2000AD - Future times past

Written on 01 September, 2010 by Jonathan Crossfield
Categories Small Business

Remember the Sydney Olympics? How cool they were? I was talking about those wonderful few weeks in 2000 with a friend when the thought struck me how different things were back then.

As a child, the year 2000 was always put forward in science fiction and popular culture as the benchmark of a golden age. My favourite comic as a boy, 2000AD, depicted fantastic future worlds of robots, flying cars and spaceships. Now, the year 2000 is in our past and doesn’t seem to be the technological marvel it once was in our minds. So much has changed in our world that the year 2000 now illustrates how quickly we all have to adapt.

2000AD – From future fantastic to ho-hum history

In the year 2000, I was still working as an employment consultant in a small office. Thinking back to the technology that populated my daily life feels almost like a walk through a museum of antiquities. Sure, some better technology was becoming available to those with the money and the access, including digital devices and ever smaller gadgets, but assuming I was an average consumer, I think it’s safe to say that 2000 was still a different world for many people.

My mobile phone was just that – a mobile phone. No internet access (never mind broadband), no camera or MMS, no blue tooth or infra red, no mp3 player and only the tinniest of ringtones were available, interpreting the pop hits of the day as if performed by Stephen Hawking.

For music, I carried a portable CD player and a small folder of twelve discs in my bag to provide choice on the long commute home. Only twelve albums! And it skipped every time we hit a bump.

There was no Facebook, no YouTube, no MySpace or Twitter. No one asking to be your friend every five minutes or following your every move or sharing every pratfall and family movie clip in a bizarre multi-national edition of "…Funniest Videos".

Google was still a new beast, not yet the cyberspace conqueror it would become. Yahoo! was still top of the search engine pile, but no one talked about “Yahooing” to find a fact on the net.

The was no iTunes or any other legitimate place to download music. Napster was still king but Metallica and Madonna had just started legal proceedings that would close the hugely popular music piracy site down the following year, ironically as Napster hit its peak.

An SD card with a few megabytes seemed plenty of storage. My friend had an external hard drive for work that he carted everywhere with him. It was a monster piece of kit. I now carry ten times the storage in my pocket.

Our overseas holiday that year involved a bag full of camera film and a couple of 35mm cameras. Not all the rolls were developed and at least a third of those printed shouldn’t have been. We wouldn’t have a digital delete button for another couple of years.

Certainly, people were shopping online. I was already a seasoned eBay user and Amazon was making an impact. Yet online shopping was still in its infancy. I paid either by postal order or by sending my credit card details broken across two emails as advised to me by one seller (for security, you understand). Convenient checkout processes were still beyond most small online transactions.

I still bought movie tickets by queuing up and occasionally missing the start of a film if the line was long enough. I still paid bills by walking into the post office. Although PayPal was launched in 2000, I was blissfully unaware of it for another couple of years, still ordering goods from overseas by international money order from the bank and paying exorbitant fees.

I still bought the newspaper. Like most people, I thought a blog was an online personal diary – sad attention-seeking affairs where people discussed the daily adventures of their cats or moaned about the ex-wife or listed their daily appointments with monotonous accuracy.

Television was still viewed on a television; not a mobile phone, a laptop, PDA or iPod. I watched the Olympics on my old non-digital CRT television and if I missed an event I would have to catch it on the news headlines. No online streaming of the main events back then, and even if there was, my dial-up internet connection wouldn’t cope with it. I bought my first DVD player in 2000. It was a basic affair that would never play the different files asked of such devices today. DivX was unheard of. BitTorrent was but a gleam in a peer-to-peer file sharer’s eye.

Looking back – Looking forward

So why am I sharing these reminiscences with you? What does this have to do with your business today?

Simply put, back in the year 2000, there were those entrepreneurs clever enough to realise that search engines – Yahoo! and then Google – would be the key to online business. Search engine optimisation started in the late 1990s but is now a major source of online marketing, creating a huge industry around itself. Back then, even though mobile phones served only as phones, there were businesses preparing to exploit the next stage of MMS marketing and developing websites viewable on a small hand-held screen. Those ‘in the know’ knew mp3 players were just around the corner. Digital cameras may already have been available in 2000, but the rapid take-up in the next few years created massive opportunities for businesses that revolve around digital imagery - such as printers, photo sharing websites, digital photo frames and more. The incredibly speedy shift from VHS to DVD changed the living room as well as the way people interacted with their entertainment.

Each new technological advancement opened new opportunities, changed consumer behaviour and was exploited by businesses that understood what was occurring.

Alternatively, there were those businesses still operating in the past, refusing to catch up with the new technologies. Nine years ago, the music industry may have been engaged in legal battles to close down Napster, but no one had yet created a legal, quality alternative - a lack of foresight for which the music industry is still paying in lost revenue and the embedded nature of online piracy with consumers.

Change will continue to occur. Technology now updates and evolves at such a rapid pace that by next year there could be new opportunities and new consumer behaviours and new business threats and new ways of doing things. Those businesses that plan for future change, keep an eye on development and perform risk assessments on developing tech are best placed to achieve great things.

There are still many businesses catching up with the technological world of 2000, only now incorporating mobile technology or marketing through social media or applying more secure and efficient shopping carts. Some businesses have operated too long under the rules of 2000, continually playing catch-up and potentially losing market share, instead of planning and looking ahead to 2009 – or even better, 2010 or 2011.

What will the technological world look like in a few years time? How will your target audience behave with this new tech? What kind of world will your business be operating in?

Are you ready for the future or will you remain a few years behind your audience?