IT Leadership // Digital Business
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Jim Nash
Jim Nash

Tech Fail Forecast: Bursting The Next Bubble

Fifteen years after the dot-com bubble burst, industry pundits are calling out similar signs of froth in the current tech boom. Here are nine tech ideas, products, excesses, and business models that we expect to look back on in 15 years and ask: "What were we thinking?"
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(Image: Brocken Inaglory via Wikimedia Commons)

(Image: Brocken Inaglory via Wikimedia Commons)

When we look for a symbol of the 2000 tech bubble, many of us recall E*TRADE's Super Bowl 2000 commercial, which starred a dancing chimp. The ad wrapped with these notorious words: "Well, we just wasted 2 million bucks."

E*TRADE would probably like to have that small fortune back. Its own stock traded at nearly $600 a share in 2000. Fifteen years later, it trades at about $30.

That's the way bubbles go. Money ignores history and forgets the law of gravity. It grows anxious looking for the next

A lot of very smart people today say that current tech valuations are mostly air, and they expect to hear a bubble burst shortly.

[ Worth the price? Read Nine Tech Gadgets You Wish You Could Afford.]

On the plus side, a 2016 tech bust would not result in anything like the nuclear winter that followed the 2000 bubble. Back then, the hysteria involved nothing less than the Internet itself. Everyone from pension-fund managers to Iowa investment clubs piled into the market. Few emerged unscathed.

The most egregious hype today is limited to businesses based in social media, the sharing economy, and the cloud.

Unicorns -- technology startups valued at $1 billion or more -- numbered 145 in November 2015, and, as online publisher Investopia noted, "they can't all be the next Google."

The list of unicorns includes Dropbox, Cloudera, Pure Storage, Uber, Airbnb, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Zenefits.

Investors in unicorns include Google Ventures (Cloudera, Uber), (Dropbox), Intel Capital (MongoDB), Andreessen Horowitz (Airbnb, Pinterest), and Greylock Partners (Cloudera, Dropbox).

For evidence of froth, look no further than the insane real estate bidding wars in San Francisco, driven by startup owners, investors, and employees (including interns reportedly earning $7,000 a month). For instance, this spring, a two-story San Francisco shack, built (and apparently last updated) in 1907, was listed at $799,000 and ultimately sold for $1.2 million. But, such has been San Francisco's real estate story since the Gold Rush.

Far more emblematic of this boom is the term "unicorn" itself. VCs, analysts, and reporters throw it around as if the word described something first observed by renowned economist Maynard Keyes. Further evidence of excess can be found in the $10 million wedding of a Facebook billionaire, which was illegally held in a California grove of redwoods (more on that, later).

Read on for examples of things that (maybe) make sense today. When we look back in 15 years' time, how many of these will cause us to pause and say, "What were we thinking?" Once you've reviewed these nine headscratchers, tell us what you think in the comments section below.

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Jim Nash writes business and science articles, and also shoots urban and nature photographs. He's still searching for a common language to use with his Mensa-smart teenage daughters. View Full Bio

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12/29/2015 | 2:19:07 PM
Tech Fail Forecast: The Foolishness
When the next bubble bursts, what you have described is just the foolishness that inflates the bubble.

Humans need tangible products for survival - food, clothing, and shelter - plus medical care. Whoever controls those essentials are in position to disrupt the behavior of the rest of us.

If I were an economist I would be using some of that big data to explore the potential impact of having food and clothing production substantially controlled by people in other countries, delivered by a "last minute" supply chain that is easily disrupted.

With every economic cycle comes the nouveau riche with foolish behaviors. With every economic cycle comes the ignorant young who think their ideas are so special they are not subject to the failure side of capitalism.

An adjustment is always required to teach the foolish that the "ordinary" people - not the "geniuses" - must be able to flourish for a new economic trend to have long term meaning.

So far as I can tell, Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, is the only executive to acknowledge publicly that the "big economic picture" is complicated by trendy, extremely narrow aggregation of wealth.

But if you look at the Wikipedia entry "List of recessions in the United States" you realize that what is coming is a normal part of "The American Way" - a failure to understand the importance of "Truth and Justice" to real superheroes.
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