What makes a technology game changing?

It often feels like I can’t read about a technology without hearing that it is game changing.  I personally love that technologists are always trying to push the boundaries of what has been done before but is everything really game changing?  Furthermore, if everything was game changing then we would have more new multi-billion dollar companies than we could keep track of.  So to provide some guidance, I often remember something a Senior Director at Microsoft once said.

Note: I currently work for Microsoft although the opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect my employer.

Innovative Business Models

Google

Search engines have been around from the earliest days of the Web.  Conventional wisdom was that search results should not be polluted with advertisements.  Google found a way to make advertisements relevant for searchers while also making them a must have for online businesses.  This market making opportunity became a fountain of money for Google.  Furthermore, the network effects from having the searchers and advertisers has proven to be a competitive advantage that is difficult for others to overcome.

Partner Ecosystems

Windows

It is almost cliché to discuss creating platforms in the software business.  Often startups try to create the platform before they have users.  The original king of software platforms has to be Microsoft Windows.  When most computer systems were closed and had different integration methods, Microsoft created the standard software platform with Windows.  This decision created an ecosystem around Windows meaning that to use the most common applications (the old term before we started saying “apps”) you had to have Windows.  Even in the mobile era Windows is still critical for most people to accomplish their computing needs.

Innovative User Experiences

User experiences are continuously changing so I’m referring to a significant change in user behavior.  When I was an undergraduate I created a secure MP3 format assuming one day people would pay for music.  Although I was proud of my project, Apple clearly saw a larger opportunity.  At that time people logged into their favorite peer-to-peer application and searched for songs.  Sometimes the songs were mislabeled, poor quality or were a virus.  Then getting the songs onto a MP3 device was another headache.  Apple created an end-to-end model using iTunes to get quality songs with less effort and then syncing with iPods for portability.  They took care of getting the songs legally in a more efficient manner.  iPhone and iPad followed this model creating digital content strategy that is being used by other companies and grew Apple’s value considerably.

 

So there it is.  A criteria for determining if a technology is ground breaking.  It should be noted that these things are clearer in hindsight.  It will be interesting 10 years from now to look back and see which companies would be on this list.

Talk to you soon,

Orville | Twitter: @orville_m

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