The world’s infotech industry may appear to be in decline after the heady days of the late 1990s. Even the giants are finding the going difficult. The Nasdaq is back to the October levels, as there is a growing belief that the US recovery is going to take time. For the telecom industry, the light at the end of the tunnel is still not in sight. One bright spot for India has been the performance of the software companies, with almost all of them showing growth in excess of 25-30% in the past year, and projecting at least a 15-20% growth in the coming year. In a market where corporate spending on IT is declining, India’s has been a very creditable performance.
The slow IT spend is what we are seeing on the surface. Underneath, there are some very interesting developments taking place which promise to open up new opportunities for companies willing to look below. This buzz is happening among early adopters, in some of the geeky techie websites and writings, and with the smaller startups. It is almost like an underground network of sorts, with the portents to spark of a revolution in the times to come, even as the establishment (the bigger companies) worry about the present and near-term survival and growth.
We are seeing the start of the third technology revolution in the past quarter century. This started in the 1970s with the mix of chips and software and led to the birth of the personal computer industry. Computers and software had been around for many years, but companies like Intel, Microsoft, IBM and Apple made them available to a mass market through their innovations and marketing strategies. The computer, till today, remains the technology platform for companies and countries. Moore’s Law put silicon on a fast track of continuous improvements. Software made use of the faster processing speeds.
The second revolution came with the advent of the World Wide Web (WWW) in the 1990s, made possible by the use of the HTML language, the HTTP protocol and the Web browser. Together, they made is easy for making information available across computers. The hyperlink broke boundaries and connected documents, just as the Internet connected computers. A new generation of companies was born, bubble economy transmogrified (albeit for a brief time) the world. The survivors – Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, Google, Overture – were names we wouldn’t have recognised a decade ago (because they didn’t exist), and yet every day these sites touch our lives.
The third revolution is now in its formative stage. Writes Tim O’Reilly in an article, “Inventing the Future” (April 9, 2002):
“The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” I recently came across that quote from science-fiction writer William Gibson, and I’ve been repeating it ever since.
So often, signs of the future are all around us, but it isn’t until much later that most of the world realizes their significance. Meanwhile, the innovators who are busy inventing that future live in a world of their own. They see and act on premises not yet apparent to others. In the computer industry, these are the folks I affectionately call “the alpha geeks,” the hackers who have such mastery of their tools that they “roll their own” when existing products don’t give them what they need.
The alpha geeks are often a few years ahead of their time. They see the potential in existing technology, and push the envelope to get a little (or a lot) more out of it than its original creators intended. They are comfortable with new tools, and good at combining them to get unexpected results.
Tim’s take on the future: Wireless, Next-generation search engines, Weblogs, Instant Messaging, File Sharing, Grid Computing, Web Spidering