Hitting the Sweet Spot

In business, or anything else, you can go just as wrong by being too early to market as by being too late. A case in point:

I worked for a little known company in Cambridge, MA called BBN (Bolt, Beranek & Newman) that sold a program called “email” to GTE for a few bucks because no one ” got it” at the time.

From the comments in this post on Google’s Wave.

2 thoughts on “Hitting the Sweet Spot”

  1. The great thing about email was that the people who did “get it” learned to love it, rely on it, become more productive with it, and infect their friends with it.

    Wave is the most prominent example of a growing collection of experiments in replacing email. Email’s incredible popularity has made many of its limitations glaringly obvious to a vast number of people. And the way that people use email effectively in practice has pointed many in the direction of better ways to use email. For example, it’s pretty obvious that future messaging replacements should have some mixture of features of messaging, issue tracking, to do lists, and ad-hoc communal document creation. However, nobody’s figured out how to combine these features in a cohesive way, yet. It is as if we are in the late 19th century, where the idea of heavier than air flight is quite obvious (wings, an engine, a means of steering, a means of landing, etc.) but the exact form of a device capable of that achievement has not yet been determined.

    Unfortunately for Google, wave appears to solve only the most trivial problems of modern communication and is rounded out by a few design missteps (such as live-chat) and features that have no benefit other than that they make for cool looking demos. Fortunately for Google, nobody else appears to have any better clue, yet, on how to proceed in this area either. Everyone else is throwing whatever ideas they have into the hands of the public to find out if the ideas are worthwhile or not (consensus leans toward “not”, so far). Fortunately for Google, it may still be early yet and they will likely have many more chances to roll out wave 2, wave 3, etc. Perhaps they will yet succeed.

    As to the original point, it’s interesting how much the internet user base has changed over time. Imagine an application like facebook or twitter being released in 1997, for example. It’s questionable whether a sufficient number of internet users would have been savvy enough, then, to lead to the runaway success that those applications have seen today. We’ve seen internet users become more savvy over time, there was a time in the dark ages of the web when there was good evidence that many web users did not know how to scroll, for example. It’s interesting to speculate on the sorts of business ventures which would not be profitable today but may be profitable in 5, 10, or 20 years because of the changing sophistication of the public.

  2. Robin Goodfellow,

    Everyone else is throwing whatever ideas they have into the hands of the public to find out if the ideas are worthwhile or not (consensus leans toward “not”, so far).

    This is actually the normal mode of technological evolution. When a technology or a problem is new, there are a vast number of variations trying to solve the problem. Only after a considerable shorting out of 99%+ of the ideas does a solution become standardized.

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