Thursday, November 03, 2005

Are there any original ideas?

Innovation is a weird thing.

Everytime I go into a movie theatre, I end up asking the same question aloud:

"Aren't there any original ideas anymore?"

It seems every movie is a remake of an old movie or a fairy tale or a kids book or a TV series, or a sequel to some other movie. In a flash of simplistic reductionism. I decide conclusively that there aren't any new ideas at all. That all 'new' ideas are just a baked together collection of old ideas.

Lets use the internet technology world as an obvious example of what I'm talking about, because that's something that moves pretty fast, and something I (sort of) understand.

Once upon a time, a California company made a better search engine. And coupled with that, they made a better revenue model, that made money from 'the long tail'. They made a gazillion dollars, in a way that didn't even seem intentional.

Now, they have this wonderful reputation, as nice guys, but also as innovators. (Although it's been humorous watching the slashdot crowd slowly turn on Google. The conspiracy theories start creeping in at the edges, and before you know it, it's Larry's face with the Borg implant...)

But while Google are certainly innovative, they're not immune to a bit of inspiration, either.

Every time something new comes out in the web tech world, it seems like you've heard it all before. And you know why? Because for the most of it, you have. Check out my innovation map of who made what and how, and you'll see that there are only 7 original ideas, from the 21 products listed:

(I know, I left out a bunch of stuff. I'm just focusing on the web 2.0 stuff from the last few years. And I'm calling all those yellow 'inspired by' lines based solely on how I saw them, so there's probably room for argument. )

Still, none of the seven ideas are actually new. Webmail is just mail on the web. (E-mail is the actual idea, and that's really just the pony express). These guys pre-dated the google maps phenomenon, but even all that Ajax and Web 2.0 stuff is just based on XMLHTTP, which Microsoft invented years ago for OWA, but even that's just http...which is just more pony express. Skype and all the IM crew are just coasting on the coat-tails of Samuel Morse, and Keyhole just made a big fat round atlas....

Isn't reductionism fun? It makes you feel ever so clever :)

And that's better than most modern movies...


  1. I love reductionism. There was only ever ONE original idea and that was "Go on, eat the apple, you know you want to..." and now here we are, the universe's most hated species, running the planet.

  2. Nothing new exists under the sun...

    The point of these open Web 2.0 systems is having the ability to interact and create better tools and experiences.

    This post reminds me of my tenure at a large media company, every time I had a new web inititave the fat marketing managers would say- Oh that isn't anything new, we have an opt in page, or we developed something similar last year etc. or our agency does that... etc.

    My answer this: Ideas are nothing and knowledge is worthless unless it is acted upon successfully....and previous may exist...does it WORK? Does it work well? Does it integrate? Can we exract value, are our users happy and passionate about it.

    Their is a big difference between a rusted old UTE and a HUMMVEE

    Gordon, we have many telling us how it is, come join us in building and therefore showing with example how things can be.

    And yes, Nothing new exists under the sun.

    But sometimes the 2.0 version works a bit better ;-)


  3. Hi Kevin,

    I wasn't intending to simply be a naysayer -The point I was chasing was is that big companies chasing big money tend to stay in pretty safe territory. And that that can lead to derisive, boring products, which might not be the best culture for great software.

    I agree that there is probably too much emphasis put on innovation - the reality is that the idea of a lifetime comes along every couple of weeks -most folk just don't have the tenacity, patience or capital to develop it into something truly great. (Which is maybe another reason I find it disapointing when the companies that do, don't.)

    For me the point of software is to make people's lives better. I'm pretty confident that my work contributes to that end. If your products and services do that, then I'm all for them!

    Gord :^)

  4. Step-Granny Madeleine2:34 pm

    You might want to see the movie, A Scanner Darkly. Phillip Dick (of Bladerunner fame) had some novel ideas.