How to Understand Technology Trends -- Ignore Personal Preference, Focus on Sales & Usage Data
I've been writing about technology in various forms for about 10 years, and while I make highly arguable opinions fairly often, there's one reliable principle I can strongly recommend -- avoid this often unspoken, but all too common assumption:
"Since I don't like or use it, it will fail."
That, or its opposite, equally flawed assumption: "Since I like and use this, it's going to be big." I've learned this the hard way myself more than a few times, and when I read posts about technology trends today, it's an assumption that keeps coming up -- made by both writers and their readers in comments -- over and over again. Actual examples from actual articles I've read over the years, re-phrased to protect the identity of the silly: "Online worlds are weird and boring, so they must just be a niche." "My kid loves his Sony PlayStation 3, so I think it's going to take over the market." "Cheap smartphone games are lame, so they're just a passing fad." (Actually, the CEO of Nintendo basically expressed that last opinion a couple years ago, so it's no surprise Nintendo is currently floundering.)
Speaking of mobile games, I thought about the "Since I don't like or use it, it will fail" assumption while reading over the comments to this post on Linden Lab's move toward making mobile products. The existing data consistently suggests that mobile/tablet sales and usage keep growing strongly, while desktop PC sales (Linden Lab's main platform, for Second Life) remain stagnant. But point this reality out, and you're sure to get resistance from adamant desktop PC lovers. That's no surprise:
Most people (including me) resist the adoption of a technology when they personally prefer an alternative, which generally causes them to distort its larger importance. It's taken me years to break out of this habit, largely through the tutelage of savvy tech thought leaders like Om Malik and Susan Wu that I've been lucky enough to work for, and it's still an instinct I have to curb. But that's why it's so important to look at the overall market data first and foremost, largely discounting proof by anecdote (especially anecdotes which include you).
So for example, to take a personal case that still makes me wince a bit, I was excited by and wanted to help develop the virtual world Blue Mars, in great part because it was going to be cloud-deployed, and I thought (and think) cloud streaming for games is innovative and cool and therefore, going to be the future. That may eventually be the case. But no matter my own opinion, the data still suggests that's far from certain.
So back to tablets versus PCs: While I myself personally prefer a high end laptop to a tablet, I don't assert that this means most or even many people will think (or shop) like I do in the future. Better to ignore your personal feelings and look at the data, because in this context, the trend data matters more. Factually, and in my view, morally: Because when you force yourself to set your personal preferences aside long enough to look at what others care about, you get a useful reminder that the world doesn't revolve around you.
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Update, 9:00 PM: For clarity, added "That, or its opposite, equally flawed assumption: 'Since I like and use this, it's going to be big.'"