At the TechCrunch Disrupt conference this week, entrepreneurs Peter Thiel and Max Levchin made a splash by declaring the state of innovations as being somewhere “between dire straits and dead.” I think they are fundamentally wrong, but that’s a hard case to make at the opening session of the DEMOfall conference today.
The 14 products demonstrated all seemed relatively worthy. In fact, that may be what was wrong. Each one seemed like it had a chance to succeed, largely because they mostly sounded like minor variations on familiar themes. What was missing, so far at least, was the goofy,off-the-wall nature of the products that have made past DEMO conferences so interesting.
The product that struck as most interesting was LiveLoop, a plugin that adds real-time collaboration to Microsoft Office. When the most intriguing thing is an Office add-on, it’s hard to believe you are in a hotbed of innovation. (I also found Upverter, a cloud-based collaborative circuit design tool intriguing, but I don’t know enough about circuit design to assess it.)
But I don’t think the lack of excitement is symptomatic of a basic failure in innovation. It’s more that we are just at an odd place in the cycle. I think, for example, that experimentation and development that is going on with big data, sensor networks and other new methods of data collection, and deep analytics is going to lead to deeper understanding of our world and products we can barely imagine today. But this area of innovation has not net reached to point where it is producing consumer-facing products. That is going to take at least a couple more years.
Meanwhile at DEMO, I am looking forward to I-TOMB.net–The World Virtual Cemetery, a product that might take me back to DEMO’s goofy glory days.