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Nobody understands the Internet

Matt Weinberger | Sept. 15, 2014
The Internet changes everything! Software is eating the world!

The Internet changes everything! Software is eating the world!

You hear things like this all the time, especially if you go to a lot of vendor conferences, which I do. The problem is that while everybody agrees that the Internet has changed everything and more and more of our lives are becoming driven by software, nobody really seems to be exactly sure what that means. 

Nowhere was this more evident than on the show floor at TechCrunch Disrupt, where startups of all shapes and sizes were aggressively displaying their plumage in an attempt to woo customers, attract venture capital, and neg the dominant players in whatever industry they're setting out to (ugh) disrupt.

But the predominant impression one gets from walking around the show floor is that nobody in the software world really fully understands just how the Internet works; they're just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

This is particularly obvious in the enterprise collaboration space. 

You can see this in the ongoing conversation around the role of email in the enterprise: Email is dead...no, wait, email is alive...no, wait, email is okay, but it needs life support to live.

This conversation was well-represented at Disrupt: InviBox, an email service provider exhibiting at the show, presents its subscribers with a unified dashboard between accounts and social networks, which CEO Christopher Nagy says presents a way for users to curate their inboxes by promoting the senders they like and blacklisting the ones they don't.

"We're still getting a lot of email we don't want or need," says Nagy.

Another startup, Mailtime, tries to overlay email chains into a text-message like thread that makes it more natural to talk and cut down on long emails that don't actually say anything. It's basically an email client that looks like WhatsApp or similar. Other startups at the show were presenting better task management, or better SharePoint portals, or better collaboration. 

Fundamentally, all of these companies have the exact same pitch as Asana, Slack, Mailbox, Acompli, and anyone else who wants to help people work together, better: Highlight the important stuff! Communicate more quickly! Work together! How they get there is what sets them apart. Anecdotally, we see successes, but it seems telling to me that so few of these solutions really rise to the top of the heap.

And the ones that do seem to be the ones that take all their cues from the very first communications technologies we built on top of the Internet — mail (Mailbox) or IRC (Slack). The common theme seems to be helping big teams still work like small teams, but that's enabled in different ways. 

 

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