Anyone who wants to (or has to) stay up to date in the digital world is dealing with hypes and buzzwords. It is not always easy to see what is relevant and what is only hot air.
(Illustration: © studiostoks, depositphotos.com)
When hypes fizzle out
Do you remember how Google Glass completely changed the world back then? No? That never happened, you say? Instead, Google Glass is now an excellent example of hype that has completely collapsed.
One problem: At first, Google fueled expectations for this product with a fancy video – but it promised far too much. When the product was available, its limited benefits quickly became evident. The integrated camera even led to active resistance against the gadget. Users soon had to be insulted as “glass holes”.
The former enthusiasm evaporated completely and without residue.
A similar story seems to be developing at Magic Leap. The startup, which was pre-financed with almost two billion US dollars, should finally bring us the augmented reality revolution. For years, the company had cleverly fueled the hopes of future customers and its investors. When the first product came out, all that was left was hot air. The sales figures have so far fallen short of expectations. It is currently unclear whether and in what form the startup will survive. In the meantime, they want to focus more on corporate customers, and their marketing has become much smaller and more realistic.
The startup Magic Leap, which has been pre-financed with almost $ 2 billion, has meanwhile launched its first hardware. (Photo: Magic Leap)
At the same time, there is no doubt about it: Augmented Reality (AR) remains a topic with great potential. Microsoft, for example, has been working on an exciting product called HoloLens for years, and the rumours about Apple’s entry into the “data glasses” market have not stopped.
The reason is simple: if AR worked perfectly, it could free digital information and interactions from the prison of the screens. And that would open up entirely new opportunities. How we interact with computers, consume media, visualize data, communicate with each other – all of this and more could, theoretically, change dramatically.
For this to work, however, the technology has to be sufficiently developed. It is not always so easy to predict when this time will be reached.
When hypes come back
This is also a reason why some hypes like undead always come back no matter how often you bury them. Because from the past, there are enough examples that an idea can be right, but the time is not ripe for it.
Apple, for example, showed a revolutionary, multifunctional communication device in the 90s that communicated wirelessly and that you could hold in your hand and always have with you: the Newton. See Apple’s 1993 TV commercial.
The Newton was one of the projects that Steve Jobs cancelled after he returned to Apple in the late 1990s. But as we now know, it wasn’t the basic idea. Because in 2007 this same Steve Jobs presented a revolutionary, multifunctional communication device that communicated wirelessly and that you could hold in your hand and always have with you: the iPhone.
The rest is history. The iPhone ushered in the era of modern smartphones. It started a device category that has spread like no other in no time.
The iPhone was certainly a better product than the Newton in many ways. Above all, the underlying technology was advanced enough to make it a universal device that many no longer want to do without.
So the Newton showed the right idea, as did many other PDAs and early touchscreen smartphones, for example with Windows. But only the operating concept of the iPhone and the widespread mobile phone networks made it usable for everyone. With a look at the very first iPhone, you have to say: the technology was just mature enough …
In the same breath, another undead hype became a reality: the mobile web. At the time of the first dot-com boom in 1999/2000, this had already been a big topic. Soon after, however, there was a niche existence (who still remembers WAP?). Today, the mobile web together with apps is the new normal. The revolution foreseen 20 years ago has indeed come. But it took time – sometimes significantly more time than expected, hoped for and predicted.
When Hypes overshadow himself
Sometimes, however, hype gets in the way. Due to the initial abundance, it is then overlooked how successful and revolutionary a new product and offer category is.
An example: Wearables and especially smartwatches were a big topic not so long ago. They only partially met expectations. In return, they exceeded expectations that hardly anyone had.
For example, the Apple Watch is still often underestimated. But it’s a more significant business than the iPod ever was – although it only works with iPhones. At the same time, it doesn’t make the iPhone superfluous, as some thought. But for this, it fulfils functions that only it can take on if, for example, it collects health data in the background and, thanks to intelligent algorithms, can detect dangerous irregularities in the heartbeat.
To stay with Apple: The iPad started with exaggerated expectations. At first, the sales figures rose steeply but then decreased over the years. In the meantime, the iPad has grown again and is big business for the company as the entire Mac product range.
So sometimes excites become a reality, but are so inconspicuous in everyday life that we take them for granted. You can even change our lives significantly and sustainably, just not from one day to the next.
What triggers hypes
Because hypes can lead to significant upheavals (mobile web) or at least find their way into our everyday lives (wearables), the enthusiasm for it is almost unbroken. Flops (Google Glass) may make some people more careful. But ultimately, many people want or need to know at an early stage when there is an essential new development in their area.
Hypes as part of the task
This is fueled, among other things, by professional groups in which this is part of their livelihood: analysts, consultants, journalists, bloggers and influencers. They all live from having something new to tell. As we saw above, really revolutionary new developments are rare. That is why some innovations are exaggerated. Ultimately, for example, an ad-financed news website earns twice from it: when it praises something in the sky and when it writes it back into the ground a few months (or even weeks or days) later. “Tapered” headlines, baseless theses, hyped forecasts: the main thing is that it clicks.
But not everyone who is inspired by hype does this from such motives. Another reason why the general discussion and reporting is sometimes so wrong: people are much worse at correctly predicting and assessing things than they think they are.
With tech journalists and bloggers, for example, I often notice that they no longer understand how an average user views new devices and services. For example, the new smartphone is compared to the previous year’s model, but only a tiny minority buys a new phone every year. There it complains that so little is done and everything always looks the same. Meanwhile complain real users about when again something has changed, what they had just used.
Because of this, tech sites sometimes write new products and offers in the sky because they excite the nerd while leaving the end customer cold – and vice versa.
Gartner’s “Hype Cycle”
When it comes to technical developments and societal change, another phenomenon also comes into play: people overestimate what can change in one year and underestimate what can change in ten years. That is why expectations of the strength of a hype increase so quickly, then drop steeply and then slowly increase to a realistic level.
The consulting firm Gartner summarized this in its “Hype Cycle”, which is more of a “Hype Curve”:
Gartner’s “Hype Cycle” (Illustration: Gartner)
A new technique first rises to the “peak of excessive expectations”, falls into the “valley of disappointment” and then works its way up the “slope of enlightenment” to the “plateau of productivity”.
Of course, what I have already described comes into play here: Gartner as a consulting company always needs new, fresh topics to keep itself relevant. A new version of this graphic is published every August. The company admits that everything does not develop as Gartner predicted.
So it’s interesting to take a look at past hype cycles and see how Gartner’s annual forecasts have changed. Computerwoche once did that in 2015. It turned out that the company is sometimes not that bad. In 2005, it was predicted that augmented reality would peak in public expectations over the next five to ten years – and then slide towards the “Valley of Disappointment”. One could argue that this is happening.
When it comes to 3D printing, on the other hand, you have to say that the technology is used, but it indeed has not penetrated our everyday lives. And quantum computers have been an indefinite time in the future for many years.
But of course, Gartner is also wrong. Who speaks of “Folksonomies” (Hype Cycle 2006) or “RSS Enterprise” (2006, 2007)? The predicted breakthrough for “Public Virtual Worlds” was again due to the hype surrounding “Second Life”. However, this topic has the potential to make its breakthrough: Games like “Fortnite” are the first examples and signs of this. Facebook, with its daughter Oculus, will also try to make this hype a reality. Who knows if we won’t interact in a “metaverse” in ten years, as Neal Stephenson described in his novel “Snow Crash”.
In this respect, the last word has not yet been spoken for many hypes and buzzwords.
Hypes and ignorance
Some products, offers and applications go through this hype curve several times, and it becomes a cycle. Artificial intelligence is one of them and is an excellent example of another phenomenon that leads to hypes: ignorance.
Because AI is a complex topic, some advances seem magical. So AI systems can recognize not only dogs in photos but also the dog breed – and at a breathtaking speed. Thousands of images can be examined and assigned automatically. Nobody can even begin to keep up here.
However, these skills cannot easily be transferred to other fields of activity. Autonomous vehicles are still a dream of the future. Yes, there is progress, and Google’s Waymo offers a minimal, driverless taxi service. But the announcements by many involved were too optimistic. For example, an AI can now recognize the course of the road with a high degree of reliability. But that’s not enough to control a vehicle. To do this, they should also understand (and be able to predict) how other road users behave.
The makers of autonomous vehicles have assumed in the past that they have already done 90% of the work and now “only” have to deal with the remaining 10%. In the meantime, it has been shown that these “exceptional situations” make up 90%. And today’s AI lacks something crucial: common sense.
For example, an AI may recognize a pedestrian as a pedestrian but does not understand what a “child” is and has no experience of how it differs from an adult.
It is a matter of course for us humans that we can apply knowledge from previous experiences to new situations. However, the current AI systems do not do that at all. It turns out that you can dupe an AI with the simplest of means: For example, a few stickers are enough so that a stop sign no longer recognizes it as such.
Top left: sprayed stop sign, as you often see it. Top right: Stop indication manipulated by researchers. The AI now considers the stop sign of being a speed limit sign solely because of the stickers. (Source: “Robust Physical-World Attacks on Deep Learning Visual Classification”)
It would be no problem for us humans to understand the stop sign, even if it were significantly alienated. Because we don’t just analyze shapes, colours, contrasts and lines. We see the stop sign as an object, know its meaning and can also shoot what we see from the context.
Of course, we humans are also not perfect, as can be seen from the number of accidents alone. But when it comes to flexibility, the human brain is far superior to any AI system known today.
And this is precisely where the problem with the hype about AI arises: Few people know enough about the topic to correctly assess progress and setbacks. Professional hyper (see above) like some consultants and journalists see this more as an opportunity and fuel the disinformation.
Learn to assess hypes better
Are all hypes and buzzwords nonsense that you don’t have to deal with? No, you can’t make it that easy.
The “digital transformation”, for example, is an important reality that numerous organizations have to deal with. And that applies not only to the tools but also to collaboration, how teams work, how work is organized, how employees are involved and motivated and much more. A real technological and cultural change is taking place here. It doesn’t happen overnight. That is why some people wave them off. But he is always moving forward. And before you know it, as a company you missed the connection here.
A tip to better assess hypes and buzzwords: You should look at the necessary developments and needs on which they are based.
YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and now TikTok are all based on:
- The human will and urge to represent yourself.
- The fact that visual content is often consumed.
These two points will still be relevant in ten years or a hundred years (and far, far beyond). However, the tools with which this is achieved are changing. The formats are changing. The habits of users are changing. And that’s what creates change and new hype.
It was therefore clear that video would play an essential role on the Internet long before this was technically possible and feasible. It was therefore foreseeable that there would be large offers based on this topic.
YouTube is the platform that first comes to mind today. She understood how to establish herself in this area and to leave numerous competitors behind. At the same time, it is not said that it has to stay that way: YouTube has rather overslept the trend towards mobile, and all attempts to penetrate the Netflix-style premium streaming market have failed.
As another example: whether TikTok will become a mass phenomenon and still exist in ten years? That is hard to say. It depends a lot on the decisions the makers make. After all, the idea and the format can be copied – just think of how Instagram Stories overtook their model, Snapchat Stories.
In general, the Facebook group is an example of how you have to keep changing and reinventing yourself as a company if you want to assert yourself in the digital world. It is often underestimated and overlooked how often and how fundamentally Facebook has changed and how early the company recognizes where the journey is going. The purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp surprised the observers. Today we know that they were the right decisions.
Other tips for assessing hypes and buzzwords:
- As shown above, see who the message is from. What is the interest of the person or organization to inform about the topic? Do you want to generate clicks, win customers, be in the spotlight? Or are they a more neutral source of information. Plus: Is there enough specialist knowledge at all to be able to assess the topic at all correctly? Have you examined the problem yourself, or are you just copying it from other sources?
- Be sceptical of statistics. For example, TikTok is always in the headlines because the app has more new installations than Facebook. The comparison between an established social network and a new offer makes little sense.
- Ask yourself: What are the signs that you are dealing with a sustainable new offer or trend? What overarching trends are there that come into play here?
For you, as an entrepreneur, the priority should always be: How does this new product, this new offer, this new application help me to reach my target group? Of course, you first need to know your target group well. If you turn to teenagers, you will surely want to know more about TikTok and give it a try. If you are at least addressing young adults, you should take a look at what makes TikTok different and successful – because this could develop into a trend that then influences other offers.