A question we get quite frequently is whether the hype cycle has “speeded up” since we first introduced it in 1995. At the heart of this question is a feeling that the pace of innovation has accelerated and that we are being hit with new technologies at an ever-increasing rate.
When we look at the velocity that innovations are moving through the hype cycle, there is one type of innovation that does seem to move at a much higher speed. These are the innovations that arise from the consumer Web world, in particular those that involve collaboration and social networking. These technologies, as typified by YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, seem to launch fully formed and move rapidly from the early adopters to the Peak of Inflated Expectations, often in less than a year. There is still some inevitable disillusionment (see Mark’s posting Classic Hype Cycle Turn Signal – Twitter Backlash Reported) as individuals figure out how to manage a new source of potential information overload and companies scratch their heads about finding the business value. For corporate adoption in particular, it may still take several years for the innovation to move from the Peak to the Plateau of Productivity. But overall, the path is distinctly more rapid than a traditional, multi-decade hype cycle.
The feature that distinguishes these technologies is that they are born not from years of visible, documented laboratory R&D, but from the viral melting pot of the Web. For every Facebook and Twitter, a thousand similar ideas were also launched that didn’t have quite the right set of features, or the right interface, to rise above the crowd. Once the next viral site does emerge, it has already won a Darwinian battle and is ready for broader adoption.
Outside of this class of technology, it seems that in most cases the overall speed through the hype cycle hasn’t necessarily increased. Some of the innovations that will start to hit the Peak this year – such as augmented reality, tablets and touch technologies – have already been in the labs for decades. In particular, technologies that involve fundamental hardware advances, such as a new type of display or networking capability, tend to have a long period of laboratory fermentation.
Going forward, we are likely to see a growing proportion of innovations arising in the consumer world, particularly with the growth of platforms and app stores that encourage and reward a broad set of innovators. It will be important to track these sources as well as traditional labs and vendors. But the hype cycle still seems to be holding up as a pattern that reflects our attitudes to most types of innovation, and accounting for both “fast track” and “long fuse” technologies. Perhaps what is accelerating is not so much the pace of innovation itself, but rather society’s level of ADD, causing us to cycle more rapidly between our peaks of enthusiasm for each next new thing.