Guide to Sorting Hot from Hype

Twitter is out, cloud computing is all hot air and people have finally found a use for wikis, according to an overview of Gartner's Hype Cycle for 2009 (PDF). The an

hype
Illustration: Diego Aguirre
nual report is an attempt by Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, to cut through the excitement and fanboy largesse generated by new technologies, and find a more accurate pattern of human response to a wide range of tech and tech services. This year's report covers 1650 technologies in 79 topic areas such as emerging, mobile, and general consumer tech. For this overview, we'll take a look at Gartner's report on the hype cycle of emerging technologies.

Understanding the Hype

The Hype Cycle is separated into three major sections: Hype, Disillusionment, and Understanding (click on the chart to view it). According to this cycle, technologies go through a period of early adoption and enthusiasm (hype), followed by a period of decline where the excitement wears off (disillusionment) and finally the technology plateaus as its practical uses are finally figured out (understanding). It's important to note that disillusionment doesn't mean a technology has necessarily been discarded or is about to disappear. During the disillusionment period user enthusiasm dies off, but mainstream adoption and practical uses for the technology are not yet apparent.

Hype

The beginning of the hype cylcle has a high point where technologies and services rise from early adoption to overblown popularity before hitting a decline. Some of Gartner's most hyped tech this year includes cloud computing, e- readers and surface computers.

It's not hard to see why these technologies are still in their hype cycle. With the announcement of Google's Cloud OS and Microsoft Office going online, 2010 could be all about the cloud, but big questions still hang over cloud computing's future. E-readers are right at the top of the hype cycle along with cloud computing, but e-reading could start its rollercoaster ride into the trough of disillusionment earlier than the cloud. Amazon is trying to revolutionize reading with its line of Kindle e-readers, but the device has not yet gained widespread adoption. Amazon has also found some serious competitors such as Sony and Plastic Logic, but questions still remain about how best to deal with literature in digital form.

Microsoft made a big splash in 2007 with its Surface technology that uses a tabletop or wall space as a touchscreen computer. But aside from being spotted in Casinos and used by MSNBC's Chuck Todd during last year's Presidential Election, the technology has yet to take off.

Trough of Disillusionment

It's not surprising to see microblogging, most notably Twitter, on its way into Gartner's disillusionment period. The hype train started ending for Twitter after a Nielsen report came out questioning the service's ability to hold onto new users. Then several prominent Twitter accounts were hacked, followed by a recent episode where another hacker was able to steal some of Twitter's internal documents and security information. Finally, Twitter suffered serious service outages last week after being hit by a DDoS attack.

Other technologies and services suffering disillusionment doldrums include Web 2.0, Social Network Analysis and public virtual worlds.

Back in the Saddle

In addition to wikis and corporate blogging, location-aware applications are pulling out of the disillusionment phase after the launch of popular services such as Google's My Location and Latitude, as well as Apple's expansion of location services for the iPhone. Gartner says tablet PCs are also coming out of a low point--no doubt spurred on by the hype surrounding the mysterious and yet-to-be-proven Apple Tablet.

So, that's a quick look at the hype trends and status of emerging technologies. Interestingly, Gartner predicts that many of the items in its report will go mainstream within two to five years regardless of where they now fall in the Hype Cycle. Internet TV, such as Hulu, is still rising to its hype peak, but since the practical use of this tech is so apparent, Internet TV could soon become even more popular than it already is. Other tech predicted to make a short jump to mainstream adoption include the overhyped, like the previously mentioned cloud computing and e-book readers, as well as green tech.

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