I first came across 2007’s legacy when I attended a talk by famed New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman, whose social commentary on today’s ‘age of accelerations’ has been read by many. He pointed to the year of 2007 as a year of note. At first, I was cynical. I personally couldn’t remember anything of note that happened then (I was only 10 at the time). Once he started to explain his thinking, however, everything fell into place. So hopefully this blog helps you realise the importance of 2007 in the history of digital and technological progress too and consider some of the lessons we can take away from its legacy.
What’s in a year? A look back at 2007
If we cast our minds back to twelve years ago, it would be safe to say that the world looked quite different to today’s….
Imagine a year when people were listening to Beyoncé’s Irreplaceable and Rihanna’s Umbrella on repeat, watching the first Transformers film and tensely reading the recently published final instalment of the Harry Potter book series. Gordon Brown stepped into Tony Blair’s shoes halfway through the year, the French presidential election saw Nicolas Sarkozy come into power, and NASA was hoping its August launch of Phoenix Mars Lander would be successful. Beijing was getting ready to host the Olympic Games and Justin Bieber was yet to be discovered.
Now that I’ve attempted to set the scene, let’s look at some of the key innovations and advances within the technology and digital transformation space. Just over a week into the new year, Steve Jobs, wearing his trademark black turtleneck, took to the stage at the Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco to launch the iPhone, declaring to the assembled audience “we’re going to make some history together today”. Having delivered its billionth DVD as part of a mail subscription service, Netflix took the bold step to launch an online streaming service, inspired in part by YouTube’s success. In addition to this, Amazon introduced the Kindle to the US market, promptly selling out of stock in five and a half hours. IBM launched the first version of its artificial intelligence (AI) system, Watson, a question-answering system which combined natural language processing, machine learning, automated reasoning, knowledge representation and information retrieval technologies. Following the acquisition of YouTube in late 2006, Google expanded by launching Android as a competing alternative to Apple’s iOS mobile operating system.
After deciding to open its site to those aged over 13 with a valid email address in late 2006, Facebook had over 100,000 active business pages by the end of 2007, enabling companies to expand their customer reach in a simple and effective manner. After its founding in 2006, Twitter expanded considerably in 2007 with the number of daily messages tripling from 20,000 to 60,000 in a matter of months. By the end of the year, some roommates, struggling to pay their rent, decided to put an air mattress in their living room and advertise this to people who had failed to book a hotel online in time for a design conference. The eventual name of this website? Airbnb…
What these pioneers could not have realised or predicted was that the following year would be overshadowed by the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. Indeed, the financial crisis of 2008 unfortunately eclipsed the successes of 2007. One can’t help but wonder what may have happened if the 2008 crisis hadn’t materialised. I would assume that subsequent change would have likely occurred at a much faster rate.
So, what’s the fuss? A glance at the present day
How significant have the initiatives of 2007 been? Perhaps the best way to demonstrate their wide reach and impact on our society is to consider a few numbers which reflect their achievements to this day:
- 17: total number of iPhone models launched by Apple
- 33%: current market share of Android within the mobile operating system market
- 1 million: dollars won by IBM’s Watson on the TV game show Jeopardy! in 2011
- 2 million: average number of people staying at an Airbnb every night
- 60 million: number of active Facebook business pages (2019)
- 139 million: number of Netflix subscribers (2019)
- 500 million: number of tweets sent per day (2019)
- 4 billion: number of iPhones sold to date (2019)
- 32 billion: number of active monthly Facebook users in 2019, compared to 50 million in 2007
In my opinion, though, it seems like the most important change has been a cultural one. It’s one thing to invent new technologies and platforms, but another to get people on board with your vision. There is little point to technology if it is only used and enjoyed by a selected few. The brilliance of these tech giants, most of which had their turning points in 2007, is that they inspired and intrigued the masses. By investing both time and money into these new products and services, it was ultimately the general public who secured their fates in the technology ‘hall of fame’ and ensure that the advances made in 2007 were not lost to history.
Looking to the future
I find it hard to believe that anyone in 2007 could predict just how much impact the year’s inventions and concepts would have on today’s world. Having stood the test of time, these tech giants continue to innovate and push the boundaries of what we have historically seen as being possible and realistic.
Of course, we are lucky to have the enormous benefit of hindsight. Retrospectively, it’s easy to see how 2007 has served to shape our world, but back then it remained unclear. Who back in 2007 knew that you could ask your device to tell you the local weather conditions or play a specific song? Who knew that you could make a payment with a simple tap of a card or watch? Who knew that a car would be able to drive itself? Who knew that people would be able to make millions by posting sponsored photos on a social media platform which didn’t even exist?
2007 saw companies taking risks, banking on the fact that their innovations would be accepted and desired by the general public. Instead of reinventing the wheel, these pioneer companies sought instead to think beyond the plausible and into the unknown. But perhaps their greatest achievement, and the most enduring legacy of 2007, was that the year’s innovative milestones inspired countless young entrepreneurs and visionaries to take similar brave actions, with many continuing to reap the rewards today.
As the past has often taught us, something that we consider to be bizarre and outlandish today will likely be the reality of tomorrow.
So, what will the future bring? Only time will tell. I guess we’ll have to wait and see… Like most back in 2007 and many now in 2019, I’m not sure, but I’m happy to be part of a company which is working with others to find out and shape it ourselves!
At Capgemini, we work with clients to create and shape a vision for the future, thus putting innovation at the forefront of what we aim to achieve. To find out more about Capgemini’s approach to helping clients through innovation, have a listen to the our Applied Innovation Exchange’s podcast Applied Innovation as a discipline to hear from Capgemini’s Chief Innovation Officer, Lanny Cohen, and Capgemini Europe’s Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, Frank Wammes. Together they discuss the challenges our clients are now facing, the importance of sustaining an inventive mindset as well as engaging diverse and dynamic people to accomplish key goals.
Thérèse joined Capgemini Invent in February 2019 and is aligned within the Change Acceleration capability of the People & Organisation practice. Having graduated from Durham University with a degree in History, she is now working in account management for a large financial services client.