With all the social IPOs recently, there are complaints that the technical community isn’t chasing enough meaningful innovation, instead taking the cheaper and easier route to profit. I respectfully disagree.

You can’t connect the dots looking forwards, you only connect them looking backwards. This implies that we can’t know until later what all the future meaningful innovations will be. The best we can do therefore, is build on what we know will not be going away and seeing later how those dots look behind us. What might help is an example from prior history from which to draw meaningful parallels to the current Internet revolution in which we find ourselves.

To riff off Jeff Bezos’s talk, and his focus on household appliances — enabling for the Internet is most like enabling for electricity.

As he mentions, think of washing machines before electricity. Can you imagine doing all your laundry by hand? Or think of ice boxes. Or clocks & watches. Lighting. All done mechanically or chemically. Think too of new classes of appliances, possible only with electricity: radios, televisions, vacuum cleaners, and hair & clothes dryers come to mind. If we follow electricity’s example, without too much trouble, you can imagine there will be new appliances made possible only through a networked world. I can’t imagine what they will be, but I’m pretty sure no one imagined the hair dryer in 1912 either.

Do not expect all future net enhanced appliances to be shockingly different than their predecessors, but do expect them to be more convenient. Ultimately, it will be the design & craftsmanship that goes into them that will make them successful (or not). And this level of craftsmanship will take investment. Additionally, though there will be false starts and though not everything electrified always completely replaces previous versions (i.e. stoves & grills), they usually do offer some utility, especially in tight living quarters or other specialized conditions, such as travel.

So, our networked future and our investments into it need not be based on earth-shattering new science, but rather incremental, yet useful, improvements to much of what we already have. With a few surprises along the way.

We’re starting to see networked equivalents replace previous versions in Books and now Radio & Television. Some clocks & watches sync via radio, but how much more useful would it be to have them sync to a networked calendaring system?

I can’t imagine what need a vacuum cleaner will have for the internet, but if my refrigerator could sense that we were almost out of milk, knew I (or could tell me that my wife) were near a grocery store, and could remind me to get milk & coffee creamer, that would be handy. Or if I could program in a set of dinners, net-enabled appliances could synchronize to a recipe database and remind me on my way home to pick up that evening’s ingredients.

As Bezos mentions, we are just at the beginning of this wave and we have much more innovation ahead of us than behind us. Social just happens to be one of the lowest hanging fruits…we’ve been starved for such frictionless interactions, we have always liked being able to chat with our friends and the Internet enables that cocktail-party atmosphere across vast distances and allows us to share our experiences from anywhere, at anytime, with anyone interested enough to comment. So while we can’t know where all this integration will lead us, we can know it will take a lot of work to get there. It won’t end with Social, but that is where it has begun. It is time to be excited and challenged, not pessimistic.
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