Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.
The same could be true of many kinds of technology.
What counts as boring?
The ubiquitous…the expected…the familiar.
This is a just catchy way of saying that new things only begin to produce an impact once they become sufficiently widespread that they no longer offer any novelty.
Exhibit A is solar energy. I’ll forgive you for grumbling if you have heard this a hundred times before. For all of my lifetime renewable energy has been the modern fountain of youth, always just beyond the horizon. For as long as I can remember I’ve heard the rhetoric that we could a have cheap, clean, renewable supply of energy if only (the government, the oil industry, etc) would get out of the way.
And then of course there are the peak oilers and the Randian free marketers who believe that renewable energy is synonymous with government intervention, and who therefore insist that it will never EVER be viable.
Recently there was a brief period of decidedly non-boring irrational exuberance. Venture capital flooded into the rebranded Green Energy sector, primarily chasing thin film solar panels. The public excitement culminated in the Solyndra debacle of September 2011. Solyndra declared bankruptcy after receiving $535m in government loan guarantees, sparking the usual political debate.
For me the hype cycle reached its peak a few years earlier when Nanosolar released video of its production equipment reeling off solar cells like newspaper off a printing press. It claimed at the time that this $1.65m machine could print off 1GW of solar cells per year. Even at the time the claim sounded outlandish. Now it sounds downright absurd.
But this was after being named one of Time Magazine’s best inventions of 2008 and Popular Science’s 2007 Innovation of the Year. At the time Nanosolar’s PR machine was on fire, and for anyone paying attention it certainly seemed like our clean energy future was just around the corner.
Unfortunately, that PR video seems to have been purged from the internet (similar stuff can still be found on youtube). An article from gigaom associated with the press release still exists, though the embedded youtube player now features a dead link.
Why would Nanosolar kill the video?
Well, not too long thereafter they began churning through new CEOs. Last year they took additional investment at a valuation that might as well have been $0 (a 97.5% decline). Then last week Nanosolar laid off 75% of its staff.