Friday, October 21, 2005

Reflections on the magic of the dotcom era

Yeah I realise this is a little out of the design league but things aren't as exciting as they used to be now huh? We're definitely well past the honeymoon period of the dotcom era and now into the malaise and the lot-less-sex period. I've been thinking about this a lot over the years and really it's not just that the stock options, money and dotcoms that are gone, there were a lot of other things that captured our techie imaginations during that time. It was the culmination of a LOT of achievements and barriers being broken all at the same time that led us into the new information age. There was so much we looked forward to, and eagerly devoured and the dotcoms were just the face.

1) DVD's, movies weren't just bummy VHS tapes that would wear out over time anymore. Special features, director's commentary, alternate angles, all of that stuff promised us a greater insight into the filmmaking process. Plus movies came on those CD looking things now! We have the technology. We can rebuild him. Smaller, better, faster..

2) CGI comes of age, we were astounded by movies like Final Fantasy and Dinosaur. How much more real could it get? Each new movie wasn't so much as a new movie but also a step further. We were looking forward to just how much better it could look each time

3) 3D accelerators become standard, then we got the GPU. Now we focused on the domains of even larger polycounts, complexity. No longer was fog and shitty draw distance the default LOL. We moved to a new era of physics, shaders, and particle/rain and water effects.

4) PDA's. Palm was the great white hope, here was a company that wasn't just any old dotcom, it also sold hardware with shades of the Apple of old. They carried the future dream of all our lives being seamlessly integrated with our minature digital brains in our pocket, and that we wouldn't blink at dropping $500 on any of these things. Not at all :) Would our mini laptops supplant cell phones? I defintiely had a lot of interest here.

5) The broadband revolution. The US really led point here, pioneering not only rollout, but with an ecosystem of applications alongside it. E-Commerce, on demand TV, gaming, prophets already screaming "FIBER TO THE HOME!". Streaming video, voice over IP, the next generation of bandwidth will have a much tougher fight, and arguably much less of an impact on our lifestyles.

6) Massively Multiplayer games. This was the era of Everquest, which set the standard for today and is still arguably undefeated. The dream of the virtual world had been realised. For me ever since I saw the crude avatars, MUSH's and early efforts with the Sierra Network, even Prodigy, AOL etc, I was hooked from that moment and was never more envious to not be living in the US at the time.

7) The peer to peer revolution, sparked by Napster. I think we all know what happened with this one :)

8) DiVX, that did for video what MP3 did for audio. Finally video was a first class citizen on the internet, no more matchbook sized undecipherable video on geoshitties sites. The size was small, efficient. The quality was amazing. Movie piracy also finally arrived, and with it a ballooning independent film scene online.

9) Along with DiVX to birth the indie film scene(and tv ads online :P) was the ubiquity of streaming video. Audio was dialup, video was broadband. One of the first things I wanted to see when I first came to this country was streaming video, no stuttering, no ridiculous buffering every 4 frames. Wow.

10) Webcomics. Simple, but can't be ignored. Userfriendly was my first love :) Webcomics(and Dilbert) did for us, what newspaper cartoonists did for everyone else. Userfriendly, and a few other comics at the time, summed up the day to day nonsense of our new dotcom era and gave us entertainment while we rolled around in our riches and camped at our stock tickers while pretending to work at the same time.

11) Finally, the dotcoms. I absolutely regret not being here when it was possible to order groceries online. I remember when it was so cool to be able to order *anything* online. This was another thing I was dying to try when I got here. That convenience as well as range of choice, things like pricewatch, amazon. All US only ARGH. The dotcoms were supposed to kill everyone on price as well as offer convenience. That was supposed to be the revolution. I think the true revolution was the UPS/Fedex model they pioneered when "e-commerce" gradually evolved from being a nationwide US only thing to truly becoming a global marketplace (courtesy of UPS/Fedex) today.

When I look back on it now. I look back fondly, and also regret. After all, I was still ultimately a spectator, I didn't get to actually live through the dotcom stock rush, and I was still a spectator for everything else. Arrived too little, too late. The bubble practically burst when I stepped off the plane. However looking back now, this *WAS* our generation's Woodstock/hippy era, we all had so much hope and so many dreams then. It's just a pity I didn't get to prospect for dotcom gold in time. Other countries may have had bits and pieces of this pie, but the US had it all, led point and showed the world how it was done and enjoyed its greatest prosperity.

I seriously do not think we'll see another era quite like that one until mankind starts colonising other planets, then it'll be new products (i.e new cures), new business models, new types of jobs, all over again. Hopefully I will position my kids (and maybe myself) to much better take advantage of the next one :)

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