Technology is about one thing: You.
I mean that technology is personal. Even the heavy-duty business software sold by Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) and SAP (NYSE: SAP ) is only as good as its ability to improve the lives and jobs of workers, who in turn crank up productivity and profits.
Technology either fits (i.e., the iPhone), or it doesn't (i.e., Wave). There's rarely an inbetween.
Market watchers know this all too well; it's why they say investing in tech is dangerous. They're right. Any five-second look at the churning stock charts for Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK ) , Take-Two Interactive (Nasdaq: TTWO ) , and Palm (Nasdaq: PALM ) will show just how much of a ride tech investing can be.
Why it's a small price to pay
So be it. In tech, volatility is the price of tectonic change -- the moment at which a type of technology just "fits" for a very large segment of the population. Twitter and Facebook have brought us to that moment, and there's no turning back.
A recent survey conducted by researcher IDC found that 57% of U.S. workers use social media for business at lease once per week. What's more, 15% of the 4,710 workers IDC surveyed said they passed over corporate-sponsored tools in favor of the more commonly used social networks. Simplicity, familiarity, and low cost were cited as gating factors, the report found.
These discoveries jibe with what I observed firsthand during a tech conference here in Denver in November. Called Defrag, the confab attracted a great mix of entrepreneurs, investors, and big thinkers. Most of them had something to say about social media, notably Twitter.
As we talked, I found those I spoke with coming back to three main themes, each of which I find even more convincing today than I did in November:
1. Computing will become ever more distributed. This refers to cloud computing, but also to the idea that processing power, storage, memory, and even code can be spread across multiple networks and multiple geographic areas, yet still deliver value. One company I saw, 80legs, has software that crawls the Web with the help of tens of thousands of computers that donate CPU power when they're idle. Talk about rebellious.
2. Raw data will become actionable data. All sorts of companies are talking about aggregating, slicing, analyzing, and compiling data from the dozens of social media sources out there, Twitter included. Talk centered on "activity streams" that express everything we're doing online. Maybe that's candy for the digital voyeurs among us, but I'm not sure there's much value in publishing such streams. Regardless, it seems clear that we'll see more data organized socially -- perhaps like what Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) proposes with its new social network, Buzz.
3. More customer control. Doc Searls, a co-author of the 1999 landmark book and website The Cluetrain Manifesto, put it best to me in a conversation on the first night of Defrag. "I want to get to the point where demand leads supply." He wants customers, not vendors, to take control.
I think that day is coming. Social media such as Twitter allows customers to cuddle up to brands in ways they haven't before. Real-time customer service is possible. The platforms will need refining, but these services are giving us, as shoppers and buyers and clients, more say than we've ever had. LivePerson (Nasdaq: LPSN ) built a business around this very idea before Twitter was a mainstream phenomenon. It's even more relevant today. We're more personal about technology than we've ever been.
Now it's your turn to weigh in. What tech themes interest you? Which are you investing in? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.