Change the World / by Nate Westheimer

I used to think how you "changed the World" was the most important question for a startup venture looking for commercial success. Looking back, I don't think I was right.

Twitter, Wordpress, Blogger, Reddit... these Internet services have fundamentally changed the way the world works. None of these will make the most money in their class.

I believe the World is an incredibly different place now due to the freedom of blogs and speed of dissemination created by Twitter. I believe the World is also a different place because of a raucous, loosely organized network of Internet users hosted by Reddit and its cousins, like 4chan.

But ultimately, none of these services will be the most commercially successful of their genre or time. Tumblr, which I truly love, has not had near the cultural impact of Wordpress & Blogger; but, it will do far better commercially speaking. Pinterest will also do better (commercially) than Reddit, but it will never be center of a decentralized movement against Congress (SOPA) or define the next generation of cultural icons.

Twitter, we're finding out, may end up being the most significant example of this conundrum. I'm going to go out on a limb and say because of its seamless marriage with Big Media that Twitter has had an incredibly larger impact on the shape of the World than Facebook, but without going out on a limb I'm going to say it won't have near the commercial success.

Is World Change via Internet service at odds with massive commercial success?

There is at least one exception I can find: Google has has perhaps changed the World more than even blogging platforms, AND it has ended up as a massive commercial success.

Why?

One theory I've been working with is that as a people we are consumers of goods only second to being consumers of information. The Wordpresses and Twitters of the world are purely about information, and this is why the world is so fundamentally different with their presence. Google, on the other hand, realized that Search lives at this amazing junction where the flow of Information and the flow of Commerce cross each other quite naturally.

Naturally crossing Commerce and Information, however, is only two thirds of the recipe. The other ingredient is ability to reach World-scale.

The question for "change the world" companies like Kickstarter, which has clearly found some vein here, is whether or not they can achieve this World-scale. Esty and Groupon (a literal example of where Kickstarter could end up) seem to dance with the very same issue too, as both their products appear to get watered down the larger their core products grow.

So who cares, right? Well, I do. I want more "Change the World" companies to exist. I want more Googles who can use the Internet to both make the World a better place while also finding a way to be massively, massively profitable. Off the Internet, but still in the realm of technology, there's no doubt that Microsoft existed in this place as it created the proliferation of Personal Computers in the 80s and 90s (not to mention the bonus of creating a Bill Gates who is fundamentally changing the World again with his strategic donations of tens of billions of dollars he made from the company). Apple didn't produce a Bill Gates, but the iPhone started a new personal computing revolution whose effects we haven't even begun to see at its most scaled form (probably massive proliferation of Android in the developing world).

So I wonder: Who's next? Can the Internet produce another Google? With software produce another Microsoft? Can hardware make another Apple? Let's hope so, and let's work to make it happen.