Twitter is influential, but it is not that widely used and is a chronic underachiever. Snapchat is a hotbed of creative online ideas and has been relentlessly copied by Meta and others. But it might not last, and it hasn’t proved that it’s a competent company. Uber and Spotify are two examples of good technologies that are bad businesses. They don’t generate profits consistently, and some astute tech watchers believe those business models simply won’t work.
Fads in e-commerce come and go. Ubiquitous apps in China such as WeChat and Meituan will probably never go global. TikTok — we’ll see if its popularity endures, if it can consistently make money and if worries about its Chinese ownership will haunt the app forever.
Will these iPhone-era stars even be around in 10 years, or will they go the way of Yahoo and Myspace? (For Gen Z readers, Yahoo and Myspace were popular websites not so long ago.)
That leaves us with Meta. Again, the company has problems, but it has so far adapted multiple times to people’s fast-changing online habits. The company is also very, very, very good at making money. So far.
You can’t be a winner without the ability to turn popularity into cash and keep people glued to an app as their tastes shift. Very few companies have been able to consistently do both in the past decade.
How did it happen that we have so much technology and so few winning tech companies?
It’s possible that the nature of innovation simply leaves behind a lot of roadkill. In prior epochs of technology, perhaps only one or a few lasting companies emerged. Microsoft and Apple were the big winners from the shift of computers into people’s homes. Google, Amazon and Netflix were stars from the first generation of the web. There were many other technologies and tech companies that have been forgotten along the way.