The Internet era was born around this time ten years ago. Netscape went public on August 9 1995 and caught the world by storm. To many people, myself included, the Netscape IPO marks the passage of the Internet from a network primarily used by universities, research labs and geeks in general, to the platform for worldwide innovation that it has since become. Roughly around that same time, an IBM team was put in place to see how to accelerate our efforts in what we then called Network Centric Computing, and align them with the emerging Internet forces. The recommendations of this team led to the creation of the Internet Division in December 1995, with me as general manager.
My job and that of my colleagues across IBM was to figure out the implications of the Internet to our clients' businesses, as well as, obviously, to our own. It became increasingly clear to us that the universal reach and connectivity that the Internet was bringing to both individuals and enterprises were destined to transform not just publishing or communications, but transactions of all kinds. With universal reach and connectivity, businesses would be able to do what they did much, much better – that was the essence of our e-business strategy. Yes, we were seeing totally different business models being created around the Internet -- but what differentiated our e-business messages from most others was our belief that every business and institution would benefit from embracing the Internet, not just the start-ups.
After the bubble burst in late 2000, the IT industry went into a funk. I find it very interesting that during this period when IT was so depressed economically and otherwise, some of the most important initiatives that would set the IT agenda for a long time to come were picking up speed, all of them underpinned by the success of the Internet. Linux and Open Source in general, Grid Computing, Service Oriented Architectures, Autonomic Computing, and Pervasive Computing, were among the technology and standards-based initiatives we were working hard on in the early 2000s. Moreover, these efforts were laying the groundwork for the "horizontal" integration of business processes across a company and with its key suppliers, partners and customers, which over time would significantly transform businesses, industries and even economies. We also saw the emergence of new ways of acquiring and managing computing and business processes, with the rise of utility computing and Business Transformation Outsourcing.
IBM gathered these infrastructure and business strands together into one overriding initiative which we announced in October 2002 and initially called e-business on demand, the name since shortened to On Demand Business. Where the first phase of the Internet seemed almost giddy at times, spawning pets.com and the cult of the twenty-something millionaire, we are now seeing the emergence of entirely new academic disciplines -- such as Services Sciences, Management and Engineering, a framework for bringing science and technology to business solutions. This post-bubble, On Demand phase of the Internet has been absolutely necessary, both to make sure that the world's IT infrastructure truly works, and to ensure that the business and economic transformations IT is enabling are grounded in real business value. But... I still miss those early, very exciting times.
I was reminded of those days as I was thinking recently about the relationship between blogging, search and the evolution of the Web. Once more we seem to have a few very exciting technologies, which although not quite rising to the level of "magical", are once more capturing everyone's imagination and growing exponentially around us. Search, blogging and syndication are perhaps the most prominent such technologies, but so are game players with their highly visual interfaces and especially the emerging, collaborative virtual worlds around them.
To me, this feels very much like 1995. A huge change in how people do things is once again bursting out all around us. Some call it "social computing." We have called it "collaborative processing." Either name is actually a very good way to describe what's happening here on multiple levels. Where the first stage of the Internet Age largely consisted of people consuming what the Web made available, now they are creating it -- as the Web becomes a platform for emergent, collaborative knowledge, with more and more of the content coming from blogs and other forms of personal expression. We are seeing the emergence of a true grassroots, collaboratively created, global information platform as people around the world are taking charge of this new, radically easier and more interconnected infrastructure themselves.
Most exciting of all will be the impact on business and society at large. We are already seeing the emergence of open, collaborative innovation as a serious mode of economic production that has arisen because large numbers of individuals can now organize themselves for productive work. This challenges the long-held notion that the firm is the only way of organizing value-creating work. Indeed, social computing is creating all kinds of new communities -- and all that information out there will likely transform the way companies deal with each other and with individuals - employees, customers, partners, shareholders, and others.
Once more, I find myself struggling to explain to people in business why they should pay attention to things their children are doing like blogging and participating in community games. I think that collaborative innovation and collaborative knowledge are breaking out beyond the world of open-source software and blogging and are now becoming major forces that businesses need to learn to embrace, just as they had to learn to embrace "universal reach and connectivity" ten years ago. It will be fascinating to see where this new round of Internet and WWW energy takes us.