Silicon valley blues
There is only one certainty in Silicon Valley: each year the monsoon of riches that falls on the region's venture capitalists will find its way down the mountain to cash-thirsty entrepreneurs.
Once the venture capitalists gather their annual bounty from institutional investors - pensions are the biggest backers of venture capital - then they are obliged to discharge it. These guys benefit from hunting - and hyping - in packs, and so it may help boost your immune system to remember, too, that these venture capitalists are far more interested in business models - in creating new little economies - than often merits the case.
There is simply too much competition, and, as the fragmented US mobile business shows, that doesn't always benefit the consumer.
But having exhausted B2B exchanges and Linux companies, the venture capitalist-spiked buzz is now all about peer-to-peer, or P2P computing.
Since the inexorable rise of the Napster music exchange, it has been rare to find venture capitalists who are not talking about their P2P investments. And almost as rare to find a start-up not boasting about its P2P goodness, no matter how tenuous that claim may actually be.
A figurehead for P2P emerged from the shadows recently when Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes, unveiled Groove Networks. Ozzie has faithfully reimplemented the original design goals of client/server Notes, only this time as a pure Web-play. The intent is the same, to provide secure messaging and collaboration environment. Groove wraps up instant messaging, file sharing, replication and synchronisation all in one package.
"We can't plan creativity," said one IT boss at the launch. "The best we can do is provide an infrastructure that encourages it."
That too was part of the original Notes proposition - but Groove dances to a looser beat. Unlike Notes, Groove doesn't even require the permission of a Notes administrator to create a database - or a workspace - for each ad-hoc project. It's a very fluid model that should prove as popular with problem-solving support or call-centre workers as with management teams which need to create a virtual workspace for projects. And that I think has been the most neglected aspect of the Groove proposition.
Forget much of the buzz about Groove being a new Napster. It isn't. But look instead how both suppliers and consumers could benefit from the informalisation it offers. Both buyer and supplier are admitting they benefit from a much more open flow of information than strict price-based transactions allow.
For in the drive for "frictionless" pure market conditions, both suppliers and buyers are finding they're losing as much as they're gaining. Groove is the kind of tool that provides an infrastructure for both ends of the supply chain to pool their knowledge in ad hoc information spaces.
Although buyers will be the last to admit it, there's far more to be gleaned from the fizz of transactions than price alone can reveal. Next week I'll return to that theme. For all its cash-fuelled hype, Silicon Valley has a knack of providing answers to its problems of its own making.
Andrew Orlowski is a San Francisco-based editor of The Register, an online IT newspaper
This was first published in November 2000