Cult Watch 2007: Who's Drinking the Kool-Aid?
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As we wind down another year in technology, it's a good time to check in on the cults and see how theyre doing.
For companies who inspire them, user cults are nice because they motivate customers to overlook strategic blunders, exaggerate product successes and -- most importantly -- walk the earth virally marketing products without pay.
Cult members themselves get an enhanced feeling of self-worth through group association. "I'm better than you! I have an iPhone!" Consumers can become one of the chosen people for $399, plus a two-year contract.
Let's have a look at the major tech cults, and see how they're doing.
The biggest and most religiously zealous of the cults, of course, is Apple. The company and cult had a banner year, highlighted by the shipment of the iPhone and a new version of OS X, among other things. On balance, longtime devotees are just as faithful as always, but the iPhone phenomenon and Mac conversion from Windows brought new members into the fold. They've made missteps (Apple TV, security issues, iPhone "bricking" controversy, etc.) But the iPhone and Leopard are so sublimely transcendent that such minor problems pale in comparison.
In 2007, Apple moved from 4 1/2 to 4 3/4 Dixie cups of Kool-Aid on the cult scale (from zero to five cups, five being maximum).
It's hard to inspire a cult when you're an uncharismatic market share leader. Nonetheless, a Microsoft cult does exist. In 2007, however, the group lost a lot of members, and those who remain have lost faith. Why? In a word: Vista.
This false prophet of an operating system is slow, buggy, confusing and problematic. Vista's main benefit to the cult is that it makes members realize how much they liked XP. Microsoft has been slowly improving its Windows Mobile OS, and various online offerings, but these incremental gains mean little when Apple and Google are dominating the cultosphere so thoroughly with their respective products and services.
The cult got a minor revelation in the form of the new Zunes, which turned out to be surprisingly nice. Unfortunately, Apple preemptively PWNED this whole line with its new iPods.
The Microsoft cult plummets this year from two Dixie cups of Kool-Aid to just one.
Success is hurting the Linux cult. As Linux grows more respectable in enterprises, its cult value wanes. Huge companies like IBM, HP and others now dominate public enthusiasm for the platform, which erodes its outlaw image and makes it harder to enlist new cult members. On the consumer desktop, it seems, pretty much everyone who is going to embrace it already has. So the faithful remain so, but their numbers are at best remaining constant and at worse, declining.
The Linux cult moved this year from 4 Dixie cups of Kool-Aid to 3 1/2.
The Cult of Google was pulled in both directions in 2007. On the one hand, Google keeps hitting grand slams by increasing Gmail storage capacity, offering super great mobile applications, providing a near perfect platform for maps mashups, and continuing to deliver great search without bloated UI.
They've also unveiled a staggering number of promising new initiatives, such as OpenSocial and Android. On the other hand, Google is becoming so big, so rich and so powerful that it's hard to be too devoted to the cause. Their stated desire and actual practice of gathering and retaining as much private user data further erodes religious support.
On balance, however, they're up. Google moved this year from 3 Dixie cups of Kool-Aid to 3 1/2.
Is there an Amazon cult?
Absolutely. This small but loyal congregation was given a huge boost late this year by the Kindle, which is a cult enabler. Yes, Amazon's first physical product is a nice gadget. But its over-riding purpose is to interact with the Amazon.com Web site. Features such as free wireless search of the Kindle store, one-minute book downloads and the ability to write and post reviews directly on the device is like the coming of the Messiah for Amazon cultists.
The Amazon cult is moving up like the Jeffersons, from 1/2 a Dixie cup of Kool-Aid to 2 cups.
The only suicide cult among the bunch, Palm has been slowly taking its own life for two years, and, as a result, cult members are losing faith. A conspicuous lack of innovation in precisely the space (smart phones) where Apple is "changing the world," has made carrying a Treo -- which used to be a badge of pride -- almost embarrassing. Other missteps, such as promoting, then killing, the Foleo, made remaining cult members question the divine origins of leader Jeff Hawkins.
The Palm cult moved in 2007 from 3 Dixie cups of Kool-Aid to just 1.
Two factors have boosted BlackBerry Cult devotion. First, real innovation in Pearl and Curve lines have thrilled longtime cult members, and given them something to fawn over.
The second factor is the rise of the iPhone, which places RIM devices in a kind of underdog position, at least in terms of trendiness. CrackBerry addicts are as addicted as ever, and are still having fun with their devices.
The Cult of BlackBerry moved this year from 3 1/2 Dixie cups of Kool-Aid to 4.
In addition to writing for Datamation, where this column first appeared, Mike Elgan is a technology writer and former editor of Windows Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or his blog: http://therawfeed.com.