The Next Net 25
A new Web revolution is picking up steam, and the next Google or Microsoft could emerge from the companies that are in the vanguard.
(Business 2.0) - Things are really crackling in Silicon Valley these days. There's the frenzied startup action, the rising rivers of VC cash, even the occasional bubble-icious long-term stock prediction (Google $2,000, anyone?). There's so much happening that the buzzword recently employed to try to encapsulate the era--"Web 2.0"--now seems hopelessly inadequate, defined and redefined into near meaninglessness by squadrons of aspiring entrepreneurs, marketers, and other fortune hunters.
So it seems a particularly useful moment to wave away the smoke and home in on what's really core. Don't be distracted by the Valley's hype-o-meter pushing toward the red: There's something very real--and very powerful--afoot. Driven by ubiquitous broadband, cheap hardware, and open-source software, the Web is mutating into a radically different beast than it has been. And that is leading to the creation of entirely new kinds of companies, new business models, and oceans of new opportunity.
We are in the early stages of what might be better thought of as the Next Net. The Next Net will encompass all digital devices, from PC to cell phone to television. Its defining characteristics include the ability to interact instantaneously with any of the more than 1 billion Web users across the globe--not by, say, instant messaging, but by evolving instant-voice-messaging and instant-video-messaging apps that will make today's e-mail and IM seem crude. The Next Net is deeply collaborative: People from across the planet can work together on the same task, and products or tools can be rapidly tweaked and improved by the collective wisdom of the entire online world. The new era is also creating a realm of endless mix and match: Anyone with a browser can access vast stores of information, mash it up, and serve it in new ways, to a few people or a few hundred million.
Most striking, the Next Net creates endless possibilities for entrepreneurs and established players alike to take advantage of the Web's new power. They are building on the success of early standard-bearers--Flickr, MySpace, Wikipedia--but also moving beyond those pioneers in creative and fascinating ways. In the pages that follow, we identify 25 companies, in five Next Net categories, whose approaches help illuminate where the Web is headed and where the opportunities lie. Most are startups, a lot of them with less than 10 full-time employees. Few are currently making money, and it's a given that many will fail. But it's equally likely that somewhere within this group lurks the next Google (Research) or Microsoft (Research) or Yahoo (Research)--or at least something that those giants will soon pay a pretty penny to have.
From the March 1, 2006 issue