May 30, 2012
Table of contents:
Over the last 15 years or so, the Internet has destroyed countless established industries and built new ones, seemingly over night, in their place. Broadband connections, the rise of the smartphone and the increasingly lowering cost of entry to computing technology and the Internet as a whole is decentralising entire aspects of our society.
It is now easier than ever to start a company with very little capital and, within a relatively short span of time, build an extremely profitable business with a market of potentially billions.
The Internet has also given rise to the opportunity for people with no interest in starting their own venture, to pursue their passion within a niche and connect with other like minded individuals from across the world. Lifestyle businesses based on the maker movement are becoming more prevalent and allowing anyone in the world to design their lifestyle around their passion.
The decentralisation of large interconnected groups is a strong theme of how the Intenet will continue to evolve into the next decade. Here is an overview of the companies that have been integral in the paradigm shift so far and the companies that are building new ways to create value from decentralised interconnected individuals in the near future.
The Internet itself is comprised of an open global series of interconnected computer networks that utilise technology and protocols like TC/IP, HTTP and SMTP to serve websites, send emails and provide the infrastructure to generate billions in wealth for people and organisations that span the world. Without these open protocols, distributed technologies or the diligence of the Open Source community, the Internet as we know it would not exist and we would not have all of these opportunities that we take for granted today.
The technology behind the Internet, coupled with the Open Source movement not only provides the structure for each of the following opportunities, but it also provides a framework for organising a large mass of decentralised, interconnected individuals that come together to create huge value.
Wikipedia is one of the greatest feats of our society, a vast collection of the world’s knowledge, created and organised collaboratively and openly accessible by anyone. It is little wonder that Wikipedia quickly destroyed the established knowledge leaders like Encyclopedia Britannica by being able to create more accurate, better updated and vastly more coverage than any centralised organisation could ever dream of. Wikipedia has become the number one resource for learning about just about anything you can think of and is of huge value to the Internet.
eBay was founded in 1995 and offered a glimpse at the future of decentralised groups coming together around a niche. With eBay, anyone in the world can list and sell anything to any other person in the world. The power of eBay can really be seen in the fact that many millions of people around the world earn their living from the eBay ecosystem.
Etsy is like the eBay for craft loving people, and has been integral to the strong new wave of the maker movement. Etsy is a marketplace that allows people to create goods and sell them to a target audience of people from around the world. This has allowed millions of people to quit their day jobs to pursue their dream of making things they love.
With traditional media outlets still trying to fight the inevitable rise of the Internet, the “YouTube Generation” are creating a whole new wave of original content that can be distributed to a much larger audience through the Internet. It was once the case that the media outlet gatekeepers could completely control what their audience consumed. Now however, with more and more people spending their time online instead of in front of the TV, video community websites like YouTube and Vimeo allow anyone the same opportunity to get their work out in front of an audience. This is evident in the success of Dan Trachtenberg who’s short film Portal: No Escape helped him land his Hollywood directorial debut.
Blogging has been popular within a niche subset of the Internet community for many years now. However the real power of blogging is only really coming to light. Those early adopter bloggers are now massively influential because they have been writing their informed opinions and insights over a long period of time. A great example of the power of blogging can be seen in Pete Cashmore who started the media powerhouse Mashable at the age of 19 from his bedroom in Aberdeen, Scotland. Mashable is now one of the premier technology news outlets. Blogging can have a tremendous impact on the future success of a career and can help build an audience, one of the key elements of the decentralised movements. I’ve previously covered this topic in more detail, Why personal branding will become more important than a degree.
Twitter has really been one of the most powerful catalysts of this movement with their open policy and following vision. Twitter has made it easy to build a strong following by allowing anyone to follow your tweets, if this had not been made publicly default from the beginning I don’t think Twitter would have had the same impact. Also Twitter’s following policy, where you can follow anyone you are interested in, without them following you back, allows interesting people to build up followings in the millions.
To an outsider, Tumblr seems like a crazy mash of meme pictures and content that get endlessly bounded around the Tumblr community. Tumblr is in fact much deeper than that and should really be seen as the next generation of media outlet. Tumblr intrinsically has a social sharing systems that allows anyone to reblog a piece of content to their followers. This means that content will be judged by the community, and only that which is deemed interesting will rise to the top. This is in stark contrast to the gatekeepers deciding what content should be given to consumers. Tumblr offers the opportunity for consumer brands to build a story through high quality content. Tumblr is re-thinking the way advertising and online marketing function by moving away from the traditional display ad business.
Over just the last couple of years, there has been an influx of companies that are using the themes of decentralised interconnected people to create extremely valuable organisations that are built around allowing their users to create value. Here are some companies doing some very interesting things.
TaskRabbit is a market place that allows you to outsource tasks that you either don’t want to do, or simply don’t have time to do. However, the interesting part is the other side of the coin, the fact that people can become full time TaskRabbits and curate their lifestyle around taking opportunities for work without the controlling restrictions of full time employment. This allows single parents, people in between jobs or people who are just looking to fund their passion an opportunity to earn money without the commitment to a company that previously you would have to take on. TaskRabbit is another very exciting decentralised marketplace that allows an interconnected mass of people to come together to globally disrupts the World’s workforce and labour market.
Kickstarter is a marketplace for finding funding for creative projects and ideas. The interesting part about Kickstarter is, really when it comes down to it, the money is only secondary when you consider the community that is built around the idea before it has even become a reality. Customer Development is one of the key aspects of Steve Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Kickstarter is a truly ingenious way of Customer Development and finding your product/market fit whilst simultaneously raising the capital you need to fund the idea and make the product a reality.
Kiva a non-profit organisation that allows people to lend money via the Internet to people in developing countries. The money goes to people who struggle to get financing to help them empower themselves and make a better life. Kiva works with microfinance institutions on five continents to provide loans to people without access to traditional credit systems. Again Kiva is an example of how a decentralised mass of interconnected people can empower people to improve their lives with access to the capital they need to get themselves out of poverty.
Gumroad is an interesting new company that allows anyone to sell something as easy as sharing a link. Paypal was innovative because it made paying for things as safe and easy as sending an email, but Gumroad is now building on the decentralisation of the Internet and the way millions of people have curated their online social circles over the last couple of years. Now, if you have something you would like to sell to your online followers, you can do it through Gumroad without the hassle of setting up an ecommerce website.
Lending Club is one of many peer-to-peer lending schemes that offers a way for people who cannot access traditional lines of credit to receive loans in a safe environment. To the lender, it offers a way of getting a higher level or interest that would normally be offered from Banks or traditional investment firms. Although still in it’s infancy, once again the peer-to-peer finance industry is one that is taking shape due to the decentralisation nature of the Internet and the ability for interconnected people to come together to offer financing and credit to people who might not have any other option.
The Internet is providing us with whole new economies of scale and an unprecedented potential market of people that are highly motivated or interested in very specific niches. Our society is slowly moving away from the traditional corporate structure of a predefined career path. We now have the tools to connect, collaborate and create with other like minded individuals, no matter where in the world they are situated. Now is an exciting time to be building a company that is focused on the themes of decentralised interconnected individuals. Seize the opportunity.