The age of the ecosystem – here to stay, or just passing through?

age of the ecosystem
Image by ilixe48 | Bigstockphoto

We are in the age of the ecosystem. In every corner of our world, digital and physical, ecosystems are emerging as the mechanism to support the rapidly evolving needs of today. But what about tomorrow?

Is there something after the ecosystem and if so, what does it look like?

The age of the ecosystem arrived as companies realized that they could not produce today’s solutions in isolation so began to negotiate partnerships with specialists, as customers required. These partnerships then needed other specialist knowledge so partnerships morphed into ecosystems.

Right now, ecosystems are how solutions are built.

Generally, in every ecosystem there is at least one large digital company. And these companies are looking at both their short terms goals and the strategy that will keep them relevant and profitable into the foreseeable future (and beyond).

The long term plan, then, will include buying other players in the ecosystem. This could be a win-win situation, as smaller companies realise the dream to exit well. It could also create deep tensions, as two or more larger players lock horns.

Already there the first signs of these tensions are emerging. Amazon has announced that it will not accept Visa cards in the UK from 19 January 2022, because, it says, the fees are too high. Of course, says Amazon, this is not in the interests of its customer base in the UK – but actually it is not in the interests of Amazon, as it will cut into its margins. Its customers will only be annoyed because they will have to go in and edit their card details, set up PayPal or potentially sign up for another card if they want to continue using Amazon.

Amazon vs Visa in the UK might be a small event but the game is global and what Amazon really wants to do is to force Visa to reduce its fees worldwide. It will be interesting to watch what happens – the amount of business that Visa sees from Amazon is only about 1%.

Yet, it is a visible and public example of the tensions that are bubbling up.

There is also a lot of cash around at the moment. More Unicorns have been created this year than at any time in past, which means that the impetus for progress and change is backed by very deep pockets. And start-ups that look exciting (or at least wrote ‘AI,’ ‘machine learning’ or ‘metaverse’ on the business plan) will find it reasonably easy to get funding (with the caveat that most venture capital is not going into Series A or seed funding).

Large companies with deep pockets and access to easy, cheap cash create an environment in which those companies can dictate what the future looks like, and it is based as much on their long-term profits as the benefits for humanity.

This trend is supported, unwittingly, by political will, which is already being influenced by these very companies and their ‘visions’ (funded by eye-watering lobbying budgets) to an extent that our grandfathers would abhor. Politicians, as we have been saying for about a decade, are ‘yesterday’s people.’

Yet Amazon is now in the spotlight for spending millions subverting the laws of several US States, so that it can continue to collect vast amounts of data about us. Other tech giants are being accused of similar things – and worse, much worse. And still they carry on.

Which brings us to the metaverse. Or metaverses.

It is cool (or weird, depending on your age) to consider the possibilities of metaverses.

Is the ‘public’ metaverse, as propounded by Meta, really the future of the internet? Or is it more about the future of Meta, as it struggles to see a long-term future in our boring 2D internet and social media world?

It is possible that, instead of pushing into brave new worlds, we are in fact moving inexorably into a world of greater monopoly, power and influence, where power resides in the hands and pockets of a very few companies.

We may live in the age of the ecosystem now but there must be questions about how long that will last and how soon we will wake up in a world of ‘virtual’ monopolies, where an ecosystem simply feeds the giants.

You might say this is exactly what is happening right now.

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