by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
change, disruption, innovation, tech

amazon, apple, facebook, google

Tech Titans Shift And Change: Worrying About Dominance Is A Fool's Game

from the this-time-it's-different! dept

I've lived in Silicon Valley for a little over thirteen years now, and the one thing I've learned is that nothing is permanent. When I moved out here, the "big fight" over who was going to dominate the tech landscape was supposed to be between Netscape, Microsoft and AOL. No one had heard of eBay (and people thought that "OnSale" -- an online auction house -- had a better business model). Amazon was around but was "never going to be profitable." Google didn't exist. The search engine of choice was AltaVista or Lycos. Social networking was a site called "SixDegrees." Seriously. It was a big hit the summer of 1998 when everyone was connecting with their friends.

Just a few years ago, it was decided that the battle for the internet was between the "big three" of Google, Yahoo & Microsoft -- better known as GYM. Those three dominated the tech space and there was nobody else "big" worth mentioning.

So, it's a bit funny to see a new report declaring that, today, there's a "Gang of Four" who are fighting to dominate the tech world: Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook. GAAF? AGAF? As in the past, the article seems to think that this battle is the permanent state of the world, with those four being the only players. It talks about how this battle is raising antitrust concerns and worries about less openness.

However, I'm with Adam Thierer in thinking this is totally overhyped "chicken little-ism."
Isn’t it funny how all the recent hand-wringing about the supposed dominance of today’s big four fails to mention Microsoft, Intel, AltaVista, AOL, Yahoo!, BlackBerry, or the old telcos? It would have been impossible to pen anything about technology “dominance” in past years and not mention those companies. Today, they rarely get a mention, except perhaps to highlight their rapid fall from the upper echelons of Tech Titan-dom.

This week’s big news was Google’s bid for Motorola, which positions the search giant better for battle in the smartphone and tablet wars with Apple. Think about it: A company that didn’t even exist 15 years ago and got started in a garage is now making telecom giants sweat. Meanwhile, Facebook, a company started in a college dorm, made News Corporation’s $580 million bet on MySpace turn out to be a mega-turkey. Meanwhile, Apple had what former CEO John Sculley called a “near-death experience” just 15 years ago only to experience a Lazarus-like rebirth and revolutionize the computing, online music, and mobile device sectors. Finally,, along with Apple, has upended media distribution methods and forced mass media giants to rethink how content is priced, bringing prices down in the process.

This is capitalism at its finest, not the catastrophe the tech pessimists preach about.
Five years from now, you can pretty much bet we'll be discussing a very different set of companies aiming for tech dominance. Their may be some crossovers, but it's likely that at least one company on the list is one that you've either barely heard of today or you haven't heard of at all. The tech industry is ruthless and ever changing. It's tough to stay on top for very long, and any effort to totally close things off will be seen by smart entrepreneurs as an opportunity to jump in and compete, with openness.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Richard (profile), Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 4:16am

    John Harvey Jones

    I remember the late (lamaented) John Harvey Jones soemtime boss of ICI commenting (around 1987) that if you looked at the top ten companies of 1900 - most of them no-longer existed. Companies are short lived organisations - the oldest major ones we still have date from the late 19th century. Amongst tech. companies the turnover is even faster - the only reasonably old ones we have are IBM and AT&T.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Just John (profile), Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 4:54am

    I love Google

    As the title says, I love Google, for now.

    My love for Microsoft waxes and wanes. Sometimes MS listens to what customers want (windows 7) and sometimes they piss us off (windows Vista). It's the name of the game.

    Same with Google. I currently love them for their leading edge innovation, but it is a slippery slope. Trust gained is easily lost. Look at those, like me, who jumped off the Facebook bandwagon when someone gave us what they failed at, privacy. Now my co-workers do not relive my family gatherings simply because they are both my social network friends.

    I have grew up with the tech industry from the days of the commadore 64. I completely agree with here Mike.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 4:58am

    So wrong predictions prove nothing to worry about!

    There's no predatory capitalism between giant unaccountable corporations, because there are SEVERAL! Of course, EACH has Monopoly as goal and The People as prey. But since we don't yet know for sure which will win (or what oligopoly they'll work out), nothing at all to worry about. Gotcha.

    However, they may ALL be evil, and then what?

    By the way, last I heard, Microsoft was still a player.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 5:13am

    Re: So wrong predictions prove nothing to worry about!

    You should probably reread the article. You missed the parts about old corporations getting rapidly replaced by new ones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Planespotter (profile), Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 6:06am

    Re: So wrong predictions prove nothing to worry about!

    Yes ootb you seem to be missing the point, they come and go, so worrying about this decades "big four" is a bit pointless, kids are sitting in houses, dorms, garages, offices right now working on next decades "big four".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 6:37am

    Microsoft, Intel, AltaVista, AOL, Yahoo!, BlackBerry, and the old telcos needed more patents and copyright protections to be able to keep upstarts with original fresh new ideas from over coming them.

    Hopefully the new big four realize the fault of the previous fallen giants and get the protections they need to survive!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 6:55am

    In the tech sector people, in the tech sector in other sectors there is no coming and going.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Demoliri (profile), Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 7:41am

    What about Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google? FAAG?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 7:49am

    Skeptical about Facebook

    I've been closely involved with Internet stuff since 1993. I've watched a lot companies and online communities come and go. That's why all the articles about Facebook and why it will be such a great investment and the future of the Internet don't impress me. It will be replaced by something else. Every company is. The very ease with which new companies can come along and upend the current leaders is reason why the next generation of companies will do them same to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    The eejit (profile), Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 7:59am


    But then you have the Bible-thumpers claiming copyright on the term, citing the burnings of gays, and the pejorative thereof.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 8:28am

    As an aside, I'd indeed say not many things are pemanent... typo? :p

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    mike allen (profile), Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 8:58am

    Some live some die in ten years we may have got rid of copyright or facing death for putting a foot wrong, or finger depending what you type with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Danny, Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 8:58am

    Same old hype

    You file this as hype right along with the people that "predict" that Microsoft is dying/will die soon about every 5-6 years or so.

    A few years from now Twitter and Facebook will have fallen and new social media giant will be on top, Google will still exist but not be at the the absolute top in every measurable way (kinda like how MS is now), etc...

    Its an ongoing process where some rise and fall, some rise and go into oblivion, some go into oblivion before they even rise, etc...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Aug 23rd, 2011 @ 2:24pm

    Entropy Just Isn't What It Used To Be

    I remember when AT&T ran virtually all the phones in the US, and IBM a.k.a. "Big Blue" dominated the computer industry. They're why even today the systems are ancestors of the IBM PC -- big business didn't take the personal computer seriously until IBM made one. Unfortunately it was a mediocre design at best. There were better machines available already, but none had the IBM name behind them. They were all swept away, with one exception that I can think of. But mediocre as it was, it was a standard that people could build to.

    Of course there were scuffles over patents and copyrights and what constituted an IBM clone vs. what constituted IP violation. These days there's no way it would have happened. IBM would simply sue everybody in sight who tried to make a clone, the courts would back them up, and the market would continue to be fragmented for at least another decade.

    Nobody at the time could imagine IBM losing dominance, they were so powerful. And yet... here we are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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