Tag Archives: Yahoo

Could GeoCities have become Facebook?

GeoCities-140pxhMany have argued that GeoCities was the first online social network and would have gone on to become as big as Facebook if had now switched gears after being acquired by Yahoo! for USD $3.57 billion—in 1999!

GeoCities let people develop and publish pages about themselves. It developed many of the technologies intrinsic two Web 2.0. It was one of the Top 5 destinations on the Internet. Its users were deeply loyal to its online community…

My first Facebook Page at Harvard, 1995 (Click to enlarge)

So could it have become what Facebook has become—a decade (i.e., five software generations) earlier? No, it could not.

The reason has nothing to do with technology. (While Facebook is leveraging many new web and mobile advances to grow like mad, the core technologies required for online social networking were available in the 1980s.) The reason has nothing to do with the management team at GeoCities. (They were brilliant and forward thinking.) The reason has nothing to do with the idea of a “Facebook” either. (For decades, Harvard has been printing these to let people network when they arrive on campus.) The reason is entirely societal.

Social networks are about connecting people (they have been around forever). The rise of online social networks over the past N years (where N is: five, if you count the first billion-dollar valuations; three if you count analyst coverage; and one, if you count making a movie about it) could not have occurred until two elements about how society uses and views the Internet were firmly in place…

First, Internet access had to become truly ubiquitous

In 1999, the Internet was still considered a new technology to non-techies (even though it had been around for decades). For most people it was an extremely complicated activity; one that was slow and prone to failure. (Remember this horrible sound?)

It took an additional 5-10 years (depending on where you lived) for Internet access by millions of everyday people (i.e., techies and their aunts and grandparents) to become as easy as using the television or telephone. Until the Internet became a dependable, always-on utility for everyday people, the online social explosion could not have occurred.

Second, everyday use of the Internet had to become pervasive across generations

In 1999, most people did not dial-up and log in to the Internet daily, let alone several times each day to seek or share information (except techies). For most people, accessing the Internet was still considered a special activity, not an everyday one.

dieout_280pxNow every generation uses the Internet (most several times every day). People under age 25 do not even remember life without it. Grandparents share vacation photos with their grand kids. Churches use the Internet to coordinate activities and fund-raising. Until seeking and sharing information on the Internet became pervasive to the everyday lives of all generations, online social media would never have explored beyond early adopters.

This takes nothing away from the achievements of today’s social media leaders

While the time is finally right for social media, it does not mean creating a successful online social network is easy. Many have tried and failed. Only a few leaders have become the social media equivalents of ABC, NBC and CBS (or Coke and Pepsi, or Ford, GM and Chrysler).

What is the ‘Magic Number’ of market leaders in Tech?

Jack Welch used to say, “Be Number 1 or Number 2 (or else get out of the market).” The operating principle of this was that the Number 1 company set the direction; the Number two company continuously challenged the leader; and everyone else was a reactive “me too” follower. Does this same “Magic Number” apply in the information technology and software world (where innovation is continuous and new markets emerge every 1-2 years thank to Moore’s Law)?

The Case for Four Market Leaders

When I first through about this, I said to myself, “In tech, the ‘magic number’ is four.” Just take a look at the “Four Horsemen of the Internet” (in the 1990s); the Browser Wars (IE, Mozilla, Chrome and Safari); mobile platforms (Android, iOS, RIM and Windows – with PalmOS left out in the cold); or servers (Dell, HP, Sun-Oracle and IBM).

But then I thought about other tech product categories and wondered about…

The Case for Three Market Leaders

Perhaps the case for the number of tech market leaders if three. In the Browser wars you could argue that Safari is a special case (Mac-focused) and the war is between IE, Mozilla and Chrome. In social media we have Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIN (with many wannabees). In the business applications space you also have IBM and Oracle buying every business vertical leader in sight to fill out a three-way competition with Microsoft. In search you have Google against Bing and Yahoo! (apologies to my old employer, AOL).

But are these really just pre-cursors to real ways between two leaders?

Jack’s Case: Two Market Leaders

Maybe Jack was right (he was about many, many things) and it really comes down to “Number 1 vs. Number 2 (with everyone else on the sidelines). In the database world this is Oracle vs. Microsoft. In the OS world it is Mac vs. Windows (in PCs) and Linux vs. Windows (in Servers). In the chip world it is Intel vs. AMD. You have Java vs. .NET in computer programming…

So What is the Answer?

I think the answer is one of life cycle and level. New markets can support four leaders. As they mature and settle out they will move to three for the “higher-level” items like applications (the speed of innovation will keep this from setting down to two – just look at what Salesforce is doing in CRM). If they are more “fundamental” like platforms or computing languages (things that require enormous capital and training investments to change) they will settle down to two (just like Jack said).