Thursday, March 5

The Short Tail of Internet Hype

It appears our industry has finally sweated out its dependency on widgets as the Holy Grail of social media marketing. Just in time to fall off the wagon and get handed a dimebag of iPhone apps.

"Come on, it's just a little branded iPhone game. Won't take too long to play. And it's freeeeeeee."

Of course, the iPhone's penetration in marketing departments is probably 5,000 times the average workplace. If you don't have one, then I bet your cubemate does. But all of the sudden iPhone apps are the new designer drug of choice.

Adweek reviewed a whole slew of iPhone apps in February. AdAge recently posted their special interest story: 10 Must-Have iPhone Apps for the Adman. Alas, Bullshit Bingo wasn't on it.

At a recent iMedia conference, the number of iPhone app developers outnumbered the widget guys. And most of the widget guys are branching out into iPhones.

There was also a contingent of media reps selling advertising space inside free iPhone apps (because that business model is working out so well for the widget guys...) And developers willing to make those ads for you. And rich media ad vendors wanting to serve them.

Interactive marketers have a habit of latching onto the newest hype, regardless of its potential for success. Remember viral videos? Second Life? Myspace mascot pages? All of these were flashes of potential marketing energy, greedily consumed and spat out when they didn't taste as good as they looked.

When a flashy shiny new internet technology comes along, we always gather around it and stare -- hypnotized by its brilliance. And we have a tendency to drag our "offline" marketing friends with us, imploring them to also check it out. Until they get bored and leave, shaking their heads and muttering "I just don't get it." Then the object runs out of batteries and we stumble away dazed, looking for the next blinking light to occupy our time.

The Dotcom crash in 2001 is the ultimate case study in embracing Internet hype without caution. Web 2.0 has brought this bad habit back to life. We find the newest social mobile video thing, convince everyone else to spend money on it, and then conveniently pretend it never existed if it doesn't pan out. Widgets will be the next case study in this long list. Twitter is on an upward curve. iPhone apps are just getting started.

We have reached that critical point in the Hype Tail where we need to ask the tough questions. How many people can we actually reach with this technology?(Spoiler alert = iPhones had a meager 6% penetration in Q3 2008.) Will they actually use it for more than 30 days?

All of these technologies have long term potential, if we let them grow out of puberty.

Second Life (or the virtual world 2.0 equivalent) will be back. Just ask any parent whose kids are obsessed with Webkinz / Club Penguin / Barbie Girls / Disney Fairies.

Facebook, despite its massive growth, is still a toddler learning to eat with a spoon. Twitter-style microblogging will eventually morph into a more integrated (and universally accepted) style of communication.

I truly believe that the iPhone-style application is the future for mobile technology. Just let it out of beta before milking it for every last drop.

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