Will Google Succumb To “The Innovator’s Dilemma”?
John Borthwick, a former AOL/TW executive, writes a piece for Silicion Alley Insider on the phenomenon now known as “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and how it blindsided AOL — despite the fact that the company thought it was prepared for it. In his post, Borthwick describes an AOL HR retreat several years ago: On the second […]
John Borthwick, a former AOL/TW executive, writes a piece for Silicion Alley Insider on the phenomenon now known as “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and how it blindsided AOL — despite the fact that the company thought it was prepared for it. In his post, Borthwick describes an AOL HR retreat several years ago:
On the second morning Clay Christensen [author of The Innovator’s Dilemma] spoke to the group.
He is an imposing figure, tall as heck, and a great speaker — he walked through his theory of the innovators dilemma, illustrated it with supporting case studies and then asked us where disruption was going to come from for AOL? Barry Schuler — who was taking over from Pittman as CEO of AOL jumped to answer. He explained that AOL was a disruptive company by its nature. That AOL had disruption in its DNA and so AOL would continue to disrupt other businesses and as the disruptor its fate would be different. It was an interesting argument — heart felt and in the early days of the Internet cycle it seemed credible. The Internet leaders would have the creative DNA and organizational fortitude to withstand further cycles of disruption.
Christensen didn’t buy it. He said time and time again disruptive business confuse adjacent innovation for disruptive innovation. They think they are still disrupting when they are just innovating on the same theme that they began with. As a consequence they miss the grass roots challenger — the real disruptor to their business.
For Borthwick the disruption to Google’s current dominance will come in the form of “real-time search” (i.e., Twitter and others in that category). He also argues, citing a piece (“Search Is Broken — Really Broken“) by another former AOL (Search) Exec. Gerry Campbell, that the inclusion of “context” in search — social context — will be similarly disruptive.
Borthwick discloses at the bottom that he’s a Twitter investor, as well as an investor in other companies that offer real-time search/discovery tools. Putting that aside, he’s right that real-time information is not well represented in search. He’s also right that human/social context doesn’t find its way into search results very well or often.
The problem with Twitter as a search replacement or as a social tool is that it’s full of “noise” and too hard to use by a mass audience for practical purposes. Search by contrast is the most practical of tools online (although far from perfect). With an overhaul Twitter might become a viable search replacement in a number of contexts. Indeed, I’ve written about Twitter as a tool that could become a kind of “social directory assistance” or real-time recommendations engine for people (with some tweaks).
Facebook and social networks haven’t killed Google/Search. So it’s not clear that Twitter or its progeny can or will. Yet the idea of a real-time (or near-real time) communications platform for mobile devices (not SMS) that allows me to get reliable information or recommendations from my network and interact around that information might be the model that disrupts or displaces today’s version of search.
Whatever it is that succeeds the current version of search will have to be enormously practical and simple — especially simple.
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