Silicon Valley: The Land of Confusion

Confusing traffic signs

The early 1990s, especially before the launch of Windows 95, were a time of big changes in tech land: the continuously shifting market share of operating systems — Apple versus Windows, IBM and its OS efforts — the jostling for top position, the fallen heroes and new stars. From a writer’s perspective, it was a glorious time.

Then came the late 1990s: the dawn of the Internet era. Once again, there was a battle for market share, as thousands of web companies of all hues vied for consumer attention: Netscape versus Internet Explores, AOL versus CompuServe, Internet versus everything. For a few years, Silicon Valley was a land of greed, glamor and confusing change.

These were but two major seasons of change (and thus confusion) that I’ve experienced firsthand as a chronicler of the business of technology. Now, we’re going through a similar period, when a whole lot of activity is distracting us, masking what is really happening when viewed from a larger landscape.

In 2005, if you asked me if Microsoft and Nokia would ever join in wedlock, I would simply have walked away the conversation. But desperate times call for desperate measures. In 2006, it was hard to imagine that Facebook was going to be worth $50 billion and Twitter worth $10 billion; yet today, they stand as twin pillars of a new web, jostling for supremacy with Google.

Today, we have new platforms for the web (Google, Twitter, Facebook) and for mobile (Android, Apple’s iOS), powered by Internet-hosted infrastructure (cloud) and stitched together via programming interfaces and open-source software. For GigaOM readers, this confluence of broadband, cloud-based infrastructure and always-on, anywhere computing is not a surprise. We’ve been writing about this coming change for nearly half a decade now.

These events have created a salubrious environment for startups. Hundreds of new startups are born every month, getting funded and hoping to become the next YouTube. Investors, typically a cautious lot, are getting upended by a new breed of independent punter — angels — who are willing to back dozens of risky, and sometimes flimsy, ideas.

If the startups are getting all the attention from early-stage investors, larger, public-market investors are also looking at the technology sector in 2011 to make money. It’s rather simple: The rest of the economy is laboring, and traditional investment sectors are hardly moving the needle. Institutional investors are looking at technology as a savior. The trading of shares of Facebook, Twitter and other private companies on private exchanges is a sign of speculative fervor among investors. It isn’t a surprise that companies like LinkedIn and Pandora are looking to raise money from the public markets.

These are scary times. These are exciting times. These are confusing times. If you’re a writer, you’re looking at multiple story lines and an opportunity to sort through this confusion. As 1980s hit-band Genesis once sang (YouTube autoplay link):

This is the time
This is the place
So we look for the future
But there’s not much love to go around
Tell me why, this is a land of confusion

Land of confusion indeed! We have information coming at us as a torrent. Not all of it makes sense. This is why I have decided to write a daily email newsletter, Om Says. In this newsletter, I will provide context and share my take on what matters — be it news, people, startups or technologies. I will also cull together great content from around the web you should read. I don’t plan on being comprehensive. Instead, I want to focus on that one thing you need to pay attention to.

The newsletter will be emailed every morning, and 12 hours later, we’ll post the content to GigaOM. There will be days, of course, when there isn’t much to say (a slow news day, as we call it), and a post would merely add to the confusion of your inbox. On those days, I will practice abstinence! Please join me in this journey, and sign up for Om Says, using the subscribe form below.

Better Google Voice for iPhone

GV Connect is so far the best application for connecting to Google Voice and using it effectively. Far superior to Google’s free-but-mediocre in-house offering, it has a much simpler and easy to access interface. However, it does not provide notifications — a feature that is sorely missed.  At $2.99, it’s a bargain, especially if you use Google Voice as your primary number.

Anti-consumerism, Aggregators and IPOs

These are three articles I found useful and will be worth reading.

Image courtesy of Flickr user joshuamckenty.

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