Looking for what the future holds? Check out geeks.

While watching a number of videos on e-voting insecurities and reading up on the state of this threat to our democracy (an article on this will be here soon), I get wrapped up in reading Andrew Kantor’s web site (warning: very liberal viewpoint shared freely).  I knew about him before hitting his site, as I’ve read some of his techie and political writings before.  One very interesting article of his is this “Geek to me” article written back in 2002.  I think it is worth sharing just because of the clear truth that is contained in it:

People are always trying to predict the hot new technology, either to get on the bandwagon early, to know what stocks to buy, or to get jobs as columnists and consultants. Books have been written about how to predict what’s going to be the Next Big Thing, or simply what makes that big thing big — Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point comes to mind.

But there is a recognizable pattern to which technologies make it into the mainstream and which don’t. Here’s my theory: To be successful commercially, a technology must first go through a Geek Acceptance Stage. If the geeks like it, it’s only a matter of time before it’s at Wal-Mart. That’s because geeks get hold of an idea, play around with it for a while, and eventually build enough of a base of support for it — not to mention word of mouth — that it makes its way into the mainstream.

. . .

Look at some other hot technologies and you’ll realize that what’s in today’s business world was first in the hands of the geeks. The Internet, once strictly a haven for academics and techies — people willing to configure terminal-emulation software and 300-baud modems, and learn cryptic programs with names like vi, emacs, rn, pine, and elm.

Once it passed the Geek Acceptance Stage, the Net was ready for prime time, and had enough of a backbone (literally and metaphorically) to support a growing number of users. But if the geeks hadn’t found the Net and found it good, we may never have had the likes of Yahoo (another geek project) . It was the geeks who found ways to organize information with Gopher and, later, the World Wide Web. It was geeks who came up with the now-ubiquitous @ sign, the domain system (with its ups and downs), IP addresses, and so on.

The geeks have spoken with other technologies. MP3 was a relatively obscure music format that geeks used to exchange music files. But once reliable players and usable CD rippers began to circulate, the MP3 “market” took off.

If you read his article and think about it, you’ll see plenty of other instances where geeks started with something, accepted it as worthy of use, and it spread to the rest of the world.  Kantor’s final geek-accepted tech point is Linux.  We’ll have to watch over the next few years to see if his hints that Linux really will become commonly accepted and used holds, but I think he makes some good points.  And one thing he didn’t mention specifically that is worth thinking about it the open-source/freeware/free software movement.  It started out in the geek community, and after sufficient percolation, it has pushed up to more mainstream levels. Mozilla, AbiWord, Apache, freshmeat, and more are all examples of now well-known and well-used free software tools or resources that are growing at a pace greater than their non-free software equivalents.  And that idea is a huge part of what set Linux up for the success it has seen so far and what I believe could well push it in to heavy mainstream acceptability in the next 3-6 years.

[tags]Geeks decide the future?, Andrew Kantor’s tech writings[/tags]

2 thoughts on “Looking for what the future holds? Check out geeks.”

  1. Wow, someone famous (for values of famous that I choose) – thanks for the visit and comment. I apologize for political mis-labelling. My understanding of politics is still far too crude to extend much beyong a mild grasp of the two primary designators. Naturally, I’m still learning – I figured Wikipedia would be as good a spot as any for beginning to get the difference, but I’m open to better references.

    As for any comment on fiscal conservatism, I look at the current conservative administration and fail to understand how anything fiscal which is labelled conservative means spending less. So I guess I’ll never understand that distinction enough to really know who holds legitimate claim to lower spending ideologies.


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