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Post #1706

Hopeful Monsters and the Trough Of Disillusionment

Last Saturday, Matt Webb and I hosted a short session at O’Reilly FooCamp 2010, in Sebastopol, California.

The title was “Mining the Trough of Disillusionment”, referring to the place in the Gartner “Hype Cycle” that we find inspiration in – where technologies languish that have become recently mundane, cheap and widely-available but are no longer seen as exciting ‘bullet-points’ on the side of products.

For instance, RFID was down in the trough when Jack and Timo did their ‘Nearness’ and ‘Immaterials’ work, and many of the components of Availabot are trough-dwellers, enabling them to be cheap and widely-available for both experimentation and production.

While not presenting the Gartner reports as ‘science’ – they do offer an interesting perspective of the socio-technical ‘weather’ that surrounds us and condenses into the products and services we use.

In the session we examined the last five years of the hype cycle reports they have published – it’s kind of fascinating – there are some very strange decisions as to what is included, excluded and how buzzwords morph over time.

After that we brainstormed with the group which technologies they thought had fallen, perhaps irrevocably, into the trough. It was fun to get so many ‘alpha geeks’ thinking about gamma things…

Having done so – we had a discussion about how they might breed or be re-contextualised in order to create interesting new products.

These “hopeful monsters” often sound ridiculous on first hearing, but when you pick at them they illustrate ways in which a forgotten or unfashionable technology can serve a need or create desire.

Or they can expose a previously unexploited affordance or feature of the technology – that was not brought to the fore by the original manufacturers or hype that surrounded it. By creating a chimera, you can indulge in some material exploration.

The list we generated is below, if you’d like to join in…

It was a really fun session, that threw up some promising avenues – and some new products ideas for us… Thanks to all who attended and participated!

"Trough of disillusionment" session, Foo10

  • Mobsploitation (a.k.a. Crowdsourcing…)
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • <512mb thumbdrives
  • Blinking Lights (esp. in shoes)
  • Singing Chips (esp. in greetings cards)
  • Desktop Web Apps
  • Cameras
  • Accelerometers
  • MS Office Apps
  • Physical Keyboards
  • Mice
  • Cords & Wires in general
  • Non-Smart Phones
  • RSS
  • Semantic Web
  • Offline…
  • Compact Discs
  • Landline Phones
  • Command Lines & Text UIs
  • Privacy
  • P2P
  • MUDs & MOOs
  • Robot Webcams & Sousveillance
  • Google Wave
  • Adobe Flash
  • Kiosks
  • Municipal Wifi
  • QR Codes
  • Pager/Cellphone Vibrator motors
  • Temporary Autonomous Zones

13 Comments and Trackbacks

  • 1. Matt Webb said on 1 July 2010...

    One of my favourite moments was cross-breeding thumbdrives and, oh, something else that triggered a thought about audio… and the product that came up was audio textbooks on super cheap hardware for the developing world. Nat was part of that conversation —

    and then 30 minutes later, downstairs, he’d found one of the people behind the Literacy Bridge which is audio textbooks on cheap hardware! And so much more.

    Then there was Office apps plus mobsploitation, which builds the ability to poll your friends into an Excel function. (It also turns out that Red Laser passes hard problems off to Mechanical Turk — the same kind of artificial A.I.)

    And a mouse crossed with RSS, which led us to a mouse with a little screen embedded in it to show any dialogue boxes from the Web or the OS. Kind of like a mouse with SNAP in it.

    I’m still stumped as to what you’d do with CDs plus anything in the world. Thanks for that one Quinn, a total blocker.

  • 2. Nonny said on 2 July 2010...

    I think the following has come up before, if not on this blog then a related one, but I’m reminded of a bit from Stephenson’s Diamond Age: “Hackworth was a forger, Dr. X was a honer. The distinction was at least as old as the digital computer. Forgers created a new technology and then forged on to the next project, having explored only the outlines of its potential. Honers got less respect because they appeared to sit still technologically, playing around with systems that were no longer start, hacking them for all they were worth, getting them to do things the forgers had never envisioned.”

  • 3. Jim Mathews said on 3 July 2010...

    I’ve found that a lot of people share the same misconceptions about how emerging technologies really work. It’s a general rule that both the Peak and the Trough come before the technology is truly productive. The Hype Cycle is a useful tool, but Gartner tries to use it to show two different variables on the same vertical axis, and so hurts its usefulness. They start out saying it represents the amount of hype, but by the time you get to the Plateau, it is supposed to represent productivity. While many technologies die in the Trough, they all go through it because they are hyped before they are mature enough to be truly useful. By the time they are truly productive, they are mature and you read or hear little them (except for the hype about new versions or features…).

  • 4. Ben said on 4 July 2010...

    CDs on string freak the crap out of pigeons. That’s a use. Kinda.

  • 5. Ben said on 6 July 2010...

    CD’s on a string or a thicker card are also great for new born babies to play with.

  • 6. Pete said on 12 July 2010...

    I know a group of people who’ve been experimenting with Google Wave as an online role-playing platform.

    Not entirely clear how successful this has been, but the potential Wave offers – in terms of divergence and revisionism – lends itself well to story telling I think.

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