Technology hype comes under scrutiny

Collaboration tools, podcasting and desktop search are emerging as key technology themes but other once-fashionable technologies are stuck in the mud, says Gartner

Tablet PCs, Internet micropayments, passive RFID and video-conferencing are four technologies that are firmly stuck at the bottom of the "trough of disillusionment", according to the 2005 "Hype Cycle" of emerging technologies released by analysts Gartner on Wednesday.

More fashionable technologies, such as business process management suites, peer-to-peer VoIP and biometric identity documents find themselves right at the "peak of inflated expectations".

The Hype Cycle is Gartner's annual predictions on how a range of technologies will develop over the next 12 months. This year, Gartner has assessed the maturity, impact and adoption speed of 44 technologies and technology trends. Gartner plots the technologies from the first "technology trigger" that starts the process through to the peaks of inflated over-expectation, on through disillusionment and eventually culminating on the "slope of enlightenment" which is usually when companies can start to make real money.

The "Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle" is one of 68 such cycles that Gartner will track in 2005.

The growing use of collaboration technology will be one of major trends that Gartner will track in 2005, alongside a number of other emerging technologies that are transforming business practices, the company says.

Gartner predicts that podcasting — a method of subscribing to audio broadcasts which are then delivered to your PC or digital media player — "will grow increasingly important as the market for content continues to fragment.... which will lead to a massive shift in radio, and ultimately TV content delivery".

Gartner believes podcasting will be successful largely because it is "an extremely efficient method for delivering audio and spoken-word content to niche audiences and as such could become an important corporate communications tool".

Vendor-proprietary, peer-to-peer VoIP is another promising emerging area, Gartner says, although "security concerns still need to be addressed".

The analysts also believe that consumer services like Skype will make inroads into the business market and predict that it will be important "for collaborative and multimedia applications as well as low-cost communications".

Desktop Search is another important area in emerging technology, Gartner says, but even with Google, Microsoft and Yahoo all "competing for customer attention [and] adding to the hype", customers are not exhibiting much interest in buying solutions, Gartner says. Even so "desktop search will become a standard feature in Microsoft Longhorn, currently planned for 2006, and should reduce content recreation, increase content reuse whilst raising productivity".

Other promising areas include RSS — another area where the corporate market is following on from the personal market and is only now "starting to be tapped for activities such as corporate messaging". Corporate Blogging is at a similar stage having reached "the peak of hype in 2004" although mainstream firms "have not yet got involved", Gartner says.

Collaboration is another of Gartner's key areas of focus for the next year and Alexander Linden, Gartner's research vice-president for emerging trends and technologies, told ZDNet UK that "collaboration tools are an important area of technology and of hype".

However, many of the technologies identified in Gartner's report as being newly significant today have actually been around for some time. When asked why they are becoming more prominent now, Linden said "we see a diffusion of technologies where they are slowly diffused until they are everywhere".

Many collaborative technologies are now in place, Linden said, and "ready for use". Linden highlighted online search, with tools such as the recently re-launched Google Desktop, as a key area for growth and technical advances. While some worry about the potential problems raised by the use of personalised search engines in a corporate environment, Linden played down the issue. "Nowadays you can completely cloak your identity with anonymiser tools," he said. "It should not be a factor in the use of personalised search".

Click here to see the full Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle.