In the late 1990s, dozens of startup companies saw a future for mobile devices. They knew that we the people (especially business people) would want to have “anytime, anywhere” access to e-mail, the Internet and other documents.
More than half of those companies aren’t even around today. Some had to close their doors without even giving employees notice, or worse, severance. Others held out, like Palm. Very few became success stories.
Were they wrong about mobile? No. They were just too early for the market.
In 1998, the promise of the mobile Web was real, but it was just that: a promise. Despite plenty of mobile-ready devices, the users weren’t there yet and wouldn’t be for some time.
It’s a great example of one of the most important elements of Internet business: timing.
You can see plenty of examples of it in more recent years. Very few MySpace or YouTube clones have done well. On a smaller scale, similar happened with my first start-up, Stylediary.net. Within an eight-month time frame, seven similar companies formed. Most are not in business any longer.
Anything too late to a market won’t stick, while anything too early will more than likely starve as it awaits user adoption.
The reason why it happens, in part, is because the Web is constantly evolving as a technology itself. Where the Internet is in terms of its development plays a role in what’s possible. Other factors, like user adoption and devices, also can take part. It’s one of the hardest elements of Web business. How does one determine what’s early and what’s late in the market?
It takes a look beyond future predictions and toward the immediate. For example, mobile video and Internet gaming are tracking extremely well, with enormous potential. But I don’t believe the supporting technologies are there just yet, or that user adoption is where it needs to be to make initiatives truly viable at the moment.
To quote a February article regarding mobile TV online, “Press releases outnumber viewers.” I believe it. Audiences haven’t yet fully moved to watching Internet video via laptops and PCs, let alone handhelds. Most are still carrying Razr and traditional cell phones, rather than devices that can support initiatives in the capacity that a business would need them to.
Broadband speeds in many parts of the country just aren’t there yet, either.
So what does it mean for entrepreneurs and executives, who may feel pressured to get involved? Relax and know there’s still a little time. Should you have these types of strategies in the queue? Absolutely. Do they need to happen right now? No.
Focus on drawing mass users to your traditional Internet platform (aka Web site) and map mobile and other initiatives for the not-too-distant future. Most importantly, take a lesson from Web 1.0 and look past what’s expected to what is. It’ll help.