A friend just sent me a great blog post by Kevin Kelly where he talks about some online things he was completely wrong about
-- including products or companies he thought would flop that succeeded, as well as those he thought would succeed which went nowhere. He starts with the example of The Sims
, which he thought would flop, but which just sold its 100 millionth copy. In looking through his list he notes:
Sadly I can detect no pattern to my mis-predictions. In some cases, I did not anticipate improvements and advances that would remake a pathetic first version into a truly cool tool. In others I anticipated advances that never came.
It got me thinking about which predictions or trends I totally missed on, and thought it might be fun to post some of them here. In Silicon Valley, people are so focused on the future, they don't look back often enough. Besides, it's healthy (and a bit cathartic) to review your mistakes every once in a while. I'll admit that on some of these it took some serious thinking to remember my initial feelings about them, as my opinions have changed. Anyway, feel free to think through some of your own in the comments.
- Google. Now, to be fair, I always thought that Google was a great offering, and I was one of the early adopters and users of the search engine. What I didn't understand was how the company would make money -- and why Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia would put $25 million into a company that had no revenue and no clear path to revenue. Given the founders rather vehement claims that advertising on a search engine was bad (and, yes, they were vehement about this early on), I thought the company would struggle to find a business model. In fact, it did struggle for a little while... but once the company figured it out....
- RSS. While we at Techdirt were a somewhat early adopter in providing an RSS feed, I wasn't much of a believer in the technology for a while. I had been using various "multibrowser" systems that would load up a bunch of websites in a huge long list -- and that seemed like a perfectly efficient system for me to use. I was on the record saying I thought RSS was too confusing for most people -- and I still think it suffers from some of those problems, but it's become tremendously successful -- due, in large part, to the user-friendliness of various RSS readers, starting with Bloglines and moving on to Google Reader and the various customizable home page solutions.
- Skype: It launched to a ton of hype and I wasn't buying any of it. There were already a bunch of voicechat products on the market, and there had been for years. I just didn't see what was all that different about Skype. To be honest, I'm still not sure what was so different about it -- but it got users, and for the most part "it just worked." Never underestimate the power of those two things.
- The web itself: I first heard about "the world wide web" in early 1994. I had been using email, usenet and gopher for a while before that. While I knew that the web was something special, as soon as I first tried out Mosaic in 1994, I didn't think it would become this big of a deal. In fact, I just assumed that the world would move on to something else after a few years. After all, after the web came along, gopher pretty much died out, and I assumed that some new offering would come along and make the web obsolete, just as the web did to gopher.
- The original Napster: While I actually only played around with Napster briefly (at the time I had no broadband connection), I thought that it would revolutionize the music industry. In a way, it did, but not the way I expected it to. I honestly thought that (1) Napster would be found legal and that (2) the recording industry would quickly realize what a useful tool it would be for distribution and promotion of music. Boy, was I wrong on that one.... Though, to be fair, at the time, there were plenty of others who felt the same way. It's only in retrospect that people now say that Napster was obviously illegal.
- Intelligent Agents. I had done a research project in college about some of the work being done on intelligent computer agents, and I really thought the technology had a lot of promise. I figured that well before now, there would be virtual assistants everywhere, doing things and making people's lives more efficient. Turns out the technology never really worked all that well, and at best, most of the early efforts in the space moved on to things like collaborative filtering.
Well, that's the quick list I came up with. Like Kelly, I'm not sure there's a real pattern there, but it doesn't mean I can't learn from my mistakes.