2012 brings a pause in the disruption

OK, I’ve been talking with hundreds of geeks from around the world this year at three conferences, CES, DLD, and World Economic Forum. I’m seeing a trend that is worth talking about.

What is it? We’re seeing the end of one of the most disruptive ages in human history. I believe that we’re seeing a pause in the disruption. More on that a little later.

Just think about all the changes humans have been asked to adopt in the past eight years. Most of us, back then, didn’t carry mobile computers in our pockets. If we did use tablets, like I did, they were expensive, slow, low resolution devices that could only last about two hours. We had no idea what a mobile app was, and if we did, because we were on Nokia phones, like I was, they were hard to discover, download, and use. Now both Android and iOS each have more than 400,000 apps (iOS has 500,000).

Back in 2003 the mainstream was just understanding blogging. Heck, +TechCrunch didn’t start until 2005.

I remember back then that Tim O’Reilly popularized the term “Web 2.0.” He and I spoke at the first Google Zeitgeist conference and I remember sitting next to him and he was pushing the Web 2.0 term with folks online.

Barcamp started in this age.

Twitter was born in this age. So was Zynga. LinkedIn. And Facebook.

Eight years ago Google was the only one who I knew that had these monster huge datacenters around the world with hundreds of thousands of servers. Now these seem commonplace.

We’ve seen extraordinary shifts in how we communicate, protest, and work together.

Yammer, Jive, Salesforce Chatter, didn’t exist back then.

Amazon was only a retail store back then. The really disruptive stuff came out in the past eight years from them.

Xbox was just starting to get noticed back then but even while I worked there in 2003 to 2006 they had no clue just how disruptive Xbox Kinect would be.

Heck, back then most of us didn’t have an HDTV.

If you look back at the last eight years we saw disruption in how we live, play, and work together it was really extraordinary.

But this is the first January when I haven’t been blown away by something new in quite a few years. There wasn’t a new iPhone. There wasn’t a Kinect. There wasn’t dozens of new iPhone apps that are mind blowing (I’ve only seen one, Highlight, and it’s not mindblowing, just executed well). Here’s a video where I get a look:

Does this seem mindblowing? Nope, not really, but it will be hot at SXSW so it might lead to something else, it just doesn’t seem like other pre-SXSW times where we saw Twitter and Foursquare gain traction in February and March.

It’s pretty clear that while we’re still seeing plenty of new things, and new companies, the tech industry threw an extraordinary amount of disruption at the world. So, it’s time to take a breather. This year we won’t see a wild new innovation spread like wildfire, but, rather, we’ll just see more people adopt the disruptions of the past eight years.

Think we’re there yet? Sorry, out of all the attendees at the World Economic Forum, only about 30% are on Twitter. San Francisco might have been at that point in 2009, but many many people around the world, including leaders, still aren’t using the disruptive technologies that the rest of us are already getting bored with.

It’s time to shave the edges off of all those apps (tomorrow Foodspotting will demonstrate the trend I’m seeing to do just that) and execute and build businesses that have real customers and real business models.

We have a lot of work to do!

That’s a way to say that tomorrow’s IPO of Facebook is the closing of an extraordinary chapter in our history. Congratulations to Mark Zuckerberg and the thousands of people working at Facebook but congratulations to ALL of us who have adopted social media/networks/technologies in the past eight years. We’ve made this disruptive chapter happen and I don’t mind it at all if we take a year off shipping huge new disruptive technologies and just get down to the business of using all of these new things.

Here’s a test: out of the 500,000+ apps that are in the iPhone app store how many have you used? I’m supposedly a “heavy” early adopter and I’ve only tried around 600. Our ability to keep up with the pace of change in this industry is being stretched to the limit. We need a year just to breathe and get used to swimming in this new disruptive world.

Now we need to make all this stuff work.

That’s one reason why I’m changing focus at +Rackspace Hosting to focusing on small teams who are using all these new disruptive technologies to have a huge impact in the world. Don’t know what New Relic are? Loggly? Node.js? Echo? Janrain? These are the things that have me excited now because they help small teams do things for millions of people. Here’s one of our early shows, with Janrain, which is helping lots of companies outsource its user management.

If there’s disruption in 2012: that’s it. These new small companies are helping lots of other companies scale their engineering efforts.

At SXSW we’ll be explaining more about what we’re doing in this regard, but you can see a hint on Rackspace’s Small Teams, Big Impact site.

Do you know of a company that is helping small teams have a huge impact on the world? Let me know!

Oh, and it’s also time to get back to blogging. I’ve been reading Dave Winer’s blog lately and am seeing a reason to blog again instead of just using my Google+ account, which is where I’m spending 90% of my time lately.


21 thoughts on “2012 brings a pause in the disruption

  1. I think you may be too soon in your assumption that disruption has paused. Although you have a point. All the big companies that have arisen have become powerhouses, no longer small disruptive teams. Twitter is big. Facebook is big. Google is big. They’re going to work on making their existing products better.

    At the same time, I think it is only a short time before more disruption occurs using these new tools. 


  2. Disruption will come in different hardware types over apps in 2012. Raspberry Pi & HDMI MHL Sticks (Roku), Augmented Glasses, Smart Watches, Gesture & Voice, Driverless Cars, etc. Some will take a couple more years to mature to consumerism but certainly we will have little pause and I’m sure a few surprises will come in software and web apps. Been a fan of Janrain for many years… 


  3. I don’t agree with you man – on the contrary there’s still so much to be done with all the potential that’s been given to us. You’re right that we don’t yet understand how everything will fit together, but the process of finding out won’t be led in an ivory tower by privileged teams of elite engineers – it’ll be out in the free market with gloves-off competition  between ever-multiplying armies of startup companies. 

    I have a different prediction: that 2012 and the years that follow will continue to feed an explosion in the age-old process of creative destruction: the trends towards making it easier to start new companies is inexorable (cost-, know-how-, and regulation-wise), the promise of the existing massive platforms (iOS, Android, Facebook) is not fully realized – their growth rates are still stratospheric and there is still a lot of room for increased penetration especially internationally. On top of this the promise of emerging platforms (tablets, IPTVs) is only beginning to materialize. 

    Most importantly, what we see living in the Valley has not had time to ripple anywhere else. The waves that are set off here will multiply in size and scope as they travel around the world – that impact by itself will be disruption on a staggering scale over the next 5-10 years. 


  4. I think you will see the ‘disruption’ move outside the traditional tech bubble, to things like connected vehicle, vehicle-to-vehicle communications, etc, where the disruptive tech of recent times will be integrated with other mainstream life elements. The smartphone is just the device to make this happen.


  5. I don’t understand your use of the word disruption. What is technology disrupting exactly?
    To disrupt:

    1. To throw into confusion or disorder.
    2. To interrupt or impede the progress, movement, or procedure of: 
    3. To break or burst; rupture.So you’re saying there’s been a pause in the impeding of progress. I think you mean the opposite.


    1. Disruption comes from a product that suddenly changes the way you think about a certain technology.
      – Nobody liked poking a stylus at a touchscreen, iPhone 1 was a disruption that suddenly made touchscreen’s popular. Today you wouldn’t want a phone without touchscreen.
      – N8 challenged the relevance of Point and shoot cameras in today’s world and made us realize that cellphone cameras are that damn good that we don’t need a camera.
      – Wii completely changed the way we use a game controller.
      – XBox Kinect took it a step further and completely removed the controller. Now with Kinect coming to PCs in 2012, it’ll completely change the way we use our PCs.

      I hope these are enough examples for you to understand what a disruption means.


  6. I think we are on the verge of a huge disruption when it comes to healthcare. Instead of healthcare continuing to be a reactive proposition, we are seeing many new devices and services to help us make it a proactive one. I saw many new devices at CES and shortly after Nike announced their Fuelband to compete with Jawbone Up and others. It’s an exciting time and I think we’re on the verge of these many new sensing and monitoring devices to take off in the mainstream. I’m looking forward to a more informed healthier world in the near future.


  7. Rob – I disagree – I see the disruption only just starting – all the changes in the last 8 years setting the platform.

    I think Tim’s concept of Web squared is crucial here – the disruption when
    web meets world
    interfaces get radical
    everything goes mobile
    everything goes social 

    Check out my blog post “2012 – The Genie Escapes the Bottle and Everything Goes Square”   http://goo.gl/4ZGAo 

    I would argue that we are entering a Web Squared Technium 


  8. Yea Rob it is difficult to justify that statement. A disruption by definition is un-predictable. Product, timing, team, luck have all got to be at the right place at the right time. How can one know if that isn’t going to happen this year? Facebook IPO just means FB now will become old, slow and irrelevant. The thing that is going to kick its arse could happen this year, and might not even be from the US :/


  9. Scoble, glad you’re reading my blog!

    Let’s do some stuff to get normal people running servers in Rackspace’s cloud.

    Amazon is letting people have one year free, how about matching them?

    I think you’ll see some serious sparks of innovation fly when people start making software for normal people to run on their own servers.

    Yeah it’s a crazy idea, but people thought it was crazy for normal people to edit their own websites, and look what happened with that! (Tim O calls it Web 2.0, as you mention in this piece.)

    All big ideas start out sounding wacky. 🙂


  10. damned right to get back to the blogging bob! There’s no pause to the disruption really (maybe in the flow of tech) because the disruption is more cultural than technical as you know. What I do see is a bit of a ‘panic button’ approach to tough economic times. People defaulting to tried and tested (even if the test shows it fails they know how it fails) rather than innovating, people wanting simple turn-key solutions instead of taking the big leaps they need. That’s understandable. We are in scary times. It’s hard to see the other side of that jump is better when all you can see is the void before your eyes.


  11. The disruptions are migrating out. The Health section of the news now reads like the Tech pages did ten years ago. As a physician informaticist – breakthroughs in medical knowledge creating new industries are happening almost every few days. The changes are breathtaking. I can only imagine the changes occurring in other fields.


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