Friday, May 18, 2007

The looming crash in Web 2.0 hype

Apple and its management team have always gotten a lot of press, both during the soap opera era of the 1990s and the recent success of the Jobs II era. But if you measured name recognition of alumni who were not CEOs, then clearly the best success at leveraging the Apple tenure to fame (if not fortune) would be that of Guy Kawasaki.

Those of us from the Mac community know Guy when he had a real job — trying to attract/motivate software developers to support the Mac. Most people know him from his success parlaying that fame into a series of books (Amazon lists 9) and speaking gigs.

[Macintosh Way]I understand that would-be entrepreneurs got both inspiration and practical advice from his most recent book, The Art of the Start. I only read the first book, The Macintosh Way. That book was a bit fluffy (Kawasaki was always more motivational than a deep thinker) but really brought home the idea of guerilla marketing introduced by Ries and Trout. His claims about his guerilla marketing for the Mac would have been much less convincing if we’d known how poorly the Mac sold in the mid-1980s — a reality disguised by the Kawasaki book(s) but brought to light in the definitive Apple histories by Jim Carlton and Mike Malone

However, Kawasaki was truly brilliant in his maxim “ask permission, not forgiveness.” His trick for getting around Apple’s bureaucracy is a universal truth for keeping organizational vitality in large established organizations — those that stamp out (or punish) such initiative (particularly in tech) are doomed to ossification and premature death. As a teacher I often mention it to my students, but as a public employee, I wish I could apply the maxim more often.

Since leaving Apple in 1987, Kawasaki had a series of brief stints at various small companies (and once back at Apple) but never anything that had the impact of his original role in promoting the Macintosh. This month, there has been speculation and increasing details on his latest venture. This week, the Wall Street Journal’s Silicon Valley columnist Lee Gomes commented (no registration required) on Kawasaki’s latest venture:

The result is, where people can use email or the phone to call in "true rumors" they've just heard. The submissions are categorized -- "Business," "Entertainment" and such -- then users vote for the ones they like the most. Last week, with the site open only to test users, the top-rated Truemor was that British singer Amy Winehouse would be the new Bond girl.

For someone associated with one of the great tech products of all time, who regularly tells his audiences that the only companies worth starting are those that can change the world, Mr. Kawasaki's start-up seems, not to put too fine a point on it, a little cheesy.
As Gomes and Wired (among others) note, Kawasaki’s new business is heavily swathed in Web 2.0 hype.

To me, Kawasaki’s entry is a convincing sign that the Web 2.0 fad is peaking. The hype has been promoted by a book publisher trying to sell books and conference registrations. Of course the web is changing, but it’s a silly or self-serving idea that there’s a discrete transition (2.0 vs. 1.1 or 3.2) or that all of these changes are somehow part of a unified industry change.

Once the hype/fad/boomlet crashes, then we’ll see which business ideas are sustainable and thus can survive without the hype. There is the obvious parallel to the dot-com crash, when the viable businesses dropped the “.com” and went back to selling their goods (and stock) based on a real value proposition rather than riding a web fad.

This posting is a little stale because my blogging software interacts badly with the WiFi security/authentication policy at the conference site. The net effect was that I wrote this article twice, and each time when the network blocked the posting, Ecto lost the posting and all its changes. Not exactly user friendly.

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1 comment:

Jeff said...

I have to admit to not having the greatest regard for Mr. Kawasaki. After his brilliant stint at marketing for Apple, he went and accomplished the same at Aci/4D - relegating a nice product with a realistic shot at the big leagues (depending on who you ask) to life as a low end development tool with minimal market.

I'm only a bit disgruntled, as I spent years as a developer when much of San Diego biotech was using 4D. We didn't need evangelizing. We were making good solutions. However, since senior management rarely listens to the IT/developer types about strategy, the marketing had to come from an entirely different direction, IMO.