Killer Technology: Gutenberg to Zuckerberg and Beyond

March was an extremely busy time for me personally, so I passed up the opportunity to write about an awe-inspiring keynote delivered by Michael Eisner of Disney fame at the Omniture Summit in Salt Lake City. In his address, he eloquently explained how technology enables a never-ending and consistently innovative evolution of content delivery mechanisms: from Gutenberg’s printing press back in 1440 all the way to present day with Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook.

With much of the hype now turning to Google+, I was inspired to recall an important recurring theme from his presentation: new technology may emerge, but old technology never really dies.

Although the printing press represented a foundational change in content delivery at the time of Gutenberg, it threatened the existing content delivery mechanism of the day: scribes (mostly monks) who copied books (mostly Bibles) by hand.

Fast forward nearly 500 years to the early 1920s when the first news program was broadcast through the airwaves by a Detroit, Michigan radio station, which undoubtedly threatened the existing content delivery mechanism of <i>that</i> period: the newspaper. In relative terms, the first television broadcast was demonstrated not long after radio in 1929 and was thought to be the killer to radio and newspaper.

Isn’t it amazing how history repeats itself? How quickly we forget the past? How quickly we sensationalize the innovation and introduction of new technology in murderous terms?

One would argue that this sensationalism results from capitalism, but I’m not going to mix business with politics. My point is that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself, whether through continuous education, retooled business objectives, heck, even with conversion rate optimization. The true death of an organization, ideal, or technology is when it ceases to innovate and evolve, but that decline is never an instant death.

The recurring theme that each new technology that comes about is a killer of this or that is a direct result of sensationalism surrounding – unfortunately – less and less progressive innovation above and beyond existing technology. Case in point: Google+.

What functionality does Google+ introduce that would cause it to be a “Facebook killer”?  Not much, because at this point in time, Google+ lacks innovation worthy of recognition as a “killer,” although they certainly did themselves a huge favor in emulating a formula that worked for Zuckerberg.

I bet it sounds like I’m raining on Google’s parade – quite the contrary. I greatly admire Google for not giving up on social media, despite several failed attempts in the past with Wave and Buzz. Google Wave’s postmortem was likely some time ago, and Buzz is likely to soon be absorbed into Google+, not because some other people didn’t love those products, but because the company made a judgment call.

And those old-school content delivery technologies like books, newspaper, radio, television, and MySpace? They’re still around, they didn’t die, and as long as someone keeps creating and consuming that content, they’re likely to stick around for a while yet.

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