Let me begin this post by dating myself - when I first (truly) got into technology, AOL was a big deal and there was an interesting level of anticipation anytime the modem on your computer would start screeching. There was something very powerful about being able to connect your computer to something else over a network. And then the Internet began to grow...and grow...and grow! But it wasn't just the Internet that was growing in terms of the number of websites, it also grew throughout the late 1990s and 2000s in the number new ways to access the network. First it was in your office building. Next you could visit a remote office building and connect. Then the network became "virtual"(VPN) and you could connect from a customer's office. Eventually we no longer needed wires and could get "work-like" speed levels on our couch via home broadband, a wireless router and a laptop. Coffee shops and smartphones joined the party soon after. And every time the network became easily more available in a new location, the amount of value and new opportunities grew exponetially!! (oh wait...we knew this would happen).
But towards the end of the 2000s, something strange seemed to be happening, at least for me. The network didn't seem to open up new doors anymore, because it was already everywhere. It had become ubiquitous. I knew something was different, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. And then I saw this video clip and it dawned on me...
[start at 2m 0s]
...the ubiquity of the network had flipped it from a position of "opens new opportunities" to "creates extreme frustration when it's not available". And while Louis CK was making a joke, it also seems to be backed by technology as we're seeing more and more network-focused start-ups "attempting to hide the complexities of the network" (Big Switch, Nicira, Embrane, Cumulus, etc.)
Around that same time, when the entire Internet moved into our pockets with the advent of iPhone and Android, we evolved into a "there's an app for that" economy. First there were 100s, then 1000s, and now we have 10s of millions of apps to handle almost any function we'd like to do locally or across the network. The apps are cheap, they've become portable and to a large extent they are easily disposable when something cooler comes along. And while this combination of mobile apps + browser applications has made the applications portable, they are evolving so quickly that they have a difficult time remaining sticky. While it's true that there is an evolution happening around application operations, this doesn't really add to the value of the applications, but instead are "tidy little conduits to the stuff that matters most: information (data with value.)" [quote: Chris Hoff, @beaker]
So if the network pipes (or spectrum) are now ubiquitous and the applications (or APIs) provide the logic to interconnect the information, then it begs the question if data has become the most critical (and valuable) technology element in this decade? And if so, is it just the concept of Data Gravity (or Defying Data Gravity), or is it potentially something bigger than that?
- Is it possible that this next decade will really be focused on the net-new information that is created as a byproduct of other information?
- Can we really know how valuable information is until it's unleashed to be mashed-up with other information?
- Will we see people attempt to calculate "Return on Connected Data" in such a way that the justification for creating data, continually storing data or providing data access (directly or via APIs) is not thought of as a cost-containment but rather a direct business-enabler?
- US Currency in Circulation = $800B = 8 x 10^9
- Worldwide Data (in 2010) = 1.2 Zettabytes = 1.2 x 10^19
- Forecasted Worldwide Data (in 2020) = 35 Zettabytes = 3.5 x 10^20
- (Est.) Stars in the Universe = 100 Sextillion = 10^21
- Liters of Oxygen on Earth = 8.4 x 10^20
Some of these sources are competing with each other, but in many cases they are growing as a result of linkage with one another, generating net-new information and creating new sets of opportunities for consumers and businesses. Their return on connected data is growing very rapidly. SOPA and PIPA might argue that this "interconnectedness" is causing harm to one industry, it can also be argued that the structure of the system is creating at least a 1+1=3 scenario across the connected economies of the world.
Will it be more and more challenging for humans to keep up with all the information and all the sources if rates of data keep growing? Absolutely, and that's a whole different set of issue to address.
Does it introduce new challenges if the free-flow of global information is restricted by non-global laws and regulations? Yes, put another check in the "YES" box.
But even with all of those challenges, I believe we'll see the 2010s being driven by a belief that more information is good (or great) and it's ability to open new opportunities as being more valuable than the barriers to it's potential reduction the rate of growth. Maybe it's already happening. Welcome to Planet Data...
[May 29th addition...]
I wrote the original post after a dinner with Jeremy Burton (CMO @ EMC). It was a spark of an idea about the theme for "Megalaunch II" at EMC World. The video below is how Jeremy took that spark and turned it into a massive success for Joe Tucci and Pat Gelsinger's keynote. Pretty cool to see an idea explode onto a 400' wide screen!