In the early 2000s something very odd happened.
Bill Gates started being invited to meet Presidents and Prime Ministers, or to speak at global economic events like the World Economic Forum. Gates is an astoundingly successful capitalist, so the latter made sense. But I could never quite figure out why he belonged on a global stage and why he was relevant beyond his core activity – making software that sells really, really well (and at a wonderful profit margin).
I eventually wrote, for a long-forgotten IT website, that Gates had become a kind of World President of Technology. As the Secretary General of the United Nations spoke for us all on matters humanitarian, Gates had become our global oracle on technology.
When Gates retired I predicted Steve Jobs would inherit the crown. I think I was right: Jobs came to be regarded as the ultimate techno-capitalist.
But with his passing, the position of World President of Technology is vacant.
The twin founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, still lack the charisma to take the crown. Neither has done anything to suggest they are willing to put a friendlier face on Google and I cannot see them dong it now.
In 2008 I wrote that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was too young to get the crown. I think that may still be the case. Facebook is a remarkable entity, but is growing pretty slowly compared to the likes of Google – at least in terms of revenue.
Facebook is also quite a cynical company, in my opinion. It is shameless about harvesting data in ways that benefit Facebook, even if customers don’t always benefit. The less-than-flattering portrait of Zuckerberg in The Social Network doesn’t help – he may be young and rich but he scarcely seems admirable. Zuckerberg is also a bit reclusive. He seldom speaks in public and when he does scarcely ventures beyond discussion of Facebook.
It’s also far from clear that Zuckerberg has built a durable company. MySpace was run down in years and people are very fickle about their online loyalties. So there’s little assurance Zuckerberg is worthy of the crown because while we all use Facebook, it lacks the obvious permanence of Windows or the smartphone as a part of everyday life.
So who else is there? Oracle’s Larry Ellison runs an amazing company but is so focussed on business customers that he lacks the wide appeal. Salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff is a wonderful challenger whose company is going like a train, but again lacks the consumer outreach to make him a global figure.
The fervour for cloud computing makes someone from that industry seem a likely presidential candidate. But it’s hard to think just who from the cloud can swing the gig.
Except for one person who is not really associated with cloud beyond the technology community – Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos. Unbeknown beyond geeky circles, Amazon is a leader in cloud computing services for business. The company is also swinging that expertise behind a range of new services that will power its new Kindle Fire and represent cool new ways to access and organise content.
The current Kindles are selling (pardon the pun) like wildfire. All indications are that the Fire will do likewise. When they do, Amazon will become a more prominent part of many peoples’ lives, embedding itself in their lives as a hub for content acquisition and sharing. When that happens, Bezos will gain a lot more profile and take credit for making people happier.
Will it be enough to see him take the unofficial crown of World President of Technology?
To do so, I think he’ll have to fight off Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter who has since gone on to launch Square, a mobile payment system that is going astoundingly well and giving the likes of PayPal a real tickle. Dorsey’s serial successes could give him the platform to become a global go-to figure, especially as his business wins achieve the rare feat of straddling business and consumers.
Dorsey might need one more big score to take the crown, so for me the smart money’s on Bezos.
Who do you think could become the next honorary World President of Technology? Let us know in the Disqus field below.