Looking for a Revolution

I never blog as often from DEMO as I plan to. My writing goals are always lofty going in, only to be thwarted by the presentations onstage and conversations off. Trying to blog while watching a start-up bank its future success on one six-minute presentation – well, it’s distracting. So as I sit comfortably back at home, sorting through email and business cards, I want to cover a couple of items I missed.

First off is a thought-provoking comment I heard a couple of times from reporters over the course of the week. “There’s nothing really revolutionary here.” Journalists are a jaded lot, to be sure, especially tech journalists. They’ve seen it all one hundred times and have heard more “groundbreaking” and “revolutionary” promises from tech products than you’d care to count. I, on the other hand, think everything’s a revolution. I see an exciting technology and must restrain myself from anointing it the next slice of bread.

There is a middle ground here, though, that both sides should explore. Hearing this comment from reporters made me question – do we ever accurately identify a revolution in the moment? Or does it come after the fact, months and years down the road when we’ve seen a technology come to full potential? I read something in Newsweek last night about the term ‘recession,’ that it isn’t normally identified until some time later when all the financial data has been fully analyzed. Shouldn’t we apply the same rule to technology innovation?

This line of thought sent me searching for coverage of the TiVo launch. DEMO has many market-altering product launches under its belt, one of which is TiVo. I wondered what the reaction was to TiVo’s initial launch. Was it recognized as a device that would fundamentally change the entertainment landscape or did it receive a calmer reception? I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count. Red Herring questioned the economics of the box, calling it a risky investment, and the New York Times focused solely on rival ReplayTV (remember them?). Of course it didn’t take long to see the effect TiVo would have and a September ’99 IPO skyrocketed. But didn’t they all in those days.

A key reason I focus on emerging technology is the possibility. I’m surrounded by product pitches and business plans and deep down in the pile is a diamond in the rough. One of the companies we blog about or screen for DEMO could significantly change people’s lives. The rub is that we have to be patient. True market-changers rarely emerge from the gate as such. We have to be willing to peer down the road a bit to imagine what could be.

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