Is this the end of the age of digital punk?

Only the future will be able to tell whether the years 2010-2016 will go down in history as the digital equivalent of the punk era. The Sturm und Drang which characterised the punk period in the 1970s eventually came to an end at the close of that decade.

Parallels between the two can certainly be found. Punk music was all about exploiting expertise using electric instruments, centring around the guitar, bass guitar and drums. Ever since the beginning of the 1960s, with increasing numbers of British and American bands coming onto the scene, these instruments and their possibilities had been democratised. In punk music, this accessibility went hand in hand with an energy of youth which, in the wake of the oil crisis, resulted in a burgeoning of bands.

The same kind of context has characterised digital start-up businesses in the last few years. Cloud services, open-source software and API tools brought software functionalities within the grasp of any group of young programmers. The intrinsic punk song, based on vocals, bass, drums and guitar, found its digital equivalent in the MVP, the 'minimum viable product', an attempt to get to the very essence of software as a product. In much the same way as punk epitomised the very essence of song, MVP endeavoured to makes its own limited, but highly effective contribution too.

End of an era

Punk music was a victim of its own success: easy access to instruments which could be readily mastered and the ubiquity of energy amongst the youth. By the start of the 1980s, young people were looking for more refined expressions of musical energy. New-wave music replaced punk and fell into general favour, on the basis of digital innovations, such as keyboards and sound effects. Bands spent hours trying to reproduce the best sounds and ever since then sound engineering as a profession has never looked back.

Now the explosion of start-ups in MVP product culture and digital Lego bricks (API, OSS en cloud), again founded on the basis of youthful energy, is on the wane. Over the last few years Belgium has seen a peak in the number of new start-ups, reaching its zenith in 2014 (see graph). In Silicon Valley, whilst overall amounts invested in digital ventures may have remained the same, much of this is now ploughed into existing larger-scale businesses amongst the community. More mature ventures are attracting more capital, which means there is less for the real starters.

The number of digital start-up companies in Belgium
(Source: Omar Mohout, Sirris) 

The growing importance of the digital profession

So what is the digital equivalent of new-wave music, with its innovative focus on synthetic soundscapes and electronic beats? Increasingly, the software product - in other words, the tool - is losing its potential to differentiate. Over time differentiation is perceived to have shifted away from a digital service, a service which must be effectuated at a larger scale in a personal approach. Hyperscale and microcare are the new elements that will make the difference in a digital business context. The combination of both contrasting techniques however, has been set aside for a minority of the coder teams. The digital profession, that is, the simultaneous command of both techniques, has progressed beyond that of the average team than the MVP model of the first half of this decade. The competition between old and new will persist in the digital world, but the battle will be fought with different tools and expertises than in the past. 

To be continued ... ! 

(This article has also been published on Bloovi) (in Dutch)

If you’d like to know more about these topics, check out  http://www.hyperscale-microcare.com/. Later this year, the two authors will be publishing a book on the subject.

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