Bitcoin and Snapchat are two massively popular products. While they’re both very different, at the core of their successes is the same counter-intuitive principle. Understanding it helps us see what the next billion dollar idea might be.
One of the most important features of computers is that they can effortlessly duplicate information.
It’s hard to appreciate how convenient this is. Before computers, if I sent you a hand-written letter, the letter was gone. There could only be one version of that letter in the world. Today, I can send the same email to a near-infinite amount of people.
A big part of the 90s and the 2000s was about getting used to this new world where information, music, movies, etc, could be infinitely duplicated and shared. Today we’re used to it. We take it for granted.
Bitcoin changes that.
Bitcoin’s biggest innovation is digital scarcity. This means it’s digital but unique. Just like an email, you can instantly send it to anyone in the world. But unlike an email, you can’t duplicate it. Like a hand-written letter, when you send a Bitcoin, it’s gone.
In a way, Bitcoin brings us back to the pre-computer days. Its big innovation isn’t about adding a new feature. It’s about removing one: the computer’s ability to duplicate digital things.
This idea is so simple it’s almost dumb. Yet it created a $300+ billion market. It kickstarted thousands of new startups and completely changed the way we think about technology, finance, and governance.
Another feature of computers is that, by default, they remember everything.
Thus, in the 2000s, when Facebook and Twitter brought our personal lives in the digital world, we faced something new. For the first time, every interaction we had with each other was recorded forever.
We didn’t realize it at the time, but there was something extremely uncanny about it. This is because, in real life, human interactions aren’t forever. They fade away. They are ephemeral.
Then came Snapchat. Its big innovation: ephemeral messaging.
Just like Bitcoin, Snapchat brought us back to the somewhat pre-computer days. For the first time, digital conversations could fade away just like in real life. It was an instant hit.
Like Bitcoin, Snapchat big innovation wasn’t about adding a new feature. It was about removing one: the computer’s ability to remember everything.
Once again, a simple, dumb, counterintuitive change created a massive market: a $16 billion company and a feature now used by 1.2+ billion people around the world.
Bitcoin and Snapchat might be very different products, but at the core of their successes is the same idea: instead of adding new features, they removed one.
Their creators took a hard look at the fundamental proprieties of computers. In this case: the persistence and effortless duplication of information. While everyone else thought these proprieties were inevitable consequences of computers, they removed them. By doing so, they created massively successful products now used around the world.
These products were successful because they made technology more human. They brought it closer to how life was before computers.
I believe Bitcoin and Snapchat are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot of more of these opportunities left to discover.
Today everyone is competing to build the next killer feature: AR, VR, AI, etc. What if the key isn’t about building new features, but removing them?
Computers are weird and uncanny. They have fundamental proprieties that make them completely different from how we evolved in the last million years. They’re fast. They compute at the speed of light. They duplicate and transmit information effortlessly. They remember everything.
The 90s and 2000s were spent getting used to these weird new inventions. The next decade will be about making them less alien, more real life.