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Are we facing the ‘Third Wave’ of the Internet?


June 13, 2016

Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0 and the Third (Internet) Wave? Technologists seem obsessed with numbering and categorizing. I was pondering this a few weekends ago when I passed a family walking the other direction on P Street in  Washington, D.C. It took a few seconds to realize why the man looked familiar – Steve Case of AOL fame, now a venture capitalist.

That seemed to be a sign that I ought to read his new book, “The Third Wave, An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future.” It’s as much about the past as the future: a breezy biography in dispersed with predictions based on technology trends. Good vacation reading.

Cases’s thesis is that AOL was part of the first wave of the Internet, social (& Web 2.0) the second. Rules change across waves. The third wave goes beyond pure digital to the Internet of Everything “where the Internet will be fully integrated into every part of our lives.” It’s a maturation where new firms are less likely to originate in dorm rooms.

Other characteristics of this wave is the need to partner across industries, the rise of impact investing and the increasing role of government innovation. Case makes a compelling argument about the need for governments to create an environment for growth. That’s critically important as connectivity globalizes innovation. One will no longer need to be in Silicon Valley to achieve innovation osmosis.

There’s nothing new here. It’s just easier to consume and understand than most works on the subject.

There’s some irony to read about technology future in printed form from someone whose success originated by sending out millions of CD-ROMs. And, the AOL/Time-Warner merger. It turns out the merger story has more relevance than you might think.

On the other hand, Case’s future scenarios seem too tied to institutions. My sense is quantified self and personal genomics will dramatically change the nature of healthcare beyond the point where doctors are gatekeepers. The same for massive open online courses (MOOCs) and education. The gig economy and unions. Transparency and government.

In other words, I don’t think Case went far enough. Maybe he needs to write a “Fourth Wave” sequel.

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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