Everything old is new again (on the web)

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I use 1995 as the year I reference for the beginning of the “Consumer Web.” That’s not a term that really exists, it’s just an estimated point in the past where the general public started becoming very aware of the Internet.

Yes, I know, websites and email existed before 1995. Maybe 1990 would be a better pick. But whatever date you use, we’re well past a decade and a half of Internet innovations. A lot of the systems we use were conceived and invented in the ’90s and before.

Why should we care? Because once we start to get comfortable with all of these “new” things in our lives, they start trying to improve and reinvent them.

I’ve previously written about Pinterest, which at its core is a new angle on a search engine. Five years ago, “a new search engine” would have been met with reactions like “Why? We already have Google.” Today, people are willing to consider things a little differently.

Does that mean Google gets the boot? Of course not. Even with some recent criticism under its belt, Google isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But businesses are realizing they can be profitable and sustainable if they can get one-tenth of a percent of Google’s business. Why shouldn’t they try to innovate on that model?

Pretty much every giant in the tech space is at risk of getting disrupted. Facebook is growing like wildfire, but a tiny little startup called Path is getting a lot of grassroots press, too. Path aims to be a very personal take at a social network, limiting you to only a certain number of connections. In this way, it hopes to keep the clutter out of your news feed.

Paypal and other online merchants are getting ready for a battle, too. Square is a company that makes the tiny iPhone add-on that allows merchants to take credit card payments right on their phones. Paypal has followed suit with their “Paypal Here” solution, but they’re so late to the game they’ve given Square a chance to make a splash.

About the only hot tech company that doesn’t have big competition in small places seems to be Apple. Maybe that’s because the products they sell require massive economies-of-scale to get to such low price points. But Apple will hit another wall.

Apple is dictating style so much that smaller competition has products that look like Apple products. Apple, more than anyone else, seems to be paving the way to their own doorstep.

So what does this all mean? It means that if we think we’ve hit a wall regarding Web innovation, we need look no further than the current big players for the big opportunities. Google’s search engine behaves largely like it did in 2000, but it’s on a Web that looks nothing like it did in that era.

In the past month, I’ve read about “hot startups” in the following industries: used cars, social networking, package tracking, search engines, consumer coupons, auto repair and real estate.

Lumping social networking in with used cars as a disruptable industry might not seem like it makes much sense, but that is what seems to be happening. It’s just the latest barrel-roll in the roller-coaster ride that is innovation, and right now the roller-coaster is hanging us upside down.

15 Mar
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Technology seems to move so fast these days that the question of “what’s the next big thing” never really gets answered because every new innovation is almost instantly obsolete on day one.

1 Mar
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Despite most of Savannah’s popular opinion, Twitter is, in fact, not useless. I always laugh when I hear someone downplay Twitter’s value. They have hundreds of millions of users.

3 Feb
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In light of Facebook’s impending IPO, there’s a lot of chatter about whether they’re worth the mythical $100 billion dollars that experts are estimating.

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