In 1876, having just perfected his new invention, the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell and his investor, Gardiner G. Hubbard, took the new invention to the biggest (only) wire communications company in the US, Western Union (the Google of its day).
Hubbard and Bell were offering to sell the new device to Western Union for $100,000. To them, it seemed logical. It was but another iteration of their business - wired communications.
Famously (and supidly... incredibly stupidly!), Western Union passed.
Western Union's President, Chanucey M. DePew (and his research committee) wrote back to Hubbard:
"The Telephone purports to transmit the speaking voice over telegraph wires. We found that the voice is very weak and indistinct, and grows even weaker when long wires are used between the transmitter and receiver. Technically, we do not see that this device will be ever capable of sending recognizable speech over a distance of several miles.
"Messer Hubbard and Bell want to install one of their "telephone devices" in every city. The idea is idiotic on the face of it. Furthermore, why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device when he can send a messenger to the telegraph office and have a clear written message sent to any large city in the United States?
"The electricians of our company have developed all the significant improvements in the telegraph art to date, and we see no reason why a group of outsiders, with extravagant and impractical ideas, should be entertained, when they have not the slightest idea of the true problems involved. Mr. G.G. Hubbard's fanciful predictions, while they sound rosy, are based on wild-eyed imagination and lack of understanding of the technical and economic facts of the situation, and a posture of ignoring the obvious limitations of his device, which is hardly more than a toy... .
"In view of these facts, we feel that Mr. G.G. Hubbard's request for $100,000 of the sale of this patent is utterly unreasonable, since this device is inherently of no use to us. We do not recommend its purchase."
Well, we all make mistakes.
Western Union was so vested in the technology and the architecture of cables that they could not really see what interst anyone would have in voice communications.
I bring this up having just read The Reuter's Institute Report on The Future of Online News Video.
The report is a very thorough analysis of what 30 major news organizations are doing in the online video news world, and it ends with a projection of where the online video news world is headed.
This is all fine, and predictable, but what astonished me in reading it (and you may do this yourself), was that the entire focus of this report was on how the traditional and existing 'news organizations' are creating and running their video online.
That is all fine, but limited.
This is not to condemn Reuters, who just reported what they were told, but rather it is a fascinating insight into the 'thinking' of the major news organizations about video.
And.. I don't want to appear to be biting the hand that feeds me. We actually trained a fair number of the newspapers interviewed here, and took them into video. So far, so good.. but the point is that that is but a point of departure. The tech today allows for SO MUCH MORE.
As with Western Union (the conventional 'wire' media company of its day), it ignores the implications of a relatively new piece of technology.
There are now 2.5 billion smart phones in circulation around the world. All of them have the capacity to shoot video, edit it and share it or upload it any time, for free.
Traditional media companies were built around the idea, based on the tech of the time, that creating video, editing it and sharing it were both expensive and complicated.
This is a legacy of the television news business, which still feels this way.
It's a mistake.
Today, anyone is able to do what only a few years ago, only a very fe 'professionals' could do.
If you want to really look at the future of online video news, look to Facebook - but NOT as a platform for sharing the news (which is what they do), but rather look toward Facebook as a model of how content gets created in the online world.
100% of the content of Facebook is User Generated, User Created. 100% of Instagram, 100% of Twitter, 100% of Tripadvisor... I could go on and on.
Do you get the idea?
There are no 'professional' writers at Facebook 'sharing' their content. TripAdvisor is NOT a place where professional travel writers and 'publish' their reports on hotels.
I am not saying that ALL 2.5 billion people with smart phones are going to start creating their own 'news'. But if only 1% of them do... well, that would be 25 milliion new video journalists.. which, I think, probably outstrips the current world-covering capactiy of The New York Times.