Jul 19 2007

Everything That is New is Old

Everything That is New is Old

With a full nod to my colleague Jack Sinclair for the title and concept here…we were having a little debate over email this morning about the value of web applications vs. Microsoft (perhaps inspired by Fred, Brad, and Andy’s comments lately around Microsoft vs. Apple).

Jack and his inner-CFO is looking for a less expensive way of running the business than having to buy full packages of Office for every employee to have many of them use 3% of the functionality.  He is also even more of a geek than I am.

I am concerned about being able to work effectively offline, which is something I do a lot.  So I worry about web applications as the basis for everything we do here.  We just launched a new internal web app last week for our 360 review process, and while it’s great, I couldn’t work on it on a plane recently as I’d wanted to.

Anyway, the net of the debate is that Jack pointed me to Google Gears, in beta for only a month now, as a way of enabling offline work on web applications.  It clearly has a way to go, and it’s unclear to me from a quick scan of what’s up on the web site whether or not the web app has to enable Gears or it’s purely user-driven, but in any case, it’s a great and very needed piece of functionality as we move towards a web-centric world.

But it reminded of me of an application that I used probably 10-12 years ago called WebWhacker (which still exists, now part of Blue Squirrel) that enables offline reading of static web pages and even knows how to go to different layers of depth in terms of following links.  I used to use it to download content sites before going on a plane.  And while I’m sure Google Gears will get it 1000x better and make it free and integrated, there’s our theme — Everything That is New is Old.

The iPhone?  Look at Fred’s picture of his decade old Newton (and marvel at how big it is).

Facebook?  Anyone remember TheSquare.com?

MySpace?  Geocities/Tripod.

LinkedIn?  GoodContacts.

Salesforce.com?  Siebel meets Goldmine/Act.

Google Spreadsheets?  Where to begin…Excel…Lotus 123…Quattro Pro…Visicalc/Supercalc.

RSS feeds?  Pointcast was the push precursor.

Or as Brad frequently says, derive your online business model (or at least explain it to investors) as the analog analog.  How does what you are trying to online compare to a similar process or problem/solution pair in the offline world?

There are, of course, lots of bold, new business ideas out there.  But many successful products in life aren’t version 1 or even version 3 — they’re a new and better adaptation of something that some other visionary has tried and failed at for whatever reason years before (technology not ready, market not ready, etc.).