Ev Ehrlich over at High Tech Forum wrote an excellent piece yesterday about some recent comments by Google’s Eric Schmidt. According to Schmidt there are four megafirms right now executing well on what he calls “platform strategies” – Google (search), Apple (gadgets/ecosystem), Amazon (online retailing) and Facebook (social connectivity).
It’s a good piece, and even has an obscure Alice’s Restaurant/Arlo Guthrie reference that will seem incredibly odd to certain demographic groups. Ehrlich adds to the imagery by suggesting that the competition in the broad technology space is not a sprint, rather it’s cage match with the weapon being constant innovation. It’s a persuasive case, but to my ears it’s not new. The new platform strategy sounds to me like the maturation of the Internet portal strategy from back in the days of the tech bubble.
Remember Time Warner’s Pathfinder? How about Excite, the early Yahoo! or for that matter Google’s current deal to be Firefox’s default home page. The idea was to be the prism through which users experienced the broader Internet. Twelve years ago the offerings — a better search directory, a free email account, proprietary content — were not strong enough to make the strategy work, and the vast majority of users were also hindered by narrowband access.
Today, increasingly ubiquitous broadband and much more innovative user experience – Google’s AdWords, Facebook’s amazing utility and growth — have resurrected the strategy. If a company’s special service is popular enough, they have the chance to box out — “disintermediate” – competitors and own that user’s online experience.
But uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, since a company has to keep on innovating to win in the cage match. This is very good for users. This is also why service providers need to stop griping about creating the networks and not benefiting. Hey, I could reply a government program created the Internet, not the telcos.
Carriers need to get in the cage and innovate against today’s technology leaders. And the government needs to be extremely careful regarding any kind of Internet regulation, promoting broadband access without assigning winners and losers.
Let the cage match decide who earns victory in the broadband consumer experience battle.
UPDATE 10/17 – Very long, very good Fast Company article that delves deeply into this theme — without giving Schmidt any credit for coming up with the “Fab Four” of technology.
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