Reflections on a Decade

Binary Pulse completed its corporate relocation last week after a full decade at its previous Costa Mesa address. Moving offices or homes is always a natural catalyst for reflection. And this move was no different.

While our ability to horde things in every nook and cranny of our office was astounding (and aggravating) when it came time to pack, it was also a positive boon for illuminating the change our industry has witnessed over the past decade. Here are some of the more interesting observations I had amidst the packing tape and the dust bunnies:

Storage got bigger and smaller
It cracked me up to unearth some of the more antiquated storage platforms of the past decade (and older.) Remember when an 88MB or 200MB SyQuest cartridge seemed like an inconceivably huge datastore? We marveled when Iomega Jaz cartridges hit the 1GB threshold — a feat equal to breaking the speed of sound. Each storage platform required new hardware, new cabling, new media — all of which now resides in the Dumpster of a Decade’s Digital Detritus. Today, we sport 16GB on our keychains. Bandwidth has enabled the storage cloud to become an increasing reality. And storage that mandates a proprietary platform has largely gone the way of the dodo. Good riddance, I say.

Wireless and less wires
Every company has that cabling cabinet or junk drawer where orphaned cables and connectors go to die. Probably 70% of the electronics we pitched or recycled was some sort of cable. Parallel cables, serial cables, FireWire, USB, SCSI, iSCSI. Camera cables, printer cables, power cords, drive cables, keyboard extenders, VGA cables. And seeming miles of CAT-5 that perpetually cloned itself over the past decade. The increasing prevalence of wireless Internet is sure to bury a few types of wires in the cabling graveyard, but it would be nice to see technologies like Bluetooth extinct a few more.

I think we finally e-wasted our last CRT about two years ago. Thank God I didn’t have to haul one more of those 21-inch, desk-hogging, disc-bulging behemoths again.

Print is on life support
Our single-biggest cleanup task involved sorting through an entire ROOM of print samples. When we started Binary Pulse in 1994, about 99.9% of our revenues was print-based. When we moved into our previous offices in 2000, those revenues were probably 70% print and 30% web-based. We crossed the 50/50 mark in about 2003 or 2004. Now, we’re easily 80-85% digital. While this trend is largely a result of our conscious actions, it’s no small coincidence that the world is shifting this way. The economic downturn of the past two years has, frankly, spelled doom for a lot of printers. Clients prefer low-quantity digital print runs — if they print at all. In fact, most of our conventional print work never even sets ink to paper — instead living its usable life as a PDF. While print will always have its role as part of an integrated marketing strategy, clearly it is in a more limited context. And it will never again dominate 500 square feet of Binary Pulse office space.

The tenuous world of tradeshows
Binary Pulse used to support a LOT of client tradeshows. (The booth graphics and tchotchkes stuck in the back of our storage cabinets like flies in amber stood as silent testament.) While we still do an appreciable amount of tradeshow work, two things forever changed the complexion of tech tradeshows during the past decade: the dot-com implosion and 9/11. I’m sure you’ll remember that, for the first year or two after 9/11, people simply stopped going to tradeshows. Virtual, online events and webinars quickly rushed in to fill the void. (Or, as in the case of the once-mighty Comdex, completely replaced them.) Now, with a shaky economy, you have companies judiciously picking the one or two live events they’ll exhibit at or attend. Seemingly gone are the days of high-flying, high-spending tradeshow calendars. Instead, a more tactical regimen of online events supplemented with key conferences and tradeshows seems the way of the future. Less travel, less drayage costs, less hassle. And, hopefully, greater returns.

Megapixels, schmegapixels
Most mobile phones now shoot bigger pictures than our $700, circa-2002 Nikon digital camera did.

Software and support will never be the same
The cabinet that stored all of our old boxed software was a serious trip down memory lane. Aldus PageMaker, the Apple Internet Connection Kit with Netscape Navigator, Macromedia Director (heck, anything Macromedia) and, most notably, an archaic box of 33 3.5″ disks that comprised a copy of Microsoft Office. Remember when software actually came in boxes? Remember when software updates required shipping physical media? Remember when it used to be months or years in between upgrades? I know we’re all complacent about this now, so I won’t ooh and ahh over the reality of perpetual Web-based software updating that we all enjoy. But just remember what it was like only ten short years ago. Fairly incredible.

Stock photography is a picture of change
As an agency, we’ve always had a keen eye on the stock photo industry. And it’s been a poster child for the change of the past decade. The enormous printed catalogs that companies like The Stock Market used to churn out quarterly in the 90s were largely obsoleted by 2000. (Although, we somehow still managed to discover a few of those lying around during the move.) Those tomes were then replaced by the more convenient and ostensibly more nimble stock photo CDs. But all of these were turned into dinosaurs by today’s stock photo sites. Searchable. Diverse. Immediate. It fascinates me to think of the dramatic change this industry has witnessed. In the time it once took me to search the photo books for the perfect image, call the rep (usually in NY), get a price, have a transparency shipped to me (remember those?), scan it, and return it, I could finish probably a dozen other entire projects. I do admit it was tough to throw out our copies of Photodiscs 1-5. You’ll never know when you’ll need an image of a green-screen CRT with Lotus 1-2-3 on it again.

What was new was old and now new again
We opened a hidden compartment in our conference room console and found the fossilized remains of our WebTV unit. Sony’s late 90s attempt was a great idea far ahead of its time. Bandwidth wasn’t there. Technology couldn’t support it. People didn’t want it. The latest surge toward Internet TV championed by GoogleTV would seem to indicate that the idea’s time has finally come. Remember the rags-to-riches-to-rags tale of PointCast and the advent of “push technology”? Again, this would seem another lesson in poor timing. Now we stand upon its ashes consuming iPhone apps and OS widgets that drip-feed us a steady stream of bite-sized Internet. If history is repeating itself, I like the reruns.

As I was hauling one of the final boxes from our old office to our new location, I daydreamed what our next move would be like if it was in 2020. With the incredible hunger the world is demonstrating for mobility, bandwidth and storage, I have every expectation that our next move will be significantly easier. There probably won’t be much paper to move. All our information will be in the cloud. All software will be a service. Our actual hardware stands to be dramatically smaller and more mobile. The hardest part of a move may just be figuring out what color you want the walls to be. And after the past month of packing and unpacking, I (and my back) am looking forward to it.

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