Sunday, 11 March 2007

Can we please stop talking about convergence?

I know, I'm having a fantasy. The term "convergence" and the idea behind it -- that various industries in technology and entertainment are gradually merging -- is pervasive online and in the popular press. Nothing I write here is going to change that.

But let me say this for the record anyway: The problem with convergence is that when you look closely, it's not happening.

Markets aren't converging, they're diverging. The web deconstructs mass markets, by making it economically attractive for a company to address narrower market segments. Online marketing can be targeted at much more specific demographic groups than mass media could reach, and online communities help companies to talk directly with their most important customers. I've already written about this happening in mobile devices, but if you want another example, look at television: the mass markets are slipping away from the big networks, eaten by a gazillion cable channels. Or look at newspapers, chewed down by a blizzard of websites.

"Convergence" is definitely not the right word for what's happening to markets.

Are the industries converging? If the markets aren't converging, then maybe it's the industries that are doing it. The computer industry gradually merges with telecommunications, which seamlesly blends with entertainment. I can kind of get into that, except for phrases like "gradually merge" and "seamlessly blend." They sound far too gentle. What's actually happening is more like they way they make steel: coal, lime, iron ore, and oxygen get fed into a blast furnace and utterly consumed by unearthly fire. If that's what you mean when you say "convergence," then yeah we're converging.

OK, so what should we call it? I kind of like "spontaneous combustion;" it captures the spirit of what's happening. But I can't picture the Economist running a 16-page special section on the spontaneous combustion of the mobile phone industry, so we need to come up with something snappier. Maybe "deconstruction" or "re-forging." "Collision" might do the trick, but it doesn't sound quite violent enough.

I don't know, what do you think? If you have a better term for it, please post a comment.

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