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Random Notes:
Cutting Through Technology Industry Hype
Can a comparison be made with the fashion industry?




How do you cut through the hype & get to what's real?



The Science of Fashion

For me, cutting through all the hype at the cutting edge of technology is not unlike shopping for clothing fashions.

You first look around at those things that are already in use and learn their history.

Find the ones that have been around a while and have been fashionable in every era. These are the things that have stood the test of time.

Learn to love these, their appearance, their feel, their smell, everything about them. Become accustomed to them.

Then, when you're in the store, looking at new things, or when Next-Big-Things happen along, you will recognize and prefer the ones with the same timeless "feel" you have developed a taste for.

Just as in fashion, this is pretty much the process I follow to weed out the good new technology from the bad. But it's anybody's guess which of the two industries produces the most hype. :)

Then again, you may just like platform shoes with live goldfish in them. If that's the case, that's ok too. Feel free!


I Saw the Signs

Spin doctors, people who produce hype as their calling, are dedicated professionals who, despite our kidding (e.g. "Dilbert") are not clueless. One of the many job functions of competent sales and marketing types is to pose as industry experts or others who the #cough#mark-cough#..., uhm, "target audience" trusts, thereby lowering resistance to adoption of their products. In the case of geeks they might, for example, pose as a fellow geek. This is an art form and the best of them can be extremely good at it. Occasionally though, the average geek might be able to spot a chink or two in the facade. e.g.

  • (eval("24/7/365")<eval("24/7"))!=0
    Most true geeks understand this (only slightly obfuscated) statement. Many may not realize though, that it's also helpful in recognizing when that "Description of Technical Benefits" you are reading was written by a geek, or just a marketing guy posing as a geek.

  • "The -pick a programming language- language uses -pick a language construct- (s) which cause -pick a software defect- errors"
    Example, "The C language uses pointers which cause buffer overflow errors". Note to managers: pointers don't cause buffer overflow errors. Errant programmers cause buffer overflow errors. Right now especially, this one is proving to be very helpful in separating the real programmers from the back-slappers and posers. Joo-nuh-who-joo-ah.




Salesmanship Over Substance

It is used a lot because it sort of works.

Pick a context:

  • A diva pin-up attempting a comeback with mediocre songs.
  • A boy-band... any boy band.
  • New software paradigms that solve no existing problem, but are hyped as the "next big thing" in every industry journal you read.
  • An entire issue of one of those journals devoted to the most powerful entities in the networking industry, where the only mention of Linux is in a two-page, inside-front-cover ad from Microsoft.
The list is never ending.

This is about taking some product that is mediocre at best, and surrounding it with enough buzz and glitter that people will buy it anyway, based on the buzz alone. This is salesmanship over substance.

It works well enough to make it profitable to those who practice it, but with some loss of luster. The diva will never re-acquire her previous glory without new songs as good as those she sang before. No pre-fabricated boy-band, with low-cost computer generated music and choreography will ever reach the same level of excellence and historical significance as the early "real" prototypes did with good music.

Likewise, people once bought software and system products because they NEEDED them to do their jobs BETTER. NOT because experts said they had to have them, or because they had to stay on someone's upgrade treadmill. The question is: do software companies with mediocre innovations achieve profits that are as good as the profits from their earlier innovations?

Unfortunately some experts are beginning to predict that salesmanship over substance has a level of critical mass, a point when it becomes the overwhelming driver of purchasing decisions for customers and businesses. I hope the experts are just practicing what they preach. But if GM succeeds in positioning OnStar as safety equipment, all hope is lost.

So how does it get started? I don't know but I can take a guess. Textbooks are filled with stories of people who had great products that failed because they were not marketed well. It is only natural for our neural networks to generalize, and one way we generalize is to assume the opposite of a true thing is false. We see that a good product will fail without proper salesmanship, and assume that a bad product can easily succeed with good salesmanship. So, why build great products when we can just hire better salesmen?


 
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Written by John Repici


With contributions by:
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