A close advisor and luminary in SW circles (OK, it's Jim Hendler) described overhearing a discussion at the Semantic Technology Conference '08 where some people were saying that SW technology (SWT) was "...on the first upslope of the "hype curve" and others saying we were on the second (i.e. after the disillusionment)." I saw Jim's story as alluding to the adoption of the SW and chuckled.
Innovation in Practice, Not Theory
There's been a lot written about the process of innovation in the past few decades by people like Clay Christensen, Ed Roberts, Stefan Thomke, Jim Utterback, Eric von Hippel, and many others. One of my favorite examples is Utterback's description of the typewriter, the hurdles it faced when it was introduced, the emergence of a dominant design, and the amount of time it took to really achieve "adoption." You can read Jim's book, but the short version goes a little like this:
- Initially, typewriters only wrote in ALL CAPS, which offended many recipients because that's the same way handbills (printed promotional messages, or today's equivalent to commercials) were produced.
- The typist couldn't actually see the output until a couple of lines had been written. This led to error-ridden output.
- The internal mechanics were slow and unreliable.
- As different manufacturers entered the market, different keyboard layouts were used.
It took about 30 years to overcome these problems. Innovation takes time, and so does adoption.
Curves, Scales, and Relevant Timeframes
Anyone who's ever written a business plan is always looking for a hockey stick. You know, the kind of curve that starts with a steady, gentle slope, but then explodes upward signifying hyper-adoption and naturally, enormous wealth for all involved parties.
I think this curve is a pretty good example of what I'm talking about:
OK, I'm being unfair - this is actually the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1955-2000 (on a linear, not logarithmic scale.) The point I'm trying to make is that all the smooth curves we're accustomed to seeing actually comprise a lot of much smaller curves that are occasionally steep and occasionally precipitous. (I'm also not going to get into a tedious argument about how this might reflect the adoption of financial assets, either.) A lot happened in that 45 year period.
Where Are We Now?
If you're looking to get rich quick, then buy a lottery ticket or attend one of those no-money-down real estate seminars. I don't do either, so I take the long view, which has worked pretty well for Warren Buffet and John Templeton. As a result, I look at the SW industry this way:
In this view, whether we're on curve one or two doesn't matter (and note there's no scale.) The real proposition that we all need to assess is whether or not this is the way we want to invest a significant portion of our time, energy, credibility, and money. My attitude is that it's still very early in the game and I'm quite confident in my bet.