Wheels, Brakes and the World of Technology…

This blog has been quiet for several reasons.  For starters, as a company we’re busy with fundraising activities, writing code like crazy, third-guessing our UI development and getting our product in the hands of a few select customers.  On the personal front, I’ve been moving house, which is a charmingly disruptive event at any time, never mind during the whirlwind of launching a new product and company.

Being a thrifty entrepreneur type, I did a "you load, we drive" move, which worked out pretty well for the most part — U-Pack / ABF Freight did a great job.  The only glitch was that Phoenix temperatures shot up to 104 on the day we had to load the truck.

As I was loading boxes of books, furniture and other oddly heavy items, I was struck by the wonder of the dolly.  The wheel at its finest.  Saved a lot of pain and time.  Load up the dolly, push it up the ramp, unload and repeat.  All very effective.  From a previous terrible move where the driver was apparently a part-time Indy500 wannabe, I learned to brace and tie down everything…  Life was good.

Fast forward to the new house in Raleigh.  Truck and dolly in hand, and everything apparently in good order.  But here’s the thing.  Unloading has a fundamental difference to loading: gravity is now your friend, not your enemy.  And what an eager to help friend he/she is!

About 3 seconds into wheeling the first heavy box down the ramp, I felt a sudden and very strong urge for a dolly with a BRAKE.  Some serious shoulder cramps later, I was really thinking seriously about ways in which a brake could be built in to a dolly, thereby making the world a better place.

That night happened to be one of those dog-tired-but-can’t-sleep nights.  As my mind was wandering, it occurred to me that the wheel and the brake actually were a good metaphor for the basic big steps in the development of any technology… 

First comes the wheel — everything changes, life is good, things happen faster, better and cheaper than ever before.  Lots of things can be done with a wheel, and you can make all kinds of improvements to it (bigger wheels, multiple wheels, pneumatic tires).  But after you use the wheel for a while, you realize that as amazing as it is, it is missing something… 

Then some very smart guy (or gal) invents the Brake and  everything changes again.  People who had decried the wheel now find a use for it.  The people that did use the wheel now find new and varied uses for it.  The world changes again.  There are plenty of opportunities for more refinements (engines, suspension etc), but starting and stopping fundamentally enables everything  else.

I think an awful lot of the technology on the web is in "Wheel" stage. 

For example, I’ve been hearing a lot lately from people with Wiki-fatigue.  I have nothing against Wiki’s — they’re a great piece of technology.  But I’ve heard a common theme lately.  The first few months after setting up a corporate Wiki are wonderful.  Suddenly everything is in one place and people love it.  But fast forward a few months and the Wiki has become yet another data black-hole within the organization.  Wiki’s need their phase 2 development — the "brake" stage.

Same thing with email.  The number of people using email as a data repository is HUGE, but the tools to manage that data are pretty weak.  No brakes.  Corporate Intranets have this problem too…

I think of the negative things I’ve heard from users of document and content management systems, and I wonder if some of the issues are due to that technology being in the wheel stage…

Some of the "Web 2.0" products I see definitely look like brakes.  I think what we’re doing at disruptorMonkey qualifies as a "brake" technology. 

Wheels and Brakes — that’s the basics to get everything working.  I’ll be curious to see what technologies  are the next to get brakes over the next 12 months…