Overhyped Technologies Make a Comeback

Previously discredited technologies often return in refined and useful reincarnations.

Ah, theres nothing like sitting back and having a good chuckle about technologies that were hyped to death and then bombed and disappeared into obscurity.

Remember how application service providers were going to change the way software was bought and delivered? No longer would companies purchase physical software products. Instead, key applications would be delivered through Web browsers or thin clients, and companies would pay just for what they used.

What were they thinking? I mean, can you imagine a company deciding to have key corporate applications such as CRM or sales force automation delivered from a hosted service?

Um, wait a second. Come to think of it, companies such as Salesforce.com and NetSuite seem to be doing very well delivering just that type of product in just that type of model, and there are many other management and support products being successfully delivered through ASPs.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read eWEEK Labs reviews of four hosted CRM systems.

Further, utility and on-demand computing are clearly influenced by some of the old ASP ideas. Heck, IBM has even brought back to life the idea of delivering desktop applications as a service.

OK, so maybe I was wrong about ASPs bombing and disappearing from the tech arena. But there are plenty of other examples of technologies that did.

Push, for example. What could have been more pathetic than the fast rise and fall of push? Remember how everyone had to have a tool that delivered news and stories in the same way that the ubiquitous PointCast did? Remember how pretty much every vendor tried to figure out a way to incorporate push in its products—a trend that culminated in the spectacularly bad push components embedded in Internet Explorer 4.0 and Netscape 4.0?

For a while, just saying the word "push" worked as a joke in tech circles. After all, why did we need to have articles delivered to our desktops when the Web was so easy to use and so accessible? Why, just the other day I read a story that came in a news feed that was delivered to my RSS reader and ...

OK, now that I think about it, RSS and the tools to deliver and read RSS content are clearly descendants of the old push products (without all the bloat and proprietary limitations of push).

/zimages/5/28571.gifApple says it will support RSS feeds in the next version of its Safari browser. Click here to read the story.

I guess I have to admit it: Old, over-hyped technologies dont go away; they just come back in more refined and useful reincarnations. When you think about it, pretty much every technology that was formerly laughed at and tossed aside has returned as a tool that is used every day.

Theres a lesson to be learned here. After all, any of us who were around for the first incarnations of these technologies most likely have some form of bias against them. When we see them start to make a comeback, our initial reaction is most likely, "Give me a break—not that dumb idea again."

But if we dont overcome this bias, we could be missing out on a technology that might actually help us. Instead, we should be prepared for some of these technologies to return, and have a plan to take advantage of their—hopefully—improved and more sensible Version 2.0 models.

Be prepared, though, for the barbs and laughter of colleagues and managers who have similar biases—theyll likely take you to task for promoting a perceived dodo of a technology.

One technology whose return I expect is PKI (public-key infrastructure). The first time around, PKI solutions crashed horribly because they were too complex and too expensive, and they didnt solve an obvious problem. But as next-generation hardware and software begin to incorporate more encryption in their base design, a simpler PKI may make a comeback to ease single sign-on, system security and rights management.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read about how some federal agencies are using PKI.

So keep an eye out for the return of discredited technologies and dont let the fact that they may have been ahead of their time or poorly thought out bias you against the new generation. After all, there was a reason people were excited about them the first time.

But thats enough on that topic. I have to go finish my next column on the descent of PDAs into eternal obscurity.

Come to think of it, maybe I should find another topic.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

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