ANALYSIS: Weekly Web Watch - 'It' is going to be bigger than the Internet and sliced bread - maybe

You must have seen the stories by now. The ones quoting the likes of Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and John Doerr on the biggest thing since the Internet. Or maybe it's even bigger than the Internet, an invention with such far-reaching implications that it will bring billion dollar companies to their knees.

You must have seen the stories by now. The ones quoting the likes of Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and John Doerr on the biggest thing since the Internet. Or maybe it's even bigger than the Internet, an invention with such far-reaching implications that it will bring billion dollar companies to their knees.

You must have seen the stories by now. The ones quoting the likes of Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and John Doerr on the biggest thing since the Internet. Or maybe it's even bigger than the Internet, an invention with such far-reaching implications that it will bring billion dollar companies to their knees.

So little surprise then that the reports have appeared in nearly every business, tech and general news outlet over the past week, from ZDNet and CNet to USA Today and CNN.com.

The Harvard Business School Press reportedly paid dollars 250,000 for the rights to a book by inventor Dean Kamen about it, or 'IT,' as it has been dubbed in the media. Kamen, a legend among geeks, but virtually unknown in more general circles, has a number of inventions to his name already, mostly in medical technology. However, neither the Harvard Business School Press nor the book agent know exactly what Kamen has come up with this time.

It appears they've been convinced enough by the testimonials of Bezos et al to bet a considerable amount of money that people will want to find out.

If sheer hyperbole is anything to go by, who can blame them? Most of the reports quote the book proposal quoting John Doerr (Silicon Valley's pre-eminent venture capitalist) saying that IT (or Ginger, the other name IT has been given) would be more important than the World Wide Web.

And then there is Credit Suisse First Boston, an investor, saying that Ginger would be the most lucrative start-up ever and make Kamen richer than Bill Gates. Kamen is quoted as saying, 'core technology ... will have a broad impact not only on social institutions, but some billion-dollar old-line companies.'

Of course, we've heard this before, more than once. What has been interesting over the past week has been watching reputable media outlets try to retain some semblance of skepticism while gushing the sort of language we now associate with cold fusion ... and the early days of e-commerce.

The difference between this and the great cold fusion hoax of 1989 is that this time the story started and subsequently got wings on the Internet.

And that, arguably, spread it further, faster, than the cold fusion story ever managed. The story of Ginger began with the 'leak' of the Harvard Business School Press book proposal to the tech business Web site Inside.com.

And that, it seems, was all it took to start getting geeks everywhere talking about it, filling up web discussion boards and Usenet newsgroups with their speculation. After all, who can resist a good mystery, least of all the media, which is why everyone else subsequently picked up the story.

Now, if all of this was deliberate then it is a brilliant example of stealth PR. A desperate attempt, perhaps, to kick tech stocks out of the doldrums (as has been suggested in some online discussion groups)? At this stage, nobody is owning up to being the original source of the story, least of all Kamen's own company, DEKA Research, which cannot have been harmed by any of this. In fact, a press release on DEKA's Web site (www.dekaresearch.com) has Kamen attempting to dampen down enthusiasm over the invention. 'Since speculation arising from an unfortunate, unapproved leak of a book proposal has not diminished, I feel compelled to comment further,' it says. 'DEKA is currently working on several exciting projects. The book proposal referred to one. However, the leaked proposal quoted several prominent technology leaders out of context, without their doubts, risks and maybes included.

This, together with spirited speculation about the unknown, has led to expectations that are beyond whimsical. We have a promising project, but nothing of the earth shattering nature that people are conjuring up.'

And maybe that is all there is to it.



- Stovin Hayter is editor-in-chief of Revolution. He can be contacted at stovin.hayter@revolutionmagazine.com.



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