What the home entertainment industry that never was can teach us about Google and Facebook

In March 1876, the New York Times trumpeted the birth of  the  home entertainment industry.  It would be powered by the telephone.  It (mostly) never happened:

“By means of this remarkable instrument, a man can have the Italian opera, the Federal Congress, and his favorite preacher laid on his own house.” (New York Times, 22nd March 1876, see here)

Facebook overtakes Google, the social web wins

Almost exactly 134 years later (13th March 2010 to be precise) Facebook became the most visited website in the USA, pulling in more visitors than Google.  Last week’s data from Hitwise (an online competitive intelligence agency) shows a quiet, creeping discontinuity. Once we used the web mostly for information; now we’re primarily social users.  So what does that have to do with the New York Times and its prediction of telephone-based home entertainment?

What disruptive technology is really for

It takes twenty years to work out what any disruptive new technology is for.  Disruptive technology has a lifecycle. It’s invented.  A thousand flowers bloom as entrepreneurs and visionaries vie to make their fortunes.  Some businesses fail.  Others succeed.  After twenty years or so the dust clears on a new consensus about what that particular technology was for.

he year 1881 was a good one for French inventor Clément Ader.  At the Paris International Electrical Exhibition, he demonstrated how his théâtrophone system would open up the vast opportunity of a French home entertainment system based on a stereo telephone line.

He wasn’t the only person thinking that way.   In 1893 Telefon Hírmondó was launched by a colleague of Alexander Bell to 60 subscribers.  It’s opening message declared:

“We greet the inhabitants of Budapest. We greet them in an unusual way from which telephone broadcasting all over the world will start its victorious journey.”

By 1907, its subscriber base was 15,000 and it only stopped broadcasting with the Second World War.

Just as we eventually found out what the telephone is really for, last week’s Hitwise data shows that we’re discovering what the web is mostly for.  If the web really is primarily social, that  has big implications for online proposition development.

Things we may need to do more of include:

  1. Design based on the needs of communities, not just individuals.
  2. Emphasising social functionality as much as content and transactions.
  3. Building content that can travel on social networks, rather than driving traffic to your own site.

About Simon Kirby

Digital strategist, CX advisor and agile Product Owner. My core expertise is aligning the political, strategic and human factors that determine the success of digital, CX and innovation projects. Doing that helps organisations deliver better experiences, happier customers, distinctive propositions and improved commercial bottom-line

One Response to What the home entertainment industry that never was can teach us about Google and Facebook

  1. Interesting premise. I would venture that the number of devices connected to the Internet will rapidly outstrip the number of people fairly soon (if it hasn’t already).

    This video is a nice intro to the idea.

    The social web (2.0) may well be superceded by the machine readable web (3.0) or even “The Internet of Things”. Mashups of all of these concepts are even more likely.

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