The research claiming that 40% of Twitter is “pointless babble” is rubbish, as Crikey reported yesterday. But the global coverage it gained was predictable. After relentless over-hype, a Twitter backlash of negative stories is inevitable. The “pointless babble” headline was a perfect fit.

This isn’t just because the media loves cutting down tall poppies with a little controversy. It follows a well-established pattern.

Fourteen years ago at technology research firm Gartner Inc, Jackie Fenn noticed that whenever there’s a new technology, what she called the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” is followed by the “Trough of Disillusionment”.

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Each year since, Gartner has published their Hype Cycle of Emerging Technologies. They’ve tracked thousands of technologies. They’ve extended the model from that Peak and Trough through to the “Slope of Enlightenment” where, if it makes it, a technology’s true value is finally understood, to the “Plateau of Productivity” and eventually the “Swamp of Diminishing Returns” and the “Cliff of Obsolescence”.

The Hype Cycle for 2009 places microblogging services like Twitter at the start of their descent into the Trough of Disillusionment — along with green IT and e-book readers, where they’ll join public virtual worlds like Second Life and online video.

These inflated expectations aren’t just the media’s fault. Venture capitalists looking for quick returns hype their latest investments. Even the investors’ consulting firms like Gartner themselves, I might suggest, risk placing too much emphasis on finding The Next Big Thing.

“I think there’s a lot of truth in that,” Fenn told Crikey, before reassuring us that Gartner tries to iron out the Peak and Trough.

“It’s the collective bandwagon effect that makes the whole phenomenon so dangerous,” Fenn says.

“If you are trying to dive in and extract the value from these phenomenon, it is very much about timing … Just be aware that just because everybody’s talking about it, it doesn’t mean it’s right for you right now … When the trough comes, actually if you’ve done your homework, you don’t have to abandon it because it’s unfashionable. Maybe for you there is real value.”

Gartner predicts that it’ll be two to five years before Twitter, or whatever microblogging services supplant it, reach mainstream adoption in the enterprise.

“This isn’t so much for the consumer use, which is clearly almost mainstream for a lot of users who use it for their daily business,” says Fenn. “When companies try to adopt these technologies, it ends up being a lot slower.”

The participatory, peer-to-peer tools of Web 2.0, however, are starting their way up the Slope of Enlightenment. It’s therefore the perfect time for the federal Government 2.0 Taskforce to be running its Road Shows and seeking community input.

“Actually for the government, it’s probably a very appropriate place to be and to be moving,” Fenn says. “There’s certainly not your total understanding about what this means … There’s a handful of great examples, but figuring out how to leverage that more broadly will take a much longer time.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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