September 1993 is a time few of us remember in vivid detail, let alone commemorate. Yet it was in this “Eternal September” that AOL made the Internet a household sensation. By making the Internet available to everyone and indispensable to most, AOL made itself wealthy enough to buy Time Warner, the biggest media conglomerate in the world.
AOL’s rise also lifted the fortunes of others. Amazon.com and Ebay both went online in 1995; 1995 was also the year that Yahoo incorporated. Three years later, Google was founded. Together, these four companies emerged as the big winners of the the Internet Era in America.
Internet in China has always had a time delay compared to the U.S., but we see pretty much the same pattern. The Internet craze was full blown by 1997 when Netease was founded. It was followed by more giants: Tencent, Sina and Sohu were founded in 1998, Shanda and Alibaba were founded in 1999, Baidu was founded in 2000. After the first five years, pretty much all the big players are in place.
Of course, winners of the early stage of the Internet Era do not get to monopolize all the winnings. Other new companies also made a lot of money, if not as much. Leftovers from another Era (Microsoft comes to mind) are still competing hard as well.
Things are not set in stone either, companies can still emerge out of nowhere and stir things up. In the U.S., Facebook came out in 2004, and Twitter came out in 2006; in China, 360Buy and Juren came out in 2004.
However: these complexities do not change the two things about the basic narrative. First, the first five years of the Internet industry was very decisive in shaping the industry’s shape and future; no matter how far the likes of Yahoo have fallen, they are still a player in the game twenty years later. Secondly, the achievements of the winners determined how well others did; an industry that can produce a Google means a lot smaller firms can also make money, just like a basketball league with LeBron James as its best player probably has a lot of other quality players.
Now, this March is the 5th year since the immortal Steve Jobs launched the Apple app store. If Mobile is as disruptive and as revolutionary as the Internet, things should work out more or less in the same way. Instead, even the big winners are the likes of Rovio, Evernote, and Instagram. Yes, these are billion dollar companies, but compared to even Ebay, that’s just peanuts. If the winners have only (comparatively) paltry earners, think of the average joes. That’s like a league with a washed up Stephon Marbury as its best player (still balling, but probably can only serve as a bench player in the NBA) probably suck.
The thing about the Mobile industry is that while everybody is playing up its hype, so far it hasn’t offered up anything that has truly changed our lives. The Iphone may be indispensable, but we can live without any single app. It’s hard to say the same thing about Google. Like Barack Obama’s presidency, the Mobile industry is more hype than substance. Maybe it’s time to declare that, yes, shifting to Mobile is a great event, but it’s a natural extension of the Internet revolution; it’s not going to change the world.
Image Credits: Bing Image