We’ve all grown up in a time when to do anything on the web is to be disruptive. Writing? On the web? Disruptive. Finding a date? On the web? Disruptive. It’s been going on for so long that we sort of think the web is disruptive, just by virtue of its DNA. Anything + web = disruptive.
And for most of our lives, that has actually been true. But over the past decade the notion of the web as disruptive has been quietly shifting. There’s still plenty of innovation happening on the web, but more and more those innovations are sustaining rather than disruptive. In other words, they make some existing company’s position stronger within an industry, rather than upsetting the entire industry.
The web is growing up. It’s no longer a gun-slinging frontier town where someone can come in with nothing more than a good idea and turn that into an empire.
Startups these days are less likely to blow up and become billion-dollar giants on their way to IPO, putting entire companies out of business along the way. They’re more likely to get acquired by some existing company early on (albeit sometimes for a hugely inflated valuation), or to be squashed entirely by a larger company that sees the value in what they’re doing and decides to copy it (as Facebook and Google do on nearly a daily basis).
There are disruptive ideas and opportunities out there – lots of them. But more and more, I see disruptive ideas that aren’t actually web ideas at all (like accelerators and co-working). Or if they are on the web, they include some major non-web component (like the coming disruption of banking). There are exceptions to this of course – AirBnb jumps to mind as one of them. But overall, the trend in disruption on the web is a downward one.
This should come as no surprise really. A gigantic industry has grown up around the web in our lifetimes. All of those huge companies want to grow and increase their revenue streams, and new web innovations are their power food for getting there.
But we haven’t really recognized this. Like the myth of the gunslinger in the wild west, the myth of the web entrepreneur starting a simple app and turning it into an industry-crushing behemoth lives on long past whatever truth lies behind it.
So if the web and disruption are parting ways, which way do you go? Do you stick with the web, innovating in increasingly industry-sustaining ways? Or do you look beyond the web and look for new ways to disrupt industries that may or may not include the web at all?
I guess that all depends on who you are, what you do, and what your appetite is for.