You have probably heard the term "disruptive technology" before. Modern life moves at a quick pace, and it seems as though there is an endless series of innovations pushing once-mainstream sectors over the cliff of obsolescence.
The classic example is the buggy whip makers, phased out as cars replaced horses. However, they're not alone; this kind of thing happens all the time. Whenever something new is introduced into your life, just ask yourself what it is replacing. For example, music CDs replaced vinyl, and now those same CDs are being bumped out of the way by digital music.
The new issue of Business 2.0 has a great article called "The Next Disruptors." It introduces spunky new concepts that threaten to change the way we approach everything from photo-finishing to car rentals.
New and improved
Innovation percolates in the unlikeliest of places. Frequently, it's not the multibillion-dollar companies pumping billions into R&D that drum up the next big thing. Instead, the successful innovator is often a hungry upstart willing to put it all on the line in pursuit of the better mousetrap.
So it's not much of a surprise to see the Business 2.0 article single out 15 companies, of which only a few -- including Virgin and lighting visionary Cree (Nasdaq: CREE ) -- are publicly traded.
You probably don't own Cree. You probably don't have venture capital tied up in companies like Bloom Energy or Vanu. However, small companies making waves can impact the fortunes of many of the established players that you may very well own.
Let's go over a few of the disruptors and dig into the public companies that may feel the pinch.
"Over 14 million hours of video," reads the Blinkx tagline. "Search it all."
Sure enough, Blinkx has mastered the art of indexing the growing number of video clips from all of the leading video-sharing sites. Using speech recognition software to transcribe what is being said, Blinkx knows the content on leading sites like MySpace and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) YouTube better than the websites hosting the clips.
One can argue that the video-sharing sites will become even more popular once clip-culture junkies have better tools to find what they're looking for. That may be true, but hasn't history always given the advantage to the gatekeeper? Just as Google has grown as the launching pad of website searches, won't Blinkx eat into the market share of sites like YouTube and MySpace Video when folks flock to Binkx first? The landscape is changing.
There are plenty of quality budgeting resources out there in cyberspace. In fact, I would be remiss if I didn't point out the plethora of free budget calculators that you can find right here in Fooldom.
Expensr takes budget planning to the next, logical, Web 2.0 level. Its hip, user-friendly interface tracks your finances. It also lets you know how you stack up against others like you.
Financial enlightenment seems like a win-win deal, unless you happen to be Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU ) . A free log of your finances may leave you wondering if you really need to pay up for the next installment of Intuit's Quicken program. Yes, Intuit's still got its tax prep and business accounting workhorses, but companies like Quicken and Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Money may start feeling a pinch from Expensr, much like Microsoft's own Office suite of productivity applications is being tested by Google's Web-based solutions.
Zink -- which stands for "zero ink" -- is a Polaroid spinoff that uses special paper to make photo prints right out of your cell phone or digital camera. Sure, the prints are small. Picture quality may also be a concern.
Still, this is the kind of hardware that has to leave companies like Kodak (NYSE: EK ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) shaking like a Polaroid picture. Kodak has already seen its film business shrink. Now it's being attacked at its photofinishing point of retreat. Hewlett-Packard's printing products will still sell briskly, though Zink's far-reaching implications shouldn't be ignored.
A whole lot of disruption going on
Naturally, I won't get through all 15 disruptors here. Check out the article for that. However, as you analyze each entry's potential, play it out in your mind until you begin to flesh out the losers. An information-sharing site like PatientsLikeMe will empower stricken communities, but will it come at the expense of the consumer side of WebMD (Nasdaq: WBMD ) ?
How about Zipcar's role in the car rental -- and outright ownership -- markets? If Raydiance's ultrashort pulse lasers live up to the hype, won't entire industries like cancer surgery, military robotics, tattoo removals, and corrective eye surgery go in for extreme makeovers?
You know the answer. Disruptive technologies are disruptive for a reason. And even if the concept of investing in disruptive technologies is new to you, it's old hat to Rule Breakers newsletter subscribers. Since the stock research service's launch in 2004, identifying the cage-rattlers early has been a big reason for its market-thumping performance.
Don't wait another three years to find out what disruptive technologies can do for you -- or worse, to you.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a disruptor at parties, too. Don't invite him over. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.