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I'm a partner at Greylock, former CEO of Mozilla, founder of Reactivity, dad, husband & nerd, among other things.

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    Zero-Sum Markets

    It’s no secret to anyone I’ve talked with in the past year or two that mobile computing — smartphones & tablets — are what I’m pretty obsessed with, like a lot of folks lately. The technology shift feels to me fundamental and transformational — in lots and lots of ways, both good and bad, we’re in the middle of reinventing the ways we interact with each other, and the ways that we lead our lives. As I’ve said before, it turns out that carrying around tiny, always-on, always-connected computers changes a lot of things.

    But at a board meeting last week, someone put up a slide that really emphasized what’s happening. It said this:

    MInutes in North America and Europe spent in the browser on “traditional computers” is growing at a rate of 1.6% a year. (from IDC forecasts June 2012.)

    1.6%.

    For a technology that’s changed the world as much as the web has, and has gotten to 2 billion people in under 20 years, that’s an incredible statement. Growth has stopped. People will spend about as much time on the “desktop web” next year as they did this year — and actually maybe less per person, since population is growing. And as we know from history, flat is a precursor to down. And then way down.

    So that’s worth paying attention to. What zero growth markets mean is that in order for you to win more, someone else has to lose more. To sell another soda, Coca Cola has to convince someone to give up a Pepsi. Adidas has to convince you to pitch your Nikes. 

    At some level, our attention has always been finite, and the game has always been to be so useful — so compelling — that people were willing to spend time on Facebook instead of watching TV. To snap a picture with Instagram rather than be on the phone. We think a lot about technology waves — our technology — taking time from the old, sclerotic ones that came before. Since the web is so (relatively) new, we don’t tend to think about it as a zero sum game, like soda or sneakers.

    But it is now. And that’s because all the growth is on mobile & tablet. The same IDC study puts mobile growth in Europe & North America at a much healthier ~30%. That’s real growth — and life in growth markets is always, always, easier and more dynamic, if a little more confusing & chaotic, than in zero-sum markets.

    Exciting times. :-)

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      Good thoughts on the impact of the web’s slowing
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