“Innovation always comes unexpectedly & from the periphery.” – Source: Me
Once I see an innovation it always seems obvious – except that it was not obvious until I saw it. The iPhone is a great example of this – sure it is currently less than 5% of handsets on the market, but it has radically shifted the entire concept of what a mobile actually is and does. All the other mobile phone manufacturers were going on their merry way, consistently improving their products, when Apple suddenly changed the game entirely. And now the other manufacturers are rapidly shifting to the new ground of competition as set by Apple.
Another striking thing about innovation is that often it is not based on completely new technology. Rather it is often older technology being used in different ways or being combined with some new technology. Web 2.0 is a great example of this phenomenon. The technology stack that enables web 2.0 is old, it’s been around for years. The novelty is how it has been adapted and implemented to create new kinds of applications that democratise technology. Thus the key innovation in web 2.0 is making it easy for ordinary people to create online content without requiring them to become technically competent beyond basic computer usage.
It is this democratisation of technology that is one of the most interesting innovations of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In the past creation of software artifacts required high levels of skill and knowledge. Now an office worker or school child with limited technical skills can create a web site or blog, add some software widgets, create some video content and have it live on the web in less than an hour. They can also combine existing content from a variety of sources and republish it as co-creators, .e.g mashups. They can now take the power of hypertext and use its principles to co-create content and potentially divert the original content away from the intent of its creators. We are increasingly seeing this happen with brands (the famous Diet Coke & Mentos meme on YouTube is a good example).
This is a revolutionary change that is as important as the ability to print books and share them with literate audiences during the Reformation. We are only seeing the beginning of this revolution and it opens up a myriad of possibilities for both good and ill.