Monday, December 19, 2005

The "2.0" Hype Cycle

GartnerGroup has an oft-cited Hype Cycle diagram that shrewdly plots the course of a new technology’s emergence, rise, fall-from-grace and inevitable re-emergence as a legitimate offering. It’s not as widely hailed (or feared) as the Magic Quadrant reports, but frankly I find it more valuable as a PR-Guy. Let’s face it, the tech PR trade itself, working hand-in-glove with our media cohorts, create our own kind of hype cycles.

Right now, for example, we’re being hit upside the head with the “2.0” angle. Frankly, this one has me a little befuddled: I can’t yet tell whether the 2.0 craze is so-hot-it’s-destined-to-overheat or, whether it’s now a legitimate concept. Or both!

On the one hand, it’s important to note that the concept of “2.0” ain’t that fresh an idea…which speaks well for its potential for viability. It really emerged for the first time with the publication of the (still-standing) BUSINESS 2.0 magazine in the Bubble Days. And arguably the 2.0 theme was also begging for birth thanks to the popularity of Esther Dyson’s popular RELEASE 1.0 publication. So if the “2.0” theme is 5-odd years old, and arguably fell into disfavor during the Tech Wreck, maybe that means it’s now legit?

Certainly the 2.0 fever is founded on legitimate ideas. Nowadays, to be specific, everyone’s agog over the concept of “Web 2.0” companies. There’s a great explanation of the concept at Tim O’Reilly’s place; he was one of the originators of the Web 2.0 concept. My simplistic PR-Guy takeaway from Tim’s piece is that “Web 2.0” companies represent the new breed of better-faster-cheaper Web-centric companies that figured out how to a.) make a buck, and, b.) add real value by catering to the interactivity craving of end-users. Web 2.0 companies evolved the model from “publishing” to “sharing” (think Ofoto as version 1.0 and Flikr as version 2.0, as Tim suggests) … and lo, the crowds did flock!

There’s real power behind this theme, and if you read Quentin hardy's November 28 article about Yahoo! in FORBES ("Intertaining Yourself"), you’ll get a sense for where this might take us next.

I get nervous about the Hype Cycle nearing a new crest, though, when I start seeing articles (and let’s face it, PR pitches) that tag "2.0" as a suffix to other stuff.

...BusinessWeek published a recent article about “Hardware 2.0” upstarts (in which our own client, Netezza, was named among the privileged few).

...I was in a meeting with a prospect who claimed that their technology represented an “Enterprise 2.0” opportunity.

...Another prospect was told that they had a “Wireless 2.0” story on their hands.

Well, heck – maybe it’s true. Certainly Netezza is selling lots of systems and has turned the data warehouse model on its head with a better-cheaper-faster appliance approach that’s smacked IBM, et al., upside the head. And surely they are not a Web-based company… so how better to describe them than “Hardware 2.0”?

And that guy pitching his “Enterprise 2.0” story? – well, actually, it was pretty cool stuff; if they execute well (and hire the right PR firm, ‘natch!), they could cannibalize some status quo technologies in the data center and impress the hell out of a lot of people.

My guess is that the 2.0 angle will reach a crescendo in 2006. There will be some snazzy set pieces in the business press, and new winners will be anointed (led by King Google). Then, and I am still prognosticating here, PR types will overheat the concept: every damn thing we pitch will have the 2.0 moniker. (Remember when ABC put Regis Philbin’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” on TV for 5 days a week and immediately "jumped the shark?" It’ll be like that.)

Worse, we’ll be pushed by clients to make sure that their companies be named as part of these new 2.0 categories. I feel lucky that SHIFT was able to help get Netezza recognized as a “Hardware 2.0” company, but I will cringe when I first hear a client proclaim, “We need to be viewed as a (fill-in-the-blank) 2.0 company!!!” I’ll hear it in 2006, I know it.

For all that, though, I like the 2.0 idea. It appeals to the exuberance, can-do spirit and entrepreneurialism that make America great. As noted in a previous post, we love a comeback story.

And that’s what the 2.0 trend is REALLY about: the tech industry got too big for its britches; we can admit it now with a rueful smile – we fucked the whole thing up. But just as importantly, we went back to the drawing board, licked our wounds – and came roaring back, smarter and stronger than ever.

2.0, baby! Hell, yea!

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