There was an interesting comment made by a person in the audience where I was giving a talk. It was about a major technology area that I had worked in early in my career and the comment was that it was a niche technology now. I had not thought about that much until then but it made sense. And it brought on other thoughts about how natural was it for a technology to reach a zenith and then be eclipsed by other technologies. Maybe it will disappear altogether, or it will continue to have value for a protracted period without being the primary technology in use.
So, how does a technology go from mainstream to niche? I asked that question to people in the industry to get their opinions. First, the discussion gravitated towards eliminating technologies that had never gained a measure of success. The measure of success was generally considered to be “in widespread usage” if not the dominant one in use. The favorites or pet technologies that some were enamored with because of potential or “coolness” were also eliminated. Those that had not yet achieved mainstream usage are usually referred to as “emerging” or “developing.”
So mainstream is a technology considered to be widespread or in dominant usage. When the technology is no longer the primary one in use, but still has value and has not disappeared, it becomes a niche. It is usually characterized by declining or at least not increasing revenue.
When a technology becomes niche, the perceptions around it change and that could impact the future of that technology. This could lead to economic impacts for companies and to career impacts for individuals. Of course, technologies that have been successful in high value solutions have a long tail – they continue to generate revenue and continue careers for long periods. That is especially true in the storage industry where change is much slower than most realize.
A technology that has moved from mainstream to niche is interesting to track as the industry continues to evolve. It is a signpost of sorts indicating inflection points in the industry. It’s not a bad thing – it’s just the natural order. Those that have started working in technologies that have come and gone such as vacuum tubes can probably tell the story of the gradual decline after solid state electronics replaced them.
The question left hanging here is what niche technologies today were once mainstream. It does not mean they are no longer highly valuable. And, they will probably continue to be used for a long time. I’ve worked on several that are not dominant anymore. They still have great value and have been the foundation for other technologies and systems. Because of their widespread use, they may not be niche. Things just change. But it does make for interesting discussions.
(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).