Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Web Continues to be Disruptive

When the web hit the mainstream some 15 years ago, it was largely regarded as being a massive electronic library. These were the days of the 'read web', and this read web was considered as an extension of the then leading edge technology: CD ROM.

The web quickly evolved into the read-write web, whereby it opened up to accept user-contributed content. At that point, content was king, and many online business models have been centered around that notion.

Fast forward to today, when the so-called social, or participatory web had clearly demonstrated that conversation, not content, is king.

All along the way, the web has proven itself as being the most disruptive and the most subversive technology ever. And it continues to roll into the future as the most surprisingly disruptive platform there is. There is hardly a way to envision how could this supremacy of disruptiveness ever be interrupted, or supplanted by any other platform.

A case in hand to illustrate the unstoppable subversiveness of the web: a well known online vendor, 37 signals had made their success riding the subversive nature of the web. Back in the early 2000s, the company had embraced the social aspect of the then budding participatory web in order to harness the ground swelling support of individuals/businesses in the light of the fact that the existing software productivity applications suck big time. They have boldly utilized the small footprint, lighthearted nature of the web by offering small, nimble web applications powerful enough to replace the bloatware that is Microsoft/IBM/Oracle etc. productivity suites.

The risk paid off, and 37 signals made their name thanks to their unreserved embracing of the subversive and disruptive nature of the web.

But the web didn't reach its pinnacle of subversiveness with 37 signals. The web continued to roll with its unstoppable disruption. Today, we have a comical, nay hilarious situation where the same business that once praised web's openness and subversiveness is crying foul for the same reasons! Today, 37 signals complain how it is unfair that other budding businesses and communities, who are embracing the conversation-is-king mantra, are disrupting their precious business (Get Satisfaction or Else...)

The thing that allegedly hurts 37 signals is the fact that they cannot seem to be able to lock their customers down into their proprietary web site. They'd like their customers to recognize that they don't have to go anywhere else on the web in order to get the service they're hoping to get. However, communities such as People-Powered Customer Service have further embraced the disruptive nature of the web and have shown the audacity to elaborate on the existing model (i.e. they've embraced the remix culture of the web). They've accomplished that by extending 37 signals' resources and allowing further conversations about pertinent topics. All this is perfectly fitting for a technological platform such as the world wide web, which is a fully democratic end-to-end communication platform where no one has to ask for permission to communicate with anyone else.

Of course, a proprietary vendor such as 37 signals would have none of that, hence their crying wolf in their today's blog post. Their wet dream is to create a locked-in hostage customers who will have no other choice but to only go to their web site for all their productivity tools needs. This is the exact same model that Microsoft and countless others old-school software vendors have been providing for decades. It is very sad that we're seeing the same greedy bullying on the web. Because of that, I say let's boycott the bullies, and let's turn instead toward the free software community offerings. Enough of supporting these fear mongering vendors!