Tech, tech, tech.

Seems like everyone’s writing about tech these days. And as in any wide-open market, some writers are bound to be good, while others will come across as trying too hard.

There are different kinds of tech writers. Among the best kinds are the insiders. They have access to information that ordinary humans do not get to have, by virtue of their jobs or by their stature, and they’re eager to share it. These include people who work in the IT sector and in the media. They’re the ones who give the breaking news and the inside scoops.

And then there are the gadgeteers. These are the folks who love getting their hands on the latest devices. Gadgeteer bloggers love writing about the stuff with all the blinking lights and the shiny surfaces. Their key contributions come from either (1) getting first looks at the latest devices, or (2) ability to critically assess the stuff. If you’re not good at critiquing devices, then you better have access to the latest trinkets at the least.

But what I want to see more of, especially in the Philippine tech scene, are the analysts. These are the guys who can predict what will happen next, what the next big thing will be, what will work, and what won’t. They may not be good at assessing individual devices, but they can see the big picture.

Sure, any tech-Tom, tech-Dick and tech-Harry can make a forecast (and many do try). Then again, any idiot can open the hood of a car and stare at the insides. The trick is in going beyond gut feel and actually making scientific assessments about the future.

Some training is required, however. And this is what can separate the real futurists from the wannabes. There are some excellent books on technology assessment, such as Rogers’ The Diffusion of Innovations and Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, and there’s a pretty good program on Technology Management at the University of the Philippines (plug, plug).

Case in point: As recently as three years ago, photo mavens were engaged in heated arguments about whether or not digital will replace film in popular use. But most discussions were unstructured and perhaps even emotional in nature. That’s because the participants had no framework on which to hang their discussions.

Diffusion S-curveThe framework that should have been used, however, is something called a diffusion S-curve. And it states that any emerging technology that has the potential to benefit from economies of scale and has a higher potential performance envelope will eventually replace the older technology. So the answer should have indeed been yes, digital will replace film. And it has.

Ditto for LCD TVs. Just two years ago, during public lectures I was giving for PC Magazine, I told incredulous audiences that LCD TVs would soon be cheaper than regular TV sets. It was impossible to fathom back then because LCD TVs were in the six figures while traditional TV sets can be had for a couple of thousand bucks. But that was what the framework says. And it’s happening: prices for LCD TVs have plummetted dramatically over the Christmas holidays, and sales of LCD TVs are now outstripping traditional sets in the US. Soon, small LCD TVs will be cheaper than small TV sets, and your mom’s TV set will become a quaint conversation piece in your storeroom.

My other prediction was the move towards solid-state storage, which the iPod nano eventually became a harbinger of. It’s still hard to imagine your laptop’s hard drive being replaced by a flash device, but it will happen. Perhaps within the next two years.

I can’t claim credit for these forecasts. It’s simply a matter of having the empirical evidence, theories and the frameworks to build up your arguments with. Give any tech-Tom, tech-Dick and tech-Harry these models and they can make as good a prediction as any ubergeek out there.

For wannabe analysts, just remember that the biggest mistake you can make is to generate predictions based on your emotions and your personal feelings. Just because you love a Mac doesn’t mean you have the authority to say that it will eventually take over the universe (hint, hint, heheh), for instance. Technology forecasting is a science, so the only predictions that ill-informed techies should make are funny ones.

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