I began to jot down impressions on digital technology and the sector’s evolution in this blog in late-2009. It was approximately the time when Twitter was turning mainstream, and I have continued the exercise with regularity through Twitter’s IPO announcement. These milestones are worthy of consideration as bookends of sorts. Back to this idea again down below…
As the name suggests – Discourse and Notes – the blog was foremost my way of keeping notes and organizing my thoughts as I was studying. At first, the financial crisis had just taken place, it was the time of policy and debate and some alarm, and Sequoia Capital had produced a set of warning slides that were making their way around the web, “Good Times RIP.” It was a time when, in the technology ecosystem, several trends were developing in tandem: Traditional venture capital was on its way to consolidation, new forms of venture funding were emerging in seed finance (some think, to an eventual point of bubbling over), the startup community was growing fast (partly as a side-effect of seed funding growth, partly on the heels of a weak job environment, partly in reflection of diminishing startup costs), and the largest technology incumbents were beginning to amass enormous cash troves.
Having been involved in finance and business strategy as a principal and advisor to the media and telecommunications sectors since the 1990s, I approached my study of new trends in digital technology with a historical eye, mindful of the stages that had led us to this point. But there was something wholly unique and almost strange in the phenomena. This was an era of its own, I felt, and one that would some day be looked back upon with awe and reverence, like, say, the industrial revolution before. None of the commonly used names to reference what some thought was happening – web 2.0, or mobile web, or social web – captured the true bigness.
With this inherent preconception always in my mind, a conclusion drawn before the facts were gathered, I focused on and noted the continuations, similarities, and overlaps in a sector that was not technically “new” (as its occasional designation of “new media” implies) but rather an extension. And I sought to draw associations between the nature of new business models (and technologies) and their predecessors and counterparts in the segment. Simultaneously, I also detected patterns taking shape in the capital markets and the funding structures that underpinned the modes of innovation and business building. These, too, like the underlying platforms that they sponsored and financed, while coming to resemble and extend from well-trodden fundamental terrain, began to manifest new patterns of their own, in public as well as private markets, which were increasingly like a mixture of new and old, equity and debt, individual and institutional.
In short, a picture was coming into focus that seemed all the time more familiar despite its apparent novelty. This was in the early and middle years within the timeframe in question, and it set the stage for subsequent developments and observations.
I noticed a progression in the startup landscape that took media and technology companies in the direction of commerce and retail, which appeared like a new sub-segment, transactional media. And as social media grew and matured, I began to see an overlap between these connectivity platforms and their counterparts in other media subdivisions – entertainment, information, and again, transactional. While these observations gelled, a picture of general combination between the four spheres took shape, based on their respective anchor tenants and their constant movements towards each other: Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, at least symbolically, for there are many other examples… And this convergence continues.
But it didn’t end there, and in fact, as it turns out, this was only an exemplary start, an early foundation. There was the emergence of new financial services and markets, which led to new forms of banking and capital flows and research, and which drew attention to the vagueness of the line between what is a media company and what is a financial institution. When Bloomberg acquired Business Week, when American Express began to dabble with Twitter and Foursquare, when LendingClub was formed with Wall Street sponsorship in Silicon Valley, the notion came home to roost. And I asked myself why the lines and differences were fading, why these convergences were happening, and where it would likely lead. The answer, increasingly, came down to information and the mechanization of knowledge.
With hindsight, looking back from the current milestone in question, it more recently occurred to me that as these notes were being scripted through the series of essays that had come to form this blog, a book was actually being written. It is a book about an era and it is a summation of my analysis of what the era represents. Convergences – between media’s four spheres, between media and commerce, media and finance, finance and commerce, hardware and software, technology and consumerism, early-stage and later-stage businesses, early-stage and later-stage capital, and several other blends – are recurring motifs in this book. And there is, as an overarching theme, the convergence of all of these into and around information and its processing.
The Age of Convergence - my new book – is the product of the exercise described. It contains a selection of essays from this blog, re-edited, reordered and categorized, in many cases updated and corrected, so as to stand as a current and self-contained product. The goal is not to make a forecast or promote a set of recipes, but maybe to take an inventory of items as a starting point, from where we can begin to formulate a view, a strategy, a structure… An attempt has been made to render the abstract in a pragmatic manner and the pragmatic as universally as possible. The aim is to present the material usefully to students and practitioners alike, realizing that these circles overlap, much as they have and do for me.
For your enjoyment, the book is now available at Amazon (click here) and will be arriving at other bookstores in the coming weeks. An eBook version is also on its way, so please check back if that is your preference. Until the Amazon page is completed with “look inside” features and other details, you can peruse this preview for a better sense of the material.
Going forward, I plan to take a break from Discourse and Notes, as the subject described has been brought to some finality with the publication of my book. I will remain active in other social media, however, as I have been, and may come back to this, in one way or another, before long, and as new currents begin to form.