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August 01, 2009

5 Stages of the Hype Cycle

Gartner is a global consulting company, generally focusing on IT and information issues. They periodically offer white papers that are well received by both practioners and non-geek management, which is a significant thing.

For instance, in the early 90's, Gartner white papers introduced and popularized the concept of TCO, total cost of ownership. The TCO notion is that owning a car doesn't just cost the price of the car; there's maintenance, insurance, replacement, inspections, etc.


The concept applies to all investments, from cars to computers, but in IT the application that most benefited from Gartner's TCO push was Oracle's RDBMS (software) and Citrix' thin client (hardware) systems. The photo at right shows a standard PC and a thin client box.


Gartner has a new white paper out, describing stages of the "hype cycle", and then placing most of the current technology might-be's along their spectrum. To me it's interesting both in terms of the description and the placement of current categories.

5 Stages of the Hype Cycle

Technology Trigger

The first phase of a Hype Cycle is the “technology trigger” or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest. A “technology trigger” is breakthrough, public demonstration, product launch or other event generates significant press and industry interest.

Peak of Inflated Expectations

In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.

Trough of Disillusionment

Technologies enter the “trough of disillusionment” because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.

Slope of Enlightenment

Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the “slope of enlightenment” and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.

Plateau of Productivity

A technology reaches the “plateau of productivity” as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations.

On July 21, Gartner released its omnibus 2009 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. Their report covers a wide range of industries, from flat panel displays to home health providers to cloud computing.

It’s fascinating (to me) to see how Gartner positions the various industries along the cycle. Here is 2009’s hype cycle for emerging technologies:



Looking at the chart, the horizontal axis is time, structured in a non-linear way across the five hype segments. The vertical axis is the level of expectations. Gartner adds a third level of abstraction by the choice of symbol used to mark each data point, which represents their estimate of when the product/service becomes profitable.


I think this hype cycle chart might have applications beyond the technology sector. I wonder, what would the hype-cycle chart for America be?


Phillip Keller uses the hype cycle to plot the path of tagging.
Mahai Dragan points out that most technologies never reach productivity.

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