Leveraging Yesterdays Technologies for Tomorrows Innovations

Perhaps I’m getting old fartish, but I’m mildly disturbed by some of the “innovations” that are coming out these days. It once was cool, but now it’s just getting obnoxious. Take Cumul.us for instance, a service I just discovered today thanks to my friend Frank Gruber over at Somewhat Frank. This service tries to take the Twitter meets Facebook approach by asking what the weather is like now, and pulling in friends to figure out what everyone is wearing. I’m sorry, but I don’t see value in this iteration of social media.

Since when does anyone ask other people what to wear? I check out the temp and figure out for myself if that hoodie is going to get use or if the tee-shirt from Lijit is going to see the light of day. This is not rocket science, and it certainly does NOT need a social network built around it – at least not funded (and to be fair, I have no idea if they are).

I pick on Cumul.us because they are fresh in my mind, but they are not the only company doing stupid things. But let’s not focus on the negative. I’m certainly a fan of services and technologies that bring real life usefulness to real life people in very real senses.

The trick, in my mind, to a valuable company, is in using yesterday’s technologies to bridge the gap to tomorrow’s innovative new services. These are the valuable services. These are the ones I want to latch on to and evangelize. These are the ones that, if I were an investor, I’d be tossing money at. The bridge to Web 2.0 was on the back of billions of dollars of investment in fiber optics during Web 1.0, which allowed us the bandwidth to have the rich applications we enjoy today.

So let’s look at some successful companies that have real life application, that were built on the back of yesterday’s technology.

Utterz

Utterz is a viable player because it is based on the cell phone. You know, the thing that came out in the mid 90s that is attached to everyones hip today? Utterz allows you to call a phone number, leave a message similar to what you would do on any voicemail system, and then publish the message to the web, in various places. That’s a useful way for an everyday kind of person to experience today’s web.

Twitter

Twitter is a great crossover from another mid-90s technology, Instant Message, as well as text messaging into the great wild of the microweb. Again, Twitter is a valuable tool that builds community on the back of technologies that we have all enjoyed, and in some cases come to rely on, in an everyday world. Twitter is sticky among common users (and trust me, it’s more than just us early adopters using Twitter) because the obstacle for mom and dad is non-existant. Since everyone has a cell phone, everyone can use Twitter – regardless of if they even have internet access.

It’s even possible to have engagement in the Congo, where few people have internet access, but the wireless telecom industry is booming. That’s actually useful.

Tripit

Tripit is a valuable company with real world application because, let’s face it, just about everyone rents a car, takes a flight somewhere or stays in a hotel and it’s really damn hard to keep track of all those confirmation emails. Then you have to print them all and trifold them so you have a thick stack to take with you just to keep you on track with what you’re supposed to be doing and when.

Tripit offers absolutely ZERO obstacle to use. Not even an account. One will be created for you automatically if you don’t already have one. Simply forward your confirmation email from U.S. Airways (or any airline itinerary, hotel reservation, car rental, etc) to plans@tripit.com and looky, you now can login with your email address and print your itinerary. Travel alot and have lots of confirmations emails? Forward them all. Tripit is smart enough to organize them.

Tripit was built on old world technologies – email and confirmation sheets. Everyone understands these, but Tripit makes sense of it and helps everyday users save hassle, headache, time… and for the green among you, paper!

The challenge for all innovators is coming up with the idea no one has thought about and doing it in such a way that anyone, and I don’t mean early adopters, can use and immediately benefit from. Lots of cool gizmos out there, but if there’s no real world value it’s just noise. We need less noise.

Update: After re-reading this several days later, I realized that it sounded like Tripit was only for US Airways. I was using that as an example. Any airline confirmation email, hotel reservation or car rental can be forwarded. I’ve updated the entry too to reflect that.