Some new technologies are exciting; they give geeks and journalists and analysts the feeling that Something Important Is Going On Here, and the urge to tell others. The geeks generate online buzz, the analysts expensive reports, and the journalists, well sometimes something ends up on the front page. Other technologies, while maybe useful, just aren’t buzz-generators. Is the degree of excitement a useful success predictor?
The Table · In this table, a ten is for something that gets on the cover of the Wall Street Journal; a zero is for something that even Slashdot doesn’t write up.
Discussion · A couple of these might be controversial; I didn’t give anything really high marks if you had to see it to get it — that is to say, maximum buzz scores go to things like that can fit into a newspaper headline: Give computers human judgement! (AI); Software with no programmers! (4GL); Software for free! (Open Source); The Three-dimensional Web (VRML); and so on.
But the WWW, which was sure high-impact once you spent a few minutes in front of a browser, resisted soundbiting. We’re having the same issue right now with RSS: once you’ve gotten a good newsreader and scanned dozens of information feeds in the time it used to take you to do two, you’re not going back; but it doesn’t make for much of a headline.
Conclusion · There’s something like a pattern here! For this set of technologies, there is a distinct if weak negative correlation between buzz factor and success. So next time we have the equivalent the announcement of the Death of the Browser on the cover of Wired (remember, it was because of Pointcast?), you might want to get a little bit cynical. I’m probably over the edge on this one; whenever I read a technology article that’s written largely in the future tense—this and that and the other will happen—I raise my eyebrows.