Don’t you sometimes notice that a lot of tech companies are simply reinventing the wheel? Take for instance search engines. Long before Google was king, there have been several search engines that have pre-dated it (and perhaps now we can say Google has “predated” those other search engines in another sense). And even after Google took dominance in the search industry, a host of other search outfits are trying to get into the game. Some are small, but some are arguably giants in themselves. Take Microsoft, for instance.
In business, does it make sense to reinvent the wheel?
In competition, does it make sense to challenge the status quo? Can you always be the David that stares Goliath in the face, while planning to bring the giant down? Or are you not just wasting your time by entering into a sphere were someone is still dominant, and is not likely to give up top spot that easily?
For years, MySpace ruled the social networking scene. Facebook started out simply as a closed network, but when it opened to the public, along with its plethora of applications and inherent expandability, it just took off. But it’s not always the case. There are a handful of other startups that looked promising from the start. But where are they now? Think Friendster. Think Multiply. Perhaps they still serve a niche, but they probably no longer merit the same expectations as before.
Are there lost opportunities here? Did people take a wrong turn? Is this a case of reinventing the wheel, and then realizing it’s an exercise in futility?
Sure, innovation is good. But it does take timing, hard work and a bit of luck (or serendipity) before something will click. I remember working for a startup before that created blogging software that promised point-and-click ease. The idea has merits. It was advanced for its time. But in the end, the bigger, more popular services stood their ground. We tried to reinvent the wheel to make it spin better. But apparently, other people who have been reinventing their own wheels got to it faster, and did it better. And people patronized their “wheels” better.
I also remember a few startups that offered backup solutions for certain Operating Systems. But when that certain Operating System released a major version, it included a built-in online backup functionality. So this is a case of a third party software being made obsolete by an upgrade. What happens then?
My point here is that indeed there are a lot of smart teams and individuals coming up with what looks like the same thing left and right. Some will probably get funding. Some will be profitable. Some will succeed in the short term. But not everyone will be afloat one, two or five years from now. So does it still make sense to reinvent the wheel, so to speak?
My answer would be yes. Otherwise, we’d all be running our cars on wheels made of stone, figuratively and perhaps literally. Sure, not everyone succeeds in innovation. Sure, some standards just eat up others. Sure, some people lose a lot of time, money, and effort in the process of trying to make some game-changing innovations. But it’s the process that matters. It’s how we get there, and it’s the good things that come out of our collective efforts.
So, what do we do with all those web apps, blogs, or ideas that will likely fizzle out in a few months’ or years’ time? I say we enjoy the fact that we have choices, and that we have new things every now and then.