on the traditionals to initially get music), or sites that make
music by unsigned artists available. As we become even more technologically advanced, expect to
see this happen more, and be successful too.
Hopefully this has given you some interesting ideas for Making Things Change. All industries have
their own, special cattle prods. If you can discover where they are, and how to operate them, you
can make them move, or move them out of the way.