Originally published January 28, 2019 by Brett Bivens
As USV’s Albert Wenger tweeted heading into 2019, there is a lot of pessimism in our public discourse with much of the ire directly or indirectly pointed at technology as both a concept and as an industry.
While there is undoubtedly strong justification for concern and - in many cases - outrage, I am fortunate as an early stage investor to have the opportunity to meet daily with founders tackling high impact problems whose default worldview edges strongly to the side of optimism. This has given me a glance at many things happening in the world of technology that are worth being excited about.
One thing that has me extremely optimistic is the continued level of creative compounding in “offline activities” that has been and will continue to be enabled by the internet — and specifically by some of the social platforms that have been (rightfully) on the receiving end of so much ire.
Another term for this might be the "Digital Bannister Effect":
My favorite example of this as a sports fan and someone who grew up as an athlete in a world where the internet was just starting to impact how we trained, played, and shared is what I see daily on the Overtime Twitter and Instagram feeds.
For the uninitiated, Overtime is essentially a mobile sports content network focused on high school and college athletes — many of whom already have hundreds of thousands of followers and are smarter than ever about how they build their own brands. Young, digitally native fans flock to the platform to become “early adopters” of these athletes...many of whom have next to zero chance of actually making it to the NBA or even starring at the Division I level.
What is most striking to me about Overtime is how it has become an engine of creativity for young athletes looking to make a name for themselves. The tweet below sums it up.
To bring it back to Wenger — who wrote the highly recommended World After Capital — many things that used to be scarce have now become abundant. In the case of Overtime, young athletes 25 years ago had very limited access to the exploits of top NBA and college players, let alone their peers. They’d be able to watch ESPN to catch a few highlights but the long tail of truly interesting stuff happening in small college and high school gyms across the country was totally under the surface.
Now, players can derive essentially unlimited inspiration for dunks, passes, and celebrations by spending 5 minutes on Instagram. The internet has unlocked the ability to access all of that long tail content, making our attention the scarce resource.
Effectively curating that firehose of information to help users spend their attention in positive ways has become an almost unsolvable challenge for many of the broad-based networks on the internet. As a result, we are starting to see the pendulum swing towards networks of niches and tastemaker-driven communities where masterful curation is a core part of the experience.
Overtime is one of these tastemaker-driven communities that has figured out how to build passion among its base and kickstart a segment of “creators” whose output compounds in quality over time thanks to continued feedback and competition from one another and from the millions of consumers their incredible feats of athleticism reach every day and it is one (of many!) things that has me excited about what technology is enabling us to accomplish.
In the coming decade, creative compounding enabled by the internet will reach far beyond athletics and entertainment and will become a fundamental force driving scientific, technological, and societal progress.