Cleantech Format Wars?

Marketing Innovation class tonight was all about classic format war case studies.  QWERTY vs Dvorak, VHS vs Betamax, Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD, etc.  Prof argues that direct and indirect ‘network effects’ play a big role in determining the success of competing technology standards.  IE, if a platform adds value to users by leveraging a network of other users (direct) and/or associated products (indirect) which already follow the standard, then it’s likely to beat out the competition regardless of quality.

In fact, as the argument goes, higher-quality competitors are only likely to succeed if (a) there’s a very large difference in quality on dimensions that matter to consumers in the short term, and (b) there are enough consumers aware of and interested in this difference to get others to care.

This meshes with far-more academically credible (if questionably applicable) work done by social theorists under banners like Social Construction of Technology and Mediation of Technology (see Dholakia & Zwick).  The basic gist there is that the social significance of technologies and their platforms is not a product of the centralized coordination of manufacturers — it’s defined by decentralized discursive debate and actual usage habits undertaken by users in a process that naturally oscillates between confusion and consensus.

These are important thoughts to keep in mind when surveying the vast landscape of emerging clean and green technologies — which may well one day find themselves in a similar competition of incompatible standards.  Will CNG, for example, beat out hydrogen and electric as an alternative fuel because of its existing indirect networks of infrastructure and T. Boone Pickens-influenced investment?

More importantly, should we take sides and fight this, or see it and ride it?

© Ryan Cunningham 2008

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thoughts at the collision of business, brand and creativity

I'm Ryan Cunningham. I help companies and culture play nice with each other. At CREATURE we call this Brand Strategy, a term that carries a nice halo of reliability and structure. Here, I'm just another guy who thinks about the world and writes it down from time to time.

The result is a pile of knowledge to be used in, and for, the future. Feel free to sift through the heap for useful connections.

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