What YouTube Says About RFID

The future of RFID is not only bright, but YouTube shows the future is also long.
Published: October 10, 2006

By Mark Roberti

Reading about Google’s decision to purchase the video download site YouTube for $1.65 billion on a flight down to Washington, D.C., today brought a smile to my face. You see, I started writing about RFID when I was a reporter at the Industry Standard, a magazine that covered Internet companies. That magazine failed, and one successful technology publishing executive predicted RFID Journal would suffer the same fate.

“All the Internet publications went under because the Internet became ubiquitous and no one needed a publication devoted to it,” he said, when I launched RFID Journal four years ago. “RFID will be just like the Internet. In a few years, everyone will use it, and no one will need a publication focused on it.”

Really? The idea sounded silly to me four years ago and seems even sillier now, with the success of Google and YouTube.

Here’s the thing. Internet magazines didn’t go under because there was no longer anything relevant to say about the Internet. The Standard and other pubs went under for two reasons. First, they didn’t focus on how companies could use the Internet to create business value, but on the entrepreneurs reaping hundreds of millions of dollars and the venture capitalist stars funding them. When the bubble burst, these stories were no longer relevant (though the smart folks at Sequoia Capital certainly deserve a cover story somewhere for turning an $11 million investment in YouTube into an estimated $500 million windfall).

The other reason they failed was because they spent money just like the overfunded startups they covered. I worked in the Standard‘s New York editorial office, which was furnished with the de rigeur Aeron chairs. The office was in Soho, a high-rent district, right across the street from the Armani Emporium. I walked out of the office one day to get some lunch and nearly bumped into Yoko Ono on a street corner. They regularly filmed episodes of Sex in the City outside our building. When the bubble burst, there wasn’t enough ad revenue to support this kind of living.

In my mind, a magazine about using the Internet to drive business value would be as relevant today as ever. And the YouTube acquisition shows that the Internet is still being used in new ways to benefit consumers and create new business models, though YouTube is not yet profitable.

All this makes me feel good because while I do believe RFID will be widely used by businesses in a few years, I don’t think publications that write about new ways of leveraging it to drive business value will become obsolete. RFID will continue to evolve, and our coverage will evolve with it. In five years, we won’t be writing about how companies met tagging mandates from retailers or even how they used RFID to track assets. We’ll probably be writing about how companies are using RFID to benefit their customers with smarter products and better service.

There may or may not be a big RFID bubble some day. Rest assured, even if there is, we won’t be moving our editorial offices to Soho. I want to be around to write about the RFID equivalent of YouTube—that is, the post-bubble success stories.