A few thoughts about the tech echo chamber we live in

Vacation is a time to get away from it all and “it” includes the tech scene. I spent last week without Twitter or Facebook and only glanced at urgent emails. I also had the time to sit down for long chats with old friends who don’t work in tech and live far, far away from Silicon Valley. Whenever I have these conversations I’m reminded just how much we live in an echo chamber of our own making.

Here’s one example from talking to a friend and catching up on what our common acquaintances were doing:

Getting away from the tech scene in New York

Getting away from the tech scene in New York City

Me: “… he’s at Zynga.”

She: “Where?”

Me: “Zynga? You know, the gaming company?”

She: silence.

Me: “Farmville?”

She: silence.

Me: “You know, all the games on Facebook?”

She: “I’m not on Facebook.”

And that was it. There was no point to bring up the Periscope vs. Meerkat debate, the proliferation of Uber of X apps, ephemeral vs permanent messaging, and “swipe left” dating apps. It seems that every hot tech topic or exciting new app that we discuss in tech is not even a peep in the “real” world. That it takes truly mass adoption of a product for it to be “common knowledge.”

Number of apps downloaded each month, US, 18+ Source: ComScore via Business Insider

65% of users don’t download any apps!
Source: comScore via Business Insider

I decided to write about this because I think that occasionally, as an industry, we forget that our end users are not power users like ourselves. I download at least two-three new apps each week. Some I really like and continue to use and some I’ll uninstall after a while, but I am always open to trying out new ones. Compare that to comScore’s stats: 65.5% of American users over the age of 18 don’t download any apps each month. They’re just happy to use what they already have. Crazy, right?

Hype Cycle for 2014 Source: Gartner

Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2014
Source: Gartner

It takes me back to a post I wrote last year discussing Gartner’s “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.” Gartner defined the stages of product/technology adoption as starting off with an “Innovation Trigger” and progressing to the peak of hype (often without substance, ie, significant adoption, but “everyone” is talking about it) in the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” From there it’s a steep downhill fall to the “Trough of Disillusionment” where hard work can take a product up the “Slope of Enlightenment” to the desired “Plateau of Productivity.” 2014’s chart put the “Internet of Things” at the top of the hype and “Speech Recognition” at the “Plateau of Productivity,” which it had been inching towards for years. It takes a lot of time for some technologies to become widely adopted enough to make it to the end of the hype cycle. Most of the new products we talk about in the Valley are barely out of the “Trigger of Innovation” initial shot. Even though some products can whiz through the cycle in months rather than years (Uber is everywhere) the rest of them will take a long time to make that journey.

We need to be ready to support products throughout the cycle and be ready for a long run. The product that is poised to reach peak hype in the tech industry may not be the same product that reaches the final Plateau, and the users you start off with, the early adopters, ready to try anything once, are vastly different then the users that will get you there. The challenge is keeping that inclusive mindset while living in the middle of the echo chamber we call home.

End of philosophical reflection. Back to product analysis tomorrow.

 

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