How Tech Wars End

05/10/2008 12:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Note: I've been a blogger for a long time, by some counts 14 years, and most of the stuff I've blogged about has been technology; that's my background. But there's a lot of politics in tech, and increasingly so is tech a big part of politics. Till now we've been running my political pieces here, but I thought this morning to try an experiment, run one of my tech pieces here and see what happens. BTW: There's a bonus at the end about Obama.

How Tech Wars End

A picture named iwojima.jpgThe tech industry is organized around the concept of wars. In recent memory, the browser wars, the Java wars, before that there were wars over email APIs, desktops, GUIs, networking standards, you name it, if there's money to be made in controlling users, there's been a war to lock those users in. It's been that way since the dawn of time, and it will always be that way. It's in human nature.

It's also in human nature for the users to realize they're being used, get fed up, and create or discover the technology for themselves thereby routing around all the warring parties. It's as if the citizens of France during WWII got fed up with the Germans and the Allies, and decided to create a new France on new land and all move there, leaving the armies to fight over nothing. You can't do it in the real world, but it's how it works in the virtual world.

Having seen a number of these wars, and seeing each of them end not in triumph, but irrelevance, I believe we're getting closer to the end in the warfare defined by social networks. That's the real lesson behind this article by Mike Arrington, about the three companies throwing vapor at each other, two publicly, MySpace and Facebook, and Google in the back channel. Somewhere lurking back there are Microsoft and Yahoo, each with also-rans no doubt coming soon. I wouldn't pay too much attention to what the big players do here, they will be too constrained by BigCo thought processes, and a desire to appear to be giving stuff away without actually giving anything away.

Open is a funny thing, you can't be partially open. You can't edge your way toward open. You can't be open and hold the valuable stuff in reserve for yourself. BigCo's can't afford to do what it takes to coalesce a popular maturing technology around their own platform. It won't happen in BigCoLand. Only a little dude with nothing to lose can choose to build around something truly open. (The big guys are always forced to, eventually.)

The most famous war-collapse was when the web took over from the warfare between Microsoft and the Taligent team (Apple, IBM, Borland, Novell, lots of others). They were all busy blowing smoke at each other over the users when out of nowhere a network that had been around longer than any of them, that had already solved every problem they were trying to solve that was worth solving, swooped in and doused all the warfare. How? The users fell in love, and as we know, love is a very powerful force.

My guess, if I had to make one, is that the social network that we will all be building on in the coming years is already out there. It could be Twitter, after it's federated, or it could be what FriendFeed is teasing about. Or it could be two kids in a garage that no one is paying attention to. Keep your eyes and ears open and trust your gut, you'll know it when you see it.


There's a game being played on Twitter that goes like this.

"When Obama wins..."

The game is to fill in the blank creatively. .

Here are some examples.

Here's my entry.