Oct 272010

While vacationing this past summer I finally got around to reading The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas L. Friedman. It’s a fascinating read, and Friedman’s take on the changes wrought by technology and globalization has stood up extremely well since the book was first published in 1999.

In the book Friedman talks about the need to view things through different prisms to truly understand them. As an example, he cited a mid-1990s trade dispute with Japan. Friedman suggested that if you just focused on the narrow facts of the case and didn’t consider the financial and national security implications of the issue, you’d miss the real story.

Often I feel the same way when I read media coverage of technology that focuses too much on the technology, and not enough on the business realities behind the technology. Most of the time, you won’t be able to figure out the hows and whys by  just focusing on the mousetrap — you need to grasp the business realities behind it.

Take for example trying to understand the accelerating decline in landline phone usage, its substitution by mobile minutes and the declining use of voice calling in general. You could try to grasp a bunch of telco acronyms — TDM, VOIP, SIP, 4G. Or, you could read Jon Arnold’s excellent CircleID post about how Google might be making all the carriers irrelevant with Google Voice.

Another case is DNSSEC, which is a great step forward for online security. It’s also been around for over a decade without being implemented, despite wide acknowledgment of weaknesses in the DNS. If you read Steven Vaughan-Nichol’s otherwise excellent ZDNet piece last week, you wouldn’t know why. His piece focuses on implementation issues, which are real.

But the main reason DNSSEC has never been implemented is the lack of a business model — there’s no way to pass the cost onto consumers. Many of the actors in the long DNSSEC authority chain are being asked to make expenditures they can not recover, for the good of the Internet.  (Disclosure — I’ve emailed with Steven in the past, he knows vastly more than I do about technology, and I hope to interview him soon regarding all the changes in the tech trade press.)

I’m not saying it’s not important to understand how tech works. Just never make that your only prism in trying to understand why things happen in the technology sector.

  One Response to “Understanding the Business Behind the Tech”

  1. Hi Chris;

    Nice post, and thanks so much for citing my Google article on Ali’s portal – much appreciated!

    Sounds like you have a solid PR practice – I work with firms like yours all the time, and help their clients with thought leadership, market positioning, partnering, etc. You never know – happy to chat.

    I like your photo too- I was just in DC – loved it there.


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