Ups and Downs of Immediate Information

The amazing thing about the Internet is being to get information and opinion on that information very rapidly, almost immediately. The downside of the Internet is getting misinformation and shallow, poorly thought out opinion very rapidly, almost immediately. I guess what has been driving me nuts are the opinion pieces that appear within minutes or hours of the announcement of some technology product or service that invariable predict either:

  1. Abject, total failure of the new thing, because it doesn’t do something or because it lacks some specific feature, even if the function or feature is actually quite trivial.
  2. How the new thing is going to completely and totally dominate the market, displacing whatever is currently the real or perceived leader. And this domination is going to happen in a matter of months, a year or so at most.

I keep seeing pieces that completely ignore the landscape of a particular market today, or how it got to where it is now. They make bad assumptions about who really is the leader, and often seem to miss the point on how they got to be the leader. For review:

The Zune: this was supposed to be an iPod killer. It was cheaper and had supposedly “better” features. It didn’t kill the iPod. Why? Their store doesn’t have the depth of inventory of the iTunes store, and people (right or wrong) still really wanted iPods. Replacing an iPod with a Zune meant (at the time) abandoning everything the user bought on the iTunes store. That’s changed, since most iTunes music is DRM-free, but the success of the iPod Touch means that people would still have to consider losing their video and apps if they switched to something else.

Motorola Droid: this was supposed to supplant the iPhone. Again, cheaper and supposedly “better” features. Its still early, but the initial “it will sell better than the iPhone at launch” didn’t happen. It still lacks the depth of media of the iTunes store, doesn’t have the same breadth of apps, and (for better or worse) right now people want iPhones. Besides, in terms of installed base and units sold, the leaders are Blackberry in North America and Symbian globally. The iPhone is second and third in those two areas, respectively.

Desktop Linux: still hasn’t supplanted Windows, even on netbooks (where Linux’s better use of limited resources should shine). Why? The PC market is dominated by businesses. Businesses expect a desktop PC to run Microsoft Office. IT staff at most businesses are trained in Windows, and their employees have used it for a long time. Consumers want a PC where they can buy games and such at BestBuy. Linux doesn’t offer or counter those.

A recent example of the pundits proclaiming either “complete domination” or “complete failure” is with the iPad. Yes, it has some shortcomings. But for what most people do, it could be a viable replacement for a netbook. It may take away some iPod Touch sales, too. Until we really know how people will use the device, at this point it is hard to say. To make predictions about “domination” or “failure” is too difficult.

No product has gone from nothing to market dominance in less than the span of several years. The CD was a phenomenon, but it was first released in 1982. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when the CD supplanted the vinyl LP. That’s nearly a decade. The first serious attempt at business PC’s was the IBM PC in 1981. It took nearly a decade to take over business desktops. It took more than a decade before PC’s started to become ubiquitous in the home. DVD took years to supplant VHS tape. The iTunes store took 7 years to build to where it is today.

For better or worse, we live in an age where people can share their knowledge and opinion within minutes of an event. When it comes to knowing “what’s happening now”, it is very powerful to be able to know about events as they happen, and not have to wait until the next week or month (magazines), the next day (newspapers), the end of the day (supper-hour news) or even the start of the next hourly news cycle to find out about things. Even then, when the situation is particularly fluid, there will be ¬†incorrect or incomplete information, so you have to expect updates and changes as events unfold. The first news may not be perfect. But at least being aware that an event is occurring can be good.

When it comes to opinion and prediction, I think it would be wiser for people to stop and put a little thought into their work. I don’t see the need for immediacy on opinions. Being “first” with a prediction doesn’t mean anything, since I can easily consume many opinions over time. The first doesn’t colour my own opinion on something. I would rather see an opinion that has been thought through, and has some real research behind it, and not 10 minutes of scanning Google search results. I would like to see people admit where their predictions could fall down, and knock off this need to predict “total domination” or “total failure”. The real world has a middle-ground.