Back in 2004, who could have imagined Apple’s astonishing rise to overtake Microsoft as the most valuable tech company in the world?

At least one person.

Paul Graham wins the award for the most prescient parenthetical statement inside a footnote ever.

In footnote 14 of Chapter 5 (p. 228) of Graham’s classic Hackers and Painters, published in 2004, Graham asks “If the the Mac was so great why did it lose?”. His explanation ends with this caveat, in parentheses:

And it hasn’t lost yet. If Apple were to grow the iPod into a cell phone with a web browser, Microsoft would be in big trouble.

Wow. Count me impressed.

To find this quote, search inside the book for “ipod cell”.

To get into a 2004 midset, look here and here.

23 Responses to “The most prescient footnote ever”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by michael, grourk, hackernews, Tech news (BOT), hkrnws and others. hkrnws said: The most prescient footnote ever [...]

  2. Haha – nice find. I was equally impressed with this when I read it about 6 months ago. The book had a number of “holy crap” moments like that actually.

  3. Sean O says:

    An interesting tidbit, but selective. Three footnotes down, note #17:
    “I would not even use Javascript, if I were you; Viaweb didn’t. Most of the Javascript I see on the Web isn’t necessary, and much of it breaks.”
    He was not prescient enough to see AJAX, jQuery, et al.

  4. LF says:

    Not exactly, Sean. In a more recent essay, Paul Graham defined Ajax thus: “Basically, what ‘Ajax’ means is ‘Javascript now works.’”

    That was in 2005 and is pretty much the most concise definition of web 2.0 ever.

  5. @Sean: good point. With so many footnotes there could be a Nostradamus effect.

  6. Arthur C. Clark is (and already was) called a visionary for what he foresaw, but he was not called a liar for what he erred or missed.


  7. [...] Apple vs. Microsoft Graham: If Apple grows the iPod into a cell phone with web browser, Microsoft would be in big trouble; [...]

  8. [...] of my friends recently linked to this impressive quote from Paul Graham of Y-Combinator fame, writing in 2006: If Apple were to grow the iPod into a cell [...]

  9. [...] The most prescient footnote ever » Oddhead Blog. Categories: Uncategorized Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment [...]

  10. Along the lines of @Sean’s point: Graham also predicted in 2002 (incorrectly I think by all counts) that spam would be quickly defeated by Bayesian content filters.

    Still, on balance I think it’s fair to say that Graham got/gets it right more than the he gets it wrong, and way more than the average mortal.

  11. A New Kind of Grammars: A new kind of generative grammars that can produce the empty language is designed in this book.

  12. @the Success Ladder: thanks for the compliments and for subscribing. Not sure if you were serious but I agree Suffusion is a fantastic theme: endlessly configurable, bug free, fast, and well designed. I happened upon it by accident when WP 3.0 broke my old theme and couldn’t be happier. Apparently written by a teenager, I donated to his beer, er, coffee fund.

    (Editor’s note: This is a reply to what I later realized was a spam comment that I have now deleted.)

  13. hadi says:

    i like mix =dj

  14. Tom says:

    @FT: Graham says “Basically, what ‘Ajax’ means is ‘Javascript now works.”, but I don’t agree with this, and I belive there is many people who dont agree with this citation. JavaScript is really powerful client scripting language.

  15. [...] Paul Graham writes some great essays. And, he has arguably “the most prescient footnote ever.” [...]

  16. AP says:

    P.G. is so opinionated on anything that he is bound to get some things right and some spectacular one at that, but if you had to tell the good ones from the bad ones in 2004, the value of his essays was I guess close to 0. Keep also in mind that In 2004 there was a thing called the Treo 650 that had a phone, music player and browser in it, it just was a lot clunkier to use than the iphone. So if one could Treo + iPod … And P.G. gets kudos even when he is wrong, like the Ajax quote. When he backpedals on it in 2005, he is again a visionary. I would have been called a flip flopper. It’s the teflon thing. Oh, and I am waiting for lisp/arc to take over the world.

  17. [...] Hackers and Painters author Paul Graham answers the question “If the the Mac was so great why did it lose?” — back in 2004 [...]

  18. [...] The most prescient footnote ever » Oddhead Blog Nice: The most prescient footnote ever. When Paul Graham predicted the #iphone. (via @gnat) [...]

  19. [...] The most prescient footnote ever >> Oddhead Blog Paul Graham wrote it. He thought in a way that a lot of people did, but expressed in an interesting way. [...]

  20. Venky says:

    @Sean O: The statement on Javascript was not a prediction. It was a comment on the state of affairs as they were at that point in time. The statement on Apple was a prediction.

  21. David Hora says:

    TIME TRAVEL IS POSSIBLE! If it weren’t for the invention of time travel (at some point in the future), Paul Graham would not have been able to travel back in time, slip up and mention the idea for the iPhone, which apple would then run with to change the course of history… FOREVER (see butterfly effect). Thanks Paul.

  22. [...] “Hackers and Painters” author Paul Graham answers the question “If the the Mac was so great why did it lose?”–back in [...]

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