Friday, July 15, 2011

When Two Tribes Go To War

A war is raging in the United States between two great parties.  These two have radically different belief systems, seem unable to agree on fundamental issues, and are increasingly competing on every level for the support of the people.  Their hotly contested battlegrounds include budgets, culture, technology, foreign policy, and social policy.  Each party has a long and glorious tradition, and constantly yearns to wrest influence from the other.  One party currently controls the White House and leads the United States Supreme Court, while the other has a stranglehold over Silicon Valley.  Never the twain shall meet;  ever the twain shall battle for supremacy.

Democrats and Republicans?  No, far more important:  Harvard and Stanford.

Technology provides a vivid illustration of this clash of titans.  Over the past two decades, Harvard has seen its once seemingly-unassailable champion - Microsoft - challenged, and toppled, by Stanford's relentless battler - Google.  However, Stanford is now threatened anew by a Cantabridgian contestant - Facebook - whose spectacular rise may end Google's hegemony.  Where Google accommodated itself (for a time, at least) to the requirements of the Chinese government, brash Facebook has helped sweep aside dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, with the mere flick of its newsfeed.  Perhaps more importantly, Facebook now commands more attention (in traffic and stickiness) than Google.

The battle is far from over.  Not only is Stanford's current champion fighting back with new initiatives, such as Google+ - a social media service aimed at the heart of Facebook, and currently exploding in popularity -  it continues to attract, educate, and graduate new generations of entrepreneurial talent unmatched anywhere in the world.  Unmatched anywhere, that is, except at Harvard.

When the two great tribes go to war, far more is at stake than scoring a point.