For as long as I can remember, the field in which I work has been called Information Technology (IT). And while it is true that other terms have also been used (e.g. Data Processing), it is difficult to dispute the ubiquity (and longevity) of IT as an official term. When I think of the term literally I can’t help but feel that it is only in this decade that the field of Information Technology has truly arrived in a mainstream way. In other words IT has finally put “Information” front and center. Consider Google. They are not a hardware company, and their “software” offerings, while compelling in concept, are not how they got to where they are today. They are, as they put it, all about organizing the world’s information. Sure, computer-based technology has always been about dealing in information since its inception but there were always these other assets to sell such that the information itself would somehow take a back seat. If you look at three broad shifts in the IT landscape, and how the dominant players made money, the point becomes somewhat clearer. The first dominant player, IBM, made its hay with the hardware. Sure the hardware had software on it which they too provided and serviced but the “iron” was typically out in front. Perhaps this focus on hardware is what let Microsoft essentially walk right in and own the software space. Sure IBM is still quite relevant in a huge way, but there is no secret about who won the IBM v. Microsoft software war. By the time IBM realized that the hardware market had matured and that the next real battle was in the OS and software space, it was too late. Knowing all too well the lessons of history, Microsoft was intent on not being left behind when the World Wide Web caught fire. So much so that they were not going to let the upstart Netscape win the browser war.
Microsoft won the browser war alright but it seems the real battle was elsewhere. Sure there was lots of talk about the browser platform and its capabilities but what ended up being important was simply all of the information that was being created as a result of the WWW explosion. Maybe this was crystal clear to Brin and Page on day one, maybe not. In any case, their interface spoke volumes; one textbox, one button (though the latter has since doubled – Moore’s Law I suppose). In other words Google was saying, as simply as technically possible, “tell me what you’re looking for.” Perhaps that’s what started to first get the eyeballs away from Yahoo. After all Google didn’t seem too wrapped up in all of the talk about “portals” that seemed to be consuming Yahoo, Netscape and, yes, Microsoft. For Google, it was (and still is) all about the information. Everything about their DNA was about getting the most relevant information to the end user as fast as possible, UI be damned. Perhaps that was the differentiator between Google and the other established players in the space. For the other guys, this concept so tersely labeled as “search” almost devolved into simply one of many features in the cluttered software and portal spaces. For Google, “search” wasn’t a feature but the entire platform. And the measure of the platform was neither hardware specs nor software features but quite simply, information.
So now that Google is the de facto leader in information brokerage, I wonder now what’s the next tectonic shift. Sure we hear about cloud computing, mobile computing and the semantic web (i.e. Web x.0) but I can’t help but feel that these are all evolutions within the hardware, software and information stages. Maybe that’s simply where we go from here or maybe IT just needs a new name.