Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Bring Me the Head of John the Baptist!

I used to work for Jim Gray of IBM (not the Microsoft Jim Gray who does databases, but the inventor of SNA). He was a deeply devout Christian (as is another influential former IBM technologist, Fred Brooks), and once told me a metaphor that has stuck with me. He said that technologies came in two stages; one was like John the Baptist, who predicts or foreshadows the real arrival. Of course, this first technology (or the company that brings it to market) ends up with its head on a platter. Only then can the real messiah come. BBSes and the Internet; the Newton and the Palm; Simula and Smalltalk; gopher and the web.

So what technologies around today are John the Baptist? Too often, people take a failure as evidence that the idea is fundamentally flawed, but sometimes failure is what sets up the technology's ultimate success.