Curbing the Dogs of Hype

Opinion: Havoc hits when tech puffery goes unchallenged.

Expected in bookstores this month, Lynn Fosters "Nanotechnology: Science, Innovation, and Opportunity" includes a chapter I contributed on the subject of fads and hype. (Im using the verb "contributed" in both senses of the word—the only compensation Im getting is what I learned by writing the chapter content, plus three copies of the book.)

At the risk of spoiling the surprise, Ill tell you that I dont think nanotechnology is a fad, and I dont believe that its future is endangered by a backlash against excessive hype. Rather, in doing research for the chapter during a period of several months, I was surprised to find that nanoscale techniques are already being applied in a remarkable variety of ways and with surprisingly immediate payback.

I worry about the risk of hype sabotaging any new technology entering the market. I still have my 1992 Labs "uniform" T-shirt with the legend, in very large letters, "Hype Busters" across the back.

Hype is wasteful of the scarce resource of technologists time and destructive to the chances of real innovation getting a respectful hearing when it arrives. "Heard that before, its hype and no more" is not a song of progress.

In the era of the broadband Web, vendors and their pilot fish have opportunities theyve never had before to hype the message they want to be heard, with immediacy and production values that compete with anything that full-time media can offer.

To some extent, that makes the hype-busting function of the trade press more important than ever as a countervailing force—but overdoing that leads to a reputation for unfair vendor bashing and makes us ineffective in that role.

While working on that book chapter, what most struck me was the number of different approaches that are being explored toward nanotech solutions of any given problem.

I found, for example, three fundamentally different efforts aimed at creating next-generation memory devices: one from Nantero, using carbon nanotubes; one from Zettacore, using a molecule derived from chlorophyll; and one being explored at Boston University that depends on the mechanical behavior of a beam only a few thousand nanometers in length.

Its not as if theres just one idea for nanotech memory; its that the reliable, cost-effective control of mass and energy in nanoscale mechanisms opens the way to new thinking about devices basic functions.

Enterprise infrastructure builders and buyers should remember memory, so to speak—and try to be equally open-ended as they expand their own frontiers of application development productivity, system self-healing and maintainability, and end-user interactivity.

Self-healing systems—or "autonomics," in IBMs world—may start building momentum with last months availability of IBMs Autonomic Integrated Development Environment, a download from IBM AlphaWorks at www. alphaworks.IBM. com/tech/aide.

Teams can use it to experiment with the emerging Web Services Distributed Management standard (more here).

Ill look more at user interaction opportunities in the near future in an eWEEK report on the issues and opportunities of, specifically, AJAX.

Generally, issues of developer productivity will continue to be at the top of my personal radar, as Im sure was apparent in my review of Microsofts Visual Studio 2005.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more from Peter Coffees review of VS 05.

Ive gotten vigorous feedback on that review from those who felt that I spent too much space on .Net agenda issues and too little on the product.

Please refer to my notes on hype busting above: I apologize to any readers of the VS 05 review who felt that they werent getting what they needed.

The point is, were listening—and weve still to look at Visual Studio Team System and other parts of the next-generation .Net suite, so theres plenty of opportunity for readers to get their oar in the water as to what we should give the most scrutiny.

If you havent already found it, the Inside eWEEK Labs blog at blog.eWEEK. com is a roundtable forum with an open chair for you.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at

/zimages/2/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.