Search, email and wikis are the catalysts for innovation

A colleague added me to their network of trust on spock, one of the new people search engines, and so I had a play around. Spock and its competitors have come about on the premise that a large amount of search engine traffic is purely due to people: about 7% of all searches are for a person’s name, estimates search engine Ask.com. One percent of the search market is estimated to be worth a billion dollars, so this is a significant market opportunity.

Now take a step back into my mind this year. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about e-mail this past year: first as I explained to people why wikis and blogs are a better way to collaborate than via e-mail; and more recently, as I prepare a whitepaper for January 2008 proposing we replace using e-mail for our corporate communications with RSS. E-mail is the default tool at my firm and its opened up doors to do things we couldn’t do before, but it’s also why we have e-mail overload, as e-mail wasn’t designed to do this.

Can you now see something I am noticing? Established general technologies like search and e-mail – now being replaced by more specific functions. Some would say you are defining a previously unrecognised niche. That is afterall, what is means to be an entrepreneur.

Traditional Search and traditional e-mail are powerful tools. People over-use them to do all sorts of things that they couldn’t do before. As these general tools were adopted, people could experiment and push boundary’s in ways the inventors of the technologies never thought before. And bam – that’s why we have a love hate relationship with e-mail; and why search has become the default industry underlying the web economy. They are doing something we now need; but because they weren’t invented to deal with that specific need, it is more like a blunt tool being used when all is needed is a glass pick.

Innovation is coming
I’ve been told repeatedly that technology should not drive strategy. I agree to some extent. However, I’ve also proved the management at my firm wrong on that point by results. When I proposed a firm wiki, and it was approved, it was taken as a risk. All I needed was that gateway to get in behind the door, and just let it do its magic. I have witnessed first hand when you give people a wiki – or probably better said a mashup enabler – you will see them take to it because they can now do things they never imagined. A general tool like the wiki in its freedom to manipulate the structure, has allowed staff members to create new ways of satisfying their painpoints. Technology should not drive strategy – I agree. But one thing I am convinced of, is that you need to just drop a technology onto a userbase, and let them experiment. Give them the potential to do something – things you never thought they needed – and watch them take to it like honey to a bee. Technology can help drive innovation through (accidental) imagination, which in turn can drive strategy

How does this link with innovation? MacManus has lamented on the lack of innovation on the web. I’m thinking something else. As these general technology tools have been adopted by people, new niches are being discovered. As I responded to MacManus’s article: the guy that invented the wheel was brilliant; but the guy that attached another three was a genius.

Think innovation on the web is dead? I think it’s just starting.

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