Who cares what's trending?

· by Steve · Read in about 4 min · (766 Words)

Trends - or as I would call them, rampant fads populated by people looking to leverage the best buzzwords to get VCs to throw money at them - come and go. The one constant is the claim that is so awesome that will universally and irreversibly replace , to the extent that if you’re using or producing , you are irretrievably lame, and complete strangers will point at you in the street and laugh at your horribly backward ways.

The fact is though, the best that today’s trends can aspire to is to become the existing proven technology that tomorrow’s trends will point and laugh at. That’s if they do well - most will simply evapourate and leave the world as if they never were. It’s rather beautiful in its own way, a sort of karmic circle where the unjustified elitism associated with being part of the ‘hip’ crowd is eventually cruelly punished by the derision of those who replace them.

The current trending darling is cloud computing, following in the wake of the dot com boom, the social networking explosion, and yes even open source . Let’s face it, there are quite a lot of people and companies who participated in open source not because of the fundamentals, but because for a while including open source on your corporate manifesto was a  damn good way to get funding. Now that open source is no longer a leading trend that you can sell to VCs (it’s graduated to ‘mature’ and has therefore lost its sparkle to a certain breed of person), the piranhas have swum elsewhere. Good riddance, I say.

Trends are like the Borg - they’re not happy to be just a part of a diverse technical melting pot, they have to be front-and-centre in everything, and want everyone else to be defined in   terms of themselves. So predictably, now we’re told that everything will eventually run in the cloud, and that the browser will be our only OS, and every company chasing funding right now is trying to shoehorn some cloud aspect into their corporate plans. What a load of old rubbish - while I fully expect cloud computing to be one of the ‘stayers’, just like open source, it’s only going to be a part of the whole. I fully expect us to make far more use of hosted & distributed capabilities in the future, but I know for a fact that dedicated platforms are never going to go away - they’ll simply blend.

I could make all kinds of detailed arguments as to why browser based servicing of all needs is not a panacea, but there is one fundamental  issue that is most important - generalised tools and grand unified visions always fail, even when they make perfect sense to a designer or ‘visionary’.

Unified visions and perfect generalised solutions only exist in the head  of one person, usually a designer who has ‘seen the future’ and realises that with some adaptation, he can express all things in terms of the model he has in his head, just with some funky parameterisation. Eureka!

But, regular people don’t want generalisation or unification, only designers do. You’ll generally get a good response from developers, technicians and sometimes ‘extreme power users’  if  you pitch highly adaptable generalised toolsets to them (open source anyone?), because they are adapters and creators, but try to package that approach into an end product for the masses and it just won’t work. At the sharp end, all that matters is that a piece of tech does the one or two main things that it’s designed for, really, really well, and everything else is irrelevant - Apple figured this out years ago, and it’s why the iPod crushed its arguably more fully featured competitors. Generalisation is just not a feature regular people want - quite the opposite, they want specialisation.

The idea that in future all things will be done through a general browser to the cloud is a designer’s vision that will never happen. In the same way that the general public is moving away from using a single PC to do everything, and instead likes to use devices that better reflect the use context and purpose (but to have them all connect together), the vision of a unified application (browser) that can do everything is similarly flawed. The iPhone allegedy was originally conceived to use its browser for everything, but in practice most people preferred to use dedicated apps for each purpose (that could talk to the internet anyway) because they’re more functional.

So, who cares about trends anyway?