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You're History

As history repeats itself, pick which role you want to play.

This story appears in the December 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Has there ever been anything like the Internet? Actually, there has, says Harvard Business School professor Debora L. Spar. In her book Ruling the Waves (Harcourt), Spar points out that since the development of improved navigational techniques more than 500 years ago led to the global explosion of ship-borne exploration and trade, cycles of booms and busts based on technology have been spurred by the invention of telegraphy, radio, TV and satellite broadcasting, among others.

In a lucid analysis, Spar shows how each cycle is split into stages ruled by different types of participants. Pioneers begin cycles. Pirates, attempting to profit from the new arena's raw lawlessness, follow. In the last stage, policy-makers regulate and control the technology. Opportunity exists in any stage, including the rule-making era, in which the Internet now finds itself. During this stage, Spar says, cyberspace will be brought to heel, and the rewards-potentially greater than those divvied up by the first-wave dotcommers-will be won by those shrewd enough to get a say in the rule-making. In the near future, Spar sees the cycle exemplified in emerging standards for disseminating recorded music over the Net. The names MP3 and Napster, she suggests, may one day rank alongside Columbus and Marconi.

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