The Digital Hype Cycle

David Chang, Managing Director, Tech Strategy, Fancy Pants Group

I’ve never been to SXSW. Frankly, I’ve never been interested in attending in previous years. However, when it comes to getting a macro view of technology, creativity, and the (digital) world, it is one of the major conferences to attend. Over the course of my career, I’ve watched our industry advance by leaps and bounds, yet lately I’ve felt pretty bearish about where things currently are in the state of digital. So I thought I’d use this opportunity to see what’s going on and experience my first SXSW ... and maybe eat a taco or three while I’m there.

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Amidst the sea of sessions and events at SXSW, you get a sense of all the buzz-worthy technologies being discussed. From AI/ML, VR/AR, IoT, Crypto/Blockchain, Bots, Voice, Data and more, there’s no end to the amount of chatter happening around them. However, with all the conversation happening, there aren’t many useful examples of implementation to be found. It was rather underwhelming and disappointing when you look behind the usual industry BS and the rosy veneer put on case studies featuring these transformative technologies.

At SXSW, I experienced plenty of voice-assisted demos that didn’t work well or simply aren’t practical for actual real world use. Or VR/AR applications that are gimmicky at best. SXSW’s very own app for example, had Abby the chatbot, who really didn’t add any substantive value other than a chat interface that was a mirror of the same content normally available on the app, via traditional UI mechanisms. i.e.: lists, buttons and hamburger menu navigation. It is essentially a bot for bot’s sake.

However, these shortcomings are not all doom and gloom. In fact, they are perfectly fine and even to be expected. When you step back and look at where things are, it's clear that we are deep in the midst of massive shift in digital. Looking at the Hype Cycle graph, we are coming out of the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ and onto the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’. True, these technologies haven't advanced to a point where they are as useful as we envision they could be. Yet, digital is constantly evolving, and you can see where things are heading towards where they need to eventually be. Many of these ideas and implementations are happening and taking baby steps to becoming more creative, more useful, and more frictionless. This is the path that all innovations must take before becoming truly valuable.

Let's remember that Facebook’s beginnings were humble before it became the global behemoth it is today. It took years of iteration to get to the 2 billion users it has today. Amazon began as an online bookstore before it became "The Everything Store". Netflix started by mailing physical DVDs before it had any streaming service or created any original content. The same process of progression goes for most companies that have made it to mass market appeal.

This very same iterative cycle is where we are at with overall digital innovation today. So while we must endure that next big claim of utilizing AI, or see yet another cryptocurrency birthed out of blockchain tech, let’s recognize that these are an essential part of the process. We are taking the necessary steps to turn these technologies into what will end up becoming useful and new innovations in the near future. Those creating, iterating, and innovating now are the ones paving the way for the industry at large. So coming out of this year’s SXSW, I see hope, excitement, creativity and a clear pathway for digital technology, with the realization that we are not quite there yet.


About the Author: Since joining Fancy Pants Group in 2011, David has helped the company transform from a production shop into a full-service creative digital studio. He is constantly looking for ways to drive innovation and to improve the craftsmanship of Fancy Pants’ digital executions. His attention to detail and his creative approach to technology are distinguishing characteristics of his work in the digital marketing arena. David has worked with a diverse range of clients, including Microsoft, Royal Caribbean and Stride Gum. He previously served as Director of Technology at JWT.