With brilliant imagination, in its opening ceremony the Sydney Olympics presented Nikki Webster in the Australian experience of going swimming. (*)

More than water skills will be needed beyond the Beijing Olympics for Australian online businesses to survive and thrive against the next internet wave.

From 1995 the web encouraged water sports. Today the internet has moved beyond surfing.

The question here is how should Australian online businesses compete in the years ahead to serve local, international or global markets.


Look back to see ahead.

Surfing became a common analogy for web browsing from about 1995. The Netscape Navigator browser team positioned well. On dialling up their browser loaded and one image has remained – the Netscape mascot, Mozilla the monster (pictured above), riding the web on a surfboard. The surfing analogy linked to how interface design was evolving.

In the history of IT interface design browsers have been said to be part of the third wave

This was the persuasive view of Brenda Laurel in her 1991 book,Computers as Theatre. It followed her 1990 book, The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design.

Laurel presented a framework of three waves in interface design.

  • The first wave was the “green slime” era, eg the DOS and UNIX era of green alphanumeric text on black screens. To do stuff you pressed function keys in the top row of a full keyboard.
  • The second wave came with the invention of icon-based interface design, also known as graphical user interfaces. In place of alphanumeric text there appeared cute symbols or pictograms, such as a trash can and icons for programs. To do stuff you moved a mouse and with it clicked the icons to “open” them. This approach was invented at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) but the financial and other commercialisation benefits went to Apple Computer, Inc and others. This wave is still with us with widgets.
  • The third wave was noted by Laurel as involving a sense of their being a 3D interface through which you could navigate. To do suff, you moved a mouse, joystick, virtual reality glove or helmet or just your eyes or other body parts. The IT device sensed you wanted to “navigate” somewhere and took you there. So you did stuff by simulation or “surfing” site by site on the web or level by level or scene by scene in a game. In this era surfing reached its highpoint as an analogy especially for the web.

The hip terms have since changed. From 2000 people talked of a web/market “space” and then from 2007 about the internet “cloud”. Both terms are amorphous, not so useful. Stay with the surfing analogy for one more paragraph and then we’ll try to join some contemporary dots.

Surf’s up for online businesses today. In the Web 2.0 ocean we have a new emerging competitive landscape. Following is a postulation about the shape of part of it.

  • Facebook is surfing to be your permission marketing, identity and privacy interface, your passport to the internet.
  • Microsoft is surfing to be an applications plus company, one with new revenue streams beyond applications. It is hunting in advertising, an annual trillion dollar industry an ex-advertising industry client said to me today.
  • Yahoo! is surfing to be a consumer/surfer profiler. Like others in this list, Yahoo! data mines your surfing statistics and trades it as currency to attract advertiser dollars.
  • Google is already your navigator, desktop or mobile. More than a search engine. People have long used Google to navigate their own company or industry association website.
  • Wikipedia surfs to be, if it ain’t already, your most often used information port of call.

Join the dots, the bold words above, and you might postulate that the leaders in the current internet market are navigator/profilers who issue passports to applications plus information ports. Sure, that’s just word play. It’s also a simplification of trends and opportunity in the land of the IT giants.

Even those giants increasingly battle on a common strategy game board of client-server architecture plus advertising. This is in contrast to say peer-to-peer architectures and non-advertising business models.

Many of the IT and media giants loathe peer-to-peer upstarts (start-ups?). They commonly call them exploiters. They’ve entered the land of the giants.

Australian businesses in play on the client-server and advertising game board need the means to scale with servers. This is another area for very stiff competition with the IT and media giants even if you address only local markets, not international or global markets. It is rumoured Facebook is about to add 50,000 servers to its 10,000; Microsoft adds 200,000 to its collection each year</span>; and Google adds 500,000 each year!

In this land of the giants, wherever your digital business is at, collaboration is essentail to get to places in 2008 and beyond. Everyone collaborates, even Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google and Wikipedia.

Looking beyond the Beijing Olympics, you and your mates should recite and adopt this mantra:

  • it’s good to be in networks
  • it’s better to be in structured networks
  • it’s best to be in several structured networks

What are you doing? Are you working with lawyers, accountants, consultants and other collaborators who know the mantra and can briskly establish and grow structured networks?

As Netscape found, when pitching to corporates you need to drop the surfing analogy and present a mature image. It comes down to who you know, what you know collectively, and how well you are structured together in networks to ride the next wave in tandem (as one lucky couple are doing in the Waikiki image above).

(*) Meryl Tankard conceived, directed and choreographed Deep Sea Dreaming for the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games 2000.


Further reading on technology forecasting

Further reading on forming structured networks, ie collaborations

  • Reducing obstacles for collaboration formation
  • The mantra is derived from Bureau of Industry Economics, Research Report 67, “Beyond the Firm: An assessment of business linkages and networks in Australia“, Australian Government Publishing Service, 1995.
Noric Dilanchian