Friday, April 17, 2009

The Empire Effect

I keep hearing and reading about the next big thing, the next Microsoft, the next Google, the next Facebook and the next iPhone. What people don't realize is that in many cases, there won't be a next, at least in that category. I think people fall prey to the idea that there will be a next because of how some of these companies got where they are. Google was the last in a long line of "next" and "better" search engines. Anyone remember Lycos and Alta Vista? The fact is, Google is good enough for most people and everyone else is still playing catch up.

Facebook is also the last in a long line of social networking sites and while it may not quite be the final social network winner yet, given the number of users, it's going to be tough to get a majority switch to something else. This is particularly true now that the demographic is so broad.

There is an empire effect here. At a certain size, there is one to dethrone the king. There is no next thing. What happens is that the landscape changes and the king come under fire from multiple fronts. A long line of empires led to the Greek empire and its eventual replacement by the Roman Empire. Who beat the Romans? No one and everyone. Rome collapsed under its own weight. It was besieged at the fringes by startup groups in areas where its power wasn't as strong. Sound like Microsoft to anyone?

Linux will not dethrone Windows. Apple will not dethrone Windows. The web may, but it will be long and slow. The Palm Pre will not be an iPhone killer nor will the Blackberry storm. I don't know what will be except that it won't be a single phone.

The point of the post is this. If you're trying to compete with one of these giants, pick niche and compete there. Maybe even pick a couple of niches. Don't take on the iPhone with a single iPhone killer, take it one with 5 or 6 phones that do parts of the iPhone better, maybe a great video phone. Don't take on Google head one, build a better portal or finance page than Google. Don't take on Facebook face to face, target a social niche, like Linked In has done. It's Facebook for professionals.

The king killer is a myth in many cases. The king is more likely to be marginalized than killed.


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