Elite Irony

Jeff Bone jbone@jump.net
Mon, 21 Jan 2002 14:18:50 -0600

Eugene Leitl wrote:

> Elitism is fundamentally incompatible with a commercial system. Because
> it's all about balkanization and locking the user base.

Actually, I both agree and disagree.  The "N" picture is all about
balkanization and locking in the user base, absolutely, without a doubt.  But
elitism is where the "N+1" disruptive innovations come from;  they may have
been created at N-1, N-2, or more --- but the elites are often the ones that
keep the faith and safe-harbor these ideas until they "magically" appear on
the scene at N+1 time, shake things up, and produce explosive value growth.

Hypertext is a good example of this, as are the ideas of GUIs and networking,
the perseverance of UNIX in the marketplace, etc.  Good candidates for
currently safe-harbored ideas include the metaphor of e.g. Lifestreams for
simpler, more useful knowledge management, the generative communication
paradigm of i.e. Linda, etc.

Another way to put this:  without elites, valuable ideas would often get lost
in the flurry of local hill-climbing that commercial interests have to do to
give the masses what they think they want when they want it.  Without those
folks keeping the faith, the whole commercial environment -wrt- innovation
then stagnates as incremental improvements become harder and harder.
Eventually you end up like Coke and Pepsi, devoting insane amounts of
resources to valueless competitive activity;  it takes a Snapple to shake the
tree.  (A bad example, as it's hard to see who the Snapple elite might've
been. :-)

I guess what I'm saying is this:  it only takes a little bit of observation
of how the technology market periodically lurches forward to see that there's
almost always a very small group of true believers behind every significant
innovation who must shelter that idea through early and unpopular /
non-commercial stages until the market is ready.