Conclusions - Java: One Year Out | WebReference

Conclusions - Java: One Year Out


So, what can be made of this data? How is it useful in predicting Java's success or failure?

First off, the quantitative data show us that Java resources are continuing to add up in the official Java archive, Gamelan. As more people learn the language, the individual categories containing useful development tools are growing. Information about Java continues to grow through the interpersonal communication channels, Usenet newgroups and Java User Groups.

The diffusion theory demonstrates that Java is remarkably well-matched to the criteria necessary for ultimate success. As an innovation, it has documented advantages over existing technologies; and it is open to experimentation, thereby allowing people to learn the language and become familiar with the concept of transparent computing. The communication channels are numerous and create the hype necessary for an innovation to stay at the forefront of the system's conciousness. The social system is one which welcomes innovation and contains the essential opinion leaders who will ultimately drive the innovation to success. This first year has seen many supporting developments take place.

However, while this particular reference point is successful can we predict Java's success based on this initial year? Past diffusion studies and technology forecasting tend towards an over-optimism in an innovation's adoption. For one, diffusion studies are most often conducted after an innovation has successfully been diffused among a population. Very little data is collected on failed innovations. Technology forecasts fail for a number of reasons, but chief among these is an infatuation with the technology that blinds the eye towards possible shortcomings.

Megamistakes [32], a book by Stephen Schnaars, analyzes failed technological forecasts made by popular business, news, and trade press over the past 50 years. Schnaars reports that technology forecasts fail because of technological wonder, bad timing, ignorance of target market, and lack of cost-benefit analyses. Technological wonder is at the root of many failures because forecasters become enamored with an innovation's underlying technology and fail to consider its ultimate application.

Consider a familiar phrase: interactive television. Interactive TV has been trotted past the grandstand for almost 15 years with hardly a nod from the crowd. In each incarnation, its sponsors (Time-Warner, American Express, Silicon Graphics, and Mattel, among others) believed their technology would initiate a new wave in television programming. Consistently, however, interactive television failed to catch on with viewers who simply wanted to be entertained. The reasons were technological wonder, ignorance of the target market, and the offering of a benefit which did not outweigh the cost. Java has its own roots in interactive television, as the technology formerly known as Oak.

Technological change in the computer industry has continually pushed the industry to greater success . . . .

Java's own beginnings and its current application point out the differences between a failed innovation and a successful one. The Web market understood and welcomed interactivity and has a thorough background in the computer industry. While many innovations have failed over the past 50 years, forecasts made about the computer industry have been either on target or undershot the mark. The computer industry "is one of the very few industries where optimism was warranted." [33] Technological change in the computer industry has continually pushed the industry to greater success, resulting in reduced costs, improved performance, and millions of users. Java's debut on the Web combines:

great timing
  • low PC costs
  • millions of Web users already familiar with the concept of networked computing
savvy knowledge of target market
  • free release of Java to community steeped in free exchange of knowledge and tools
  • documents Java as unique to community which thrives on innovation
benefit outweighs cost
  • cost to use and learn Java minimal
  • one Java application can run on multiple platforms
  • companies implementing Java solutions viewed as cutting-edge
  • individuals with Java skills are in demand

Sun is also pursuing a commitment to standards which opens Java development to all interested parties yet ensures that tools which use Java maintain adherance to Sun's stand on platform independence, security, and robust ability. This tactic avoids the failure realized by many proprietary innovations (e.g., IBM's PC) and the failure experienced by innovations with a lack of industry standards.

Therefore, the evidence points to a remarkable initial year for Java. It captured the attention and imagination of a wide user base, influenced innovators and change-agents to license and subsequently develop Java technology, and produced blue-sky goals, such as universal transparent computing, at which a successful computer industry can aim. These accomplishments set the stage for an ultimately successful innovation. Now that these support systems are in place, this next year must produce the powerful Java applications of which the technology is capable for the diffusion curve to continue its upward climb.

* * * *

Bridget W. Regan recently received her Master's of Science degree in Information Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Originally from Pittsburgh, Regan now lives, writes, and works in Chapel Hill. This article is based on an updated version of her Master's thesis. Her home page is

Comments are welcome

Copyright © 1996 Bridget W. Regan and
Created: May 17, 1996
Revised: July 31, 1996