The Five-Year Plan

Lots of people are probably digging under rocks trying to uncover what will be the next, big, earthshaking technology trend. I won’t say, but I will offer an observation about reading the signs.

The first CD players started selling in the United States in 1983. By 1988, CDs surpassed vinyl records’ popularity (See Wikipedia, Gramaphone Record). Another two or three years would pass before music CDs reached mass-market dominance.

The first DVD players sold in the United States in early 1997. Five years later, some major retailers stopped selling VHS tapes. By mid 2003, DVD rentals topped VHS tapes (See Wikipedia, DVDs).

Tim Berners-Lee created the first Web browser and Web server in November 1990. By late 1995, Microsoft had caught on to exploding interest in the Internet, with company co-founder Bill Gates issuing the infamous, May 2005 “Internet Tidal Wave” memo. Using a different measure, Tim’s August 1991 creation of the first Website, five years later Netscape released the first commercial Web browser. Another two or three years later and the Internet had reached several important milestones, including the dot-com boom.

Eiger Labs released the first MP3 player in summer 1998. Five years later, and about two years after Apple released the first iPod, the product category reached its first mass-appeal threshold. By third quarter 2005, Apple had shipped 18 million iPods just in 2005.

In 1999, Netscape released RDF Site Summary (RSS), which later would evolve into the Really Simple Syndication technology this blogsite and other Websites use to disseminate subscription content. RSS and blogging adoption track closely together (See Wikipedia, Weblog). Both technologies burst beyond technophiles about five years later. Neither technology is yet mainstream, but the transition would appear to be quickly occurring.

By now, a pattern should be apparent. My contention is that technology transitions usually take a long time at the onset, typically along a five-year period. The next phase rapidly occurs, over another two- to three-year period. The coming of Spring is a good analogy. Spring appears to come quite suddenly, but the transition had been underway for many months.

Most certainly not all technology products are hugely successful, but I expect the next big thing will likely follow a similar pattern. Maybe in a future post I’ll speculate on what.

Photo Credit: Bayern Motoren-Werke AG