The Victims Of A Bipolar Hype vs. Anti-Hype Tech World

The Hype Begins

New shiny toys, both web services and gadgets, often get hyped by some people and blogs that have reach and influence. Once the hype starts, page views start coming in, and more tech blogs jump on the bandwagon, further inflating the hype bubble. Suddenly, headlines and conversations everywhere are dominated by this ‘next big thing’.

The Anti-Hype Begins

All this pisses off some people. Most are understandably aghast at the incredulity of the hype and others at how fallible people are for ‘falling for the hype’.

If the hype-haters had simply kept quiet, dismissed the hype as yet-another-child-fancy, pretty much everyone would’ve gone about minding their own business. Those who loved the new toy would’ve used it lovingly, the rest would’ve stayed away. But the human world doesn’t work this way, else we would’ve had world peace already.

Some of the hype-haters fall for the fundamental question of the web – why wasn’t I consulted? Others feel a need to demonstrate how clever or independent-minded they are for not being swayed by the hype. Some voice their opinion about all the ‘noise’ created by the hype, often creating further noise themselves.

Thus we get a series of entertaining wars that can be observed at various places on the web.

As entertaining as they may be, there are real victims of such wars. Let’s take a step back.


The War Progresses

First, the hype about the ‘next big thing’ often reaches ridiculous levels. Apparently, this next big thing will ‘kill’ or completely replace some other thing that users have lovingly used for years. In most cases, it will overcome all the problems faced by the current crop of toys. It frequently will dethrone the current ‘king’, who may be valued at a few billion dollars. Some users may be led to believe that this ‘next big thing’ is nirvana itself and a cure for all of life’s ills.

Early adopters of the ‘next big thing’ are users of a different kind – they understand what it means for something to be in beta, in embryonic form, that it can evolve and adapt as it is a startup, etc.

But after a tipping point, most users who start using the ‘next big thing’ start doing so with unrealistic expectations. The natural outcome is that they are disappointed. Some of these  disappointed users join the hype-haters. They stop using the ‘next big thing’ and voice their opinion loud and clear.

The conversation reaches a tipping point. The hype-generators become defensive. The anti-hype noise starts overshadowing the hype. It becomes fashionable to dismiss the ‘next big thing’ as yet-another-hype-bubble.

The hype-bubble bursts. Everyone flees away from the ‘next big thing’ and it’s deserted.

The hype-haters grin with smug self-satisfaction. They were right all along, do you see now?

The Victims Of War

If you carefully consider what happened with a balanced, open-mind, the truth is usually that the ‘next big thing’:

  • had a few exceptional features that were not present in the current crop of toys
  • had a few issues and problems that were yet-to-be-thought-out, but could be overcome
  • given a chance and some time, would have been a very useful thing to many people
  • was not intended to kill or replace, but to augment other things people used

Innovation is not always disruptive, it can often be incremental. Innovation is not always world-changing, it is often something that simply makes something existing better in unique ways not previously thought.

Who is the victim of the hype vs. anti-hype war? The new service/gadget and the users who would certainly have benefited from it are the victims. In our thirst for ‘the next big thing’, we often kill innovation itself.

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  • Dinesh Vadhia

    An insightful and timely analysis. I think that the innovation signal to noise ratio will continue to increase as the cost of entry for presentation layer startups keeps dropping.

    As an aside but related issue is the appearance of people-ranking services which could make the situation worse.

  • Thank you, Dinesh. I agree and share your optimism but feel sad for some of those that have suffered this hype-vs-anti-hype fate.

    People-ranking services is a very big unknown! 🙂

  • Dinesh Vadhia

    Sorry, I meant the opposite ie. there is a danger that real innovation could be drowned out with the continual rise and volume of low-cost presentation-layer startups. You’ve raised an important issue.

  • Anonymous

    true indeed !!!

  • You have described the human dynamics of the Gartner Hype curve perfectly 😉

    Question for you – what would you have those who think the hype is way over-the-top do? There is also in my observation a mini-hype loop there, the early “hype objectors” are usually quite reasoned in their objections, but those that come after (once it is established that it is overblown) come in wih more noise and sensational positions as that garners more attention for them.

  • I am one of those “hype” haters, though I’ve tried time and again to let it play out without comment, the latest of which being Quora.

    I think hype in healthy doses is a great thing, a great product that executes well deserves that. Yet, there still exists such a concept called beating a dead horse. In the case of Quora, many people are bringing up the question (and some of those people rather prominent) that Quora could be bigger than blogging. To say that is a very large claim with little basis, and very insulting to a large community of people online who love to blog. No wonder there are so many people on opposite sides of the fence!

    And all this does is hurt Quora, because the users who would’ve embraced Quora will not now due to the overhype that is occurring. It is one of the main reasons it took me so long to join Twitter.

    The problem is, the situation will not change any time soon. Some of the biggest players in the blogging/pundit world count on such radical claims and hype about new services to drive page views every day. Do I blame them? No. If it drives traffic then obviously people inspired enough about the product to either complain about it or support it. Does it need to change though? Most definitely.

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