No More Spaces

by havoc

If you haven’t seen Marc Andreessen’s new blog, it is very worthwhile.
(2015 update: Marc’s blog doesn’t exist anymore except as an ebook, so all links to it below are 404, don’t try to click them. Other than adding this note, this post is the same as it was written in 2007.)

Among others I like this post, which touched one of my pet issues better than I could have said it – “space” disease:

But here’s the problem.

Web 2.0 has been picked up as a term by the entrepreneurial community and its corollaries in venture capital, the press, analysts, large media and Internet companies, and Wall Street to describe a theoretical new category of startup companies.

Or a “space”, if you will.

As in, “Foobarxango.com is in the Web 2.0 space”.

At its simplest level, this is just shorthand to indicate a new Web company.

The technology industry has a long history of creating and naming such “spaces” to use as shorthand.

Before the “Web 2.0 space”, you had the “dot com space”, the
“intranet space”, the “B2B space”, the “B2C space”, the “security
space”, the “mobile space” (still going strong!)… and before that,
the “pen computing” space, the “CD-ROM multimedia space”, the
“artificial intelligence” space, the “mini-supercomputer space”, and
going way back, the “personal computer space”. And many others.

But there is no such thing as a “space”.

There is such a thing as a market — that’s a group of people who
will directly or indirectly pay money for something.

There is such a thing as a product — that’s an offering of a new
kind of good or service that is brought to a market.

There is such a thing as a company — that’s an organized business
entity that brings a product to a market.

But there is no such thing as a “space”.

As tech industry participants, anytime we describe our ideas as either a “space” or some generic product category (“groupware”, “desktop”, etc.) we should be kicked in the ass. If you can’t describe the market (specific target audience) and the product (specific new value to audience that said audience doesn’t already have) and the company (people who will create the new value and bring it to the audience) then you are talking nonsense.

It seems to me that there are a good number of people in the industry who take something more seriously if you label it with an existing, proven category or “space” – and less seriously if you get specific. You explain the specifics and they say “that’s it?” and perhaps later they say “oh, you mean this is a play in the _____ space” – as if that makes things clearer and in some way more credible!

The thing is, once a category or space has a name, and a bunch of existing companies, it’s almost certainly a stupid idea to pile on (unless you can explain your specific new value offered that isn’t the same as those existing companies – in which case the name of a category or space is wholly inadequate to explain what you want to do).

There’s no real difference on this if you’re an open source project instead of a company. Project motives may be fame or popularity or freedom rather than profits, but from the perspective of the market, success will still hinge on specific value to specific audience.

Another way to think about it is that while a “space” is a descriptive abstraction, it isn’t one that’s helpful for guiding action. Specifically, it doesn’t set any priorities, because it doesn’t say “here’s the thing we’re doing that’s different.”

I love the project name One Laptop Per Child because it says right there in the name what the project does for what audience. In certain people’s hands, this would have been about the “sub-$200 laptop space” or the “international/developing-nations client OS space” or something awful like that. Bullet well-dodged, kudos to whoever got this right.

Other sample posts I liked so far on Marc’s blog:

I’m leaving out a bunch of stuff too, such as a list of killer OS X apps in 2007, top 10 sci-fi novelists of the 2000’s, and a series on venture capital. And the guy started blogging on June 2. Either he’s doing nothing but blogging; he built up posts for the last year before starting; or he has minions to help. Alternatively, he’s some type of freak of nature.

(This post was originally found at http://log.ometer.com/2007-06.html#23)

My Twitter account is @havocp.
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