Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Opinions, Pundits, Fads and Trends

You know the thing about fads - there can sometimes be a thin line between them and honest to goodness trends. Especially when we talk about developments in online communications. There have been tons of fads - thus resulting in the bubble of the late nineties and early two-thousands.

However there are honest to goodness trends that are defining what an acceptable, effective high-quality and lasting digitally delivered web experience developing right now. Frankly, there isn't always a huge gap between the fly-by-night fad and the long-lasting market changing trend. If you have never read Al Ries' writings on the differences between fads and trends and how they relate to marketing I highly recommend them. I believe he does a great job in establishing and differentiating how to impact a market and their differences in effectiveness for a brand.

Definition of fad - a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., esp. one followed enthusiastically by a group.
Fads tend to burn out with no real lasting influence - remember fat laces?? jelly shoes?? pokemon?? (still trying to hang on, but well past its fad prime)

Definition of trend -
1.the general course or prevailing tendency; drift: trends in the teaching of foreign languages; the trend of events.; vogue: the new trend in women's apparel.
3.the general direction followed by a road, river, coastline, or the like.
Like a road mentioned in the definition a trend leads you to a destination - it is not a loss because it leads to an end, a place to be. Trends that led to a result beyond the initial "fad" - rap music started as fad became a trend and resulted in a serious influence in popular music and culture that continues with hip-hop culture and has/will continue to an end result to the music industry and our American pop-culture. How about reality television?? Started as fad and is now created a sub-culture of self-recording, Internet disseminating extroverts. For better or worse you cannot deny the shift from fad to trend - and where it ends up at this part, I believe, is too early to tell.

Recently I read two different blog postings about two different developing communications tactics that are frequently used in digital communication (content or communique delivered via a web connection). Two different tactics but I thought they were good examples of fads vs. trends.

Posting #1 - Online Video
Okay this is pretty general right? You have all different kinds of online video based on presentation, placement, etc., however this particular blog post was clearly stating that online video is getting easier to create, there are many different providers of this service and it does not have to cost a lot to achieve a result (what kind of result, however is debatable).

Posting #2 - Flash for a cell phone - actually it was for a particular brand of cell phone, however this is and will increasingly become a moot point as Flash is, has been and continues to be adapted for all different types of cell phones - the iPhone, other smart phones, windows mobile OS, etc.

Okay which one is a fad and which one is a legit trend with future potential?? Hey, who am I to say?? I have an opinion and I will state it then you can choose to agree or disagree. Nobody died and made me king.

Both online video and "flash enabled" cell phones are both fads and trends. How can they be both?? Actually, I would suggest that they both can be trends based on position, use, result of use and quality/effectiveness of execution. Lack of those factors makes them fads.

Regarding online video and flash on cell phones - in my opinion, one has become a fad, the other is too premature to be anything.

Flash via cell phones - if we understand that web sites viewed on a cell phone are simply THE SAME SITES WE SEE ON OUR LARGE "boxes" just forced into the constraints of a primitive delivery technology, then we understand flash on the web has moved well beyond a fad and is now an integral part of experiencing all that an interactive environment has to offer. Flash media delivery is leading the web experience to a entirely different level. Flash has been doing this for years and will continue as they integrate new capabilities that increase not only opportunities to interact but to also improve usability and function from a development perspective.

That being said a cell phone web experience is only bound by the hardware and software that keeps flash limited. Once the technology is in place the cell phone experience is the same as a PC or even digital TV experience. So I guess why are "cell phone web sites" being discussed as if they are different beings than web sites interfaced on PCs? No fad here. However, if flash cell phone experiences start out like flash experiences did in the late nineties (silly and counter intuitive intros and poorly executed line art moves) they certainly could become a fad based on a comparatively much different "big box" flash experience.

Now on to the 900 pound gorilla - online video. Seriously, when we take away all of the hype and positioning - isn't video online the same as video anywhere else?? Not really, but based on how a lot of (not all) online video producers and delivery systems treat online video, it is. Yes, I said it - a LOT of online video is pre-produced, produced, shot, edited and delivered no differently than traditional talking head corporate video. In that instance where it does as much to bore the audience as a traditional video delivered via television it runs the risk of becoming a fad. Why you ask? Because the lack of results it delivers will sober those that are drunk on its novelty. A novelty from being delivered online with a link or two. Now, on the other hand there are a lot of technologies, techniques and best practices that have been developed and exhibited specifically for web video, the media consumption habits of its audiences, the story it communicates and the results its developed to produce, that will help push it past fad and convert it to not only trend but into a stratosphere of helping to form the next huge step in digital media evolution. I recommend that you start watching online videos with as critical eye as you would watch a film you shelled out $20 to watch in a theatre - determine if it is any good based on desired result, ability to tell a story, production quality, opportunities to interact and overall experience.

There is a glut of video online - how much of it is actually any good?? How much transcends fad and becomes a trend or trend setting? How much of it is recognizable as a bridge to the next step of a legitimate digital media? To simply "do online video" is quickly becoming as relevant as sporting zipper filled parachute pants in 2008. Break me off a moon walk while you are at it.

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