Chris Anderson is editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, which has won a National Magazine Award under his tenure. He coined the phrase The Long Tail in an acclaimed Wired article, which he expanded upon in the book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. His most recent book is Free: The Future of a Radical Price.
Before joining Wired in 2001, he worked at The Economist, where he launched their coverage of the Internet. He also has a degree in physics from George Washington University and did research at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He has also worked at the journals Nature and Science.
Question: What’s an upcoming technology that will disrupt the industry?
The simple answer to your question is the most disruptive thing I can see right now is the fact that you and I are carrying GPS chips in our pocket. If you have an iPhone in your pocket or any other smart phone, you’ve got a GPS chip.
Now we’re not doing much with them right now but we have, for the first time in history, the capacity to link our physical world, the world we live in, to the virtual world. You have not just a GPS chip, but an internet connection in your pocket; a broadband internet connection. We have not quite figured out what to do with that yet. There’s a little alternative reality. There [are] these location aware – augmented reality was the phrase I meant. I think that is a game changer and it’s very rare, by the way, that the enabling infrastructure would be put in place before application to use it, but that day has happened.
I think GPS and the internet combined is a game changer. Now I’ll add just one thing on top of that. The fact that your phone is not just GPS and internet connection, but also other sensors, accelerometers, it has proximity sensors, light sensors, things like that. It could have other sensors. You know, we’ll see what we do with that. To what extent could that be used for health care? To what extent can that be used for, sort of, environmental monitoring? I don’t know but we now have nodes. We have smart nodes in people’s pockets, in their hands, spread all around the world, connected to each other and the internet that know where they are. I think that’s a big deal.
Question: Which CEO is using technology the most successfully in this new normal economy?
Chris Anderson: I’m a huge fan of what Twitter – What Biz Stone and Williams have done with Twitter and I’m also going to use 37signals as my other example. I could name hundreds but those are just two sides of the coin. What I like about Twitter is that they didn’t over think it. They built a core platform, pretty open, and then let the ecosystem develop the clients and the iPhone apps. They let the community develop the hash tags and the conventions, etcetera. They were incredibly, I think, humble and open minded to where this was going. They didn’t have this sort of doctrinaire vision of this is where it’s going and you do it our way. It was more, sort of, like here’s something useful, you’re free to find even more useful ways to use it. Over time as these become accepted, maybe we’ll enhance that. I think that particular openness, that sort of default openness, is a very smart technological way to go. Because what you’re saying is you have the capacity to make us better and we’ll learn from you.
37signals is a different approach in that they are relatively lean and targeted. They are not trying to become Microsoft. They know who they are. They were kind of born on the web and, as a result, the products sort of feel organically web centric.
They use a charge model so they’re not really free. I think they have free trials but they quickly convert you. It’s based on organic growth. They had a revenue model from day one. It’s sustainable. That’s a business where they create a product that consumers want. They know who their consumers are. Their cost base isn’t too high, and they make money. End of story. It’s like the way God intended it. Those two models, both very web centric, one sort of saying we’re not going to let monetary issues get in the way of openness, we’re going to let the product evolve. The other’s saying, we’re going to be organically focused on making money from day one and not overbuild. The two effective strategies today.
Recorded on September 30, 2009