Looking Back: hypePad and buzzkill

One reason I expect to see more activity in this blog in the future is that I plan to prepost some portions of some Cites & Insights essays, just as I’ve always done for Offtopic Perspectives. The paragraphs that follow are the final portion of what will be the first section of the next Cites & Insights, and the only portion written so far. Not to give anything away, but it should be clear from the first sentence that I do plan to change and eliminate some sections of C&I—one reason I’m still polling. [Up to 30 responses as of 11 a.m., Friday, February 17, 2012. Can I hear 35? 40? 31?]

One section name that neither made the cut nor has a direct replacement: The Zeitgeist. It wasn’t used all that often—five times in all, as far as I can tell—and the last one landed with such a “tree in the forest” non-effect that I pretty much gave up the idea. Iris Jastram suggested the name (actually “preserving the zeitgeist”) as something Cites & Insights does or has done, for which I thank her: Even if I dropped the section name, I like the idea.

The very first essay tagged as The Zeitgeist appeared in the Spring 2010 issue (and was the entirety of that issue other than a Bibs & Blather on sponsorship and the surprise loss of my part-time job). The essay-specific subtitle was hypePad and buzzkill.

I reread the essay recently as part of an ongoing process of interleaving old Cites & Insights printed issues in with my flow of other magazines. At this writing, I’m about two months behind on other magazines and slightly less than two years behind on C&I, but the latter’s deliberate: I insert one issue of C&I in front of each Condé Nast Traveler when that magazine arrives. By the time I reread an issue, I’ve long since forgotten it, so I can read it freshly. That’s an attempt to replicate the experience of reading my magazine columns (all of which are now defunct, but it was a good two decades or so) a few months after writing them.

Anyway…

So I read this essay. At first I thought “it would be a prime candidate for a ‘wrong, wrong, wrong’ mea culpa about how badly off I was on my projections.”

Except that I didn’t make any projections regarding sales for the iPad: That part of the article wasn’t really about the iPad itself, it was about the sheer hype and hyperbole (not quite the same thing) before and immediately after its introduction. And I don’t see any need to apologize for anything I said in the article. In fact, while the iPad has sold much better than most non-Apple-centric observers expected, it has not destroyed ereaders, it has not wiped out netbooks or PCs or open computing (unless you’re one of those for whom a slowing of sales increases constitutes “wiped out”), and I don’t believe it’s changed everything. I’m still not part of the target market. My brother and sister-in-law are (they travel a lot more, for one thing), and they both have iPads (one of them is on a second-generation unit). They love them. They’re very intelligent people. We’ve tried them out. So far, we’ve found no particular desire to buy one—although there have been uses for which I’ve suggested that my wife might want one. So far, she doesn’t. If we wanted to spend more on computing and media consumption, switching to cable broadband from our increasingly-flaky DSL would probably come way ahead of buying iPads. (By the way, Apple’s down to 57% of the tablet market…but you can’t prove that by the pundits who still proclaim that there is no tablet market, only an iPad market. Using the same logic by which there is no personal computing market, only a Windows market—except that Windows still has more than 90% market share.)

As for the buzzkill section, for which the actual section heading was Buzzkill: Google Screws Up, I still think that’s a fair summary. Remember Google Buzz? How it was an instant success—because Google simply dumped everybody into it, populating your “social network” with email contacts? It was pretty much a disaster, and Google bailed out. Google+ may not be perfect (not by a long shot!), but it’s better.

I’m going to quote the final subsection of that essay, “Thinking about the Parallels.” I believe it’s held up pretty well:

Both Google and Apple are large companies in Silicon Valley, both of which rely heavily on user trust and faith. Both have groups of admirers who proclaim they can do no wrong and assail doubters.

As far as I can tell, Apple didn’t actively generate the level of hype, although the company certainly did its share of leaking and dissembling. Most of the hypePad story is about reactions and expectations, not about the device itself or Apple’s handling of it. I’ve never been much of an Apple person, and I’m not a great fan of Steve Jobs. That said, and discounting nonsense like “magical” and “revolutionary,” the iPad will succeed or fail largely on its own merits. While those merits may not meet my needs—and while I do believe you’re better off thinking of the iPad as an appliance, not another kind of computer, and that the closed model is dangerous—there’s no doubt its merits are real. It’s up to the public, early adopters and others, to decide whether the tablet form factor finally makes sense. It’s up to other companies to raise the bar that the iPad sets—which, depending on what people are looking for, may be easy or difficult.

Google was in charge of its own destiny. Google screwed up big time. I’ve generally been a cautious fan of Google. I like Gmail a lot. I think the Google Books project has many good aspects and could have been a blow for fair use (if Google hadn’t caved). I’ll be more cautious in the future about turning any part of my virtual life over to my former neighbors in Mountain View. Where I’ve usually been negatively disposed toward Apple, I’ve usually been positive (if cautious) about Google. In this case, Google screwed up. With any luck, Buzz will go the way of Orkut and Google users will get a lot more cautious.

Apple +1, Google -1. Is that a fair parallel?

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