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Myth of the Infrastructure Phase

Last updated May 10, 2023 Edit Source


Apps inspire infrastructure. Then that infrastructure enables new apps.

The history of new technologies shows that apps beget infrastructure, not the other way around. It’s not that first we build all the infrastructure, and once we have the infrastructure we need, we begin to build apps. It’s exactly the opposite.

“You can’t build railroads before it is railroad time. (Chuck Thacker)

For example, light bulbs (the app) were invented before there was an electric grid (the infrastructure). You don’t need the electric grid to have light bulbs. But to have the broad consumer adoption of light bulbs, you do need the electric grid, so the breakout app that is the light bulb came first in 1879, and then was followed by the electric grid starting 1882.

Planes (the app) were invented before there were airports (the infrastructure). You don’t need airports to have planes. But to have the broad consumer adoption of planes, you do need airports, so the breakout app that is an airplane came first in 1903, and inspired a phase where people built airlines in 1919, airports in 1928 and air traffic control in 1930 only after there were planes.

You can open the door to the next room, but you can’t really skip steps and open the back door from the front porch.  It is hard to successfully build infrastructure that is too far ahead of the apps market.

See also: Protocol, infrastructure