Going Viral, Getting Passionate


by Paul Drzaic
President, Society for Information Display

I've been thinking a bit about what it takes to be noticed, to rise above all the news and advertisements that bombard everyone and to capture the public's imagination. Especially for people who design technologies and products for a living, getting our work noticed is one thing, but generating passion among our customers or peers is another. Going viral is an apt description of the latter phenomenon. Some bit of news starts small, but strikes a deep chord in those who see it. Like a true virus, it gets passed to others, leading to an exponential rate of infection. Sometimes the infection is cured, but in other cases it lingers, and people become deeply connected.

Some viral events are silly and fun. The "Banff squirrel" made headlines in August of this year, when a squirrel showed up in the foreground of a photograph of a couple taken at Banff National Park in Canada. Someone thought the resulting image was funny and edited the squirrel into other photographs. Next thing you knew, everyone was doing it, and images appeared on the Internet of the squirrel participating in the Apollo 11 moon landing, meeting with U.S. President Abraham Lincoln over 100 years ago, and joining in the recent diplomatic mission by Bill Clinton to North Korea. Almost as quickly, the event was over and the squirrel went back into its hole. It now is a piece of trivia preserved on the Internet (search on "Banff squirrel" to check it out for yourself).

The success of some electronic products has viral aspects to it. The most recent examples have come from Apple and from Amazon. Apple's iPhone, and a few years before that its iPod, turned entire industries upside down by creating surges in demand in product categories that were rather sleepy before. Amazon's Kindle created a buzz in electronic books as a category that never before existed. Both Apple and Amazon have developed a passionate base of customers that will likely return to them for future products time and again because these companies connected deeply with a perceived need and exceeded expectations.

What does this have to do with displays? Well, I'll note that getting people passionate about products tends to enhance the value of technologies associated with that product. Take touch screens – this technology has existed for years and was primarily something used for applications such as bank ATMs and industrial panels. At the SID Symposium, we would receive a few papers per year at most on these technologies. Since the iPhone introduction, though, touch has become one of the fastest growing areas in display technology development and deployment. Likewise, for many years, electronic-paper technology was primarily a solution desperately searching for a market-based problem to solve. Amazon has now solidified electronic paper as a viable display category and generated new enthusiasm for the field.

So what's the next viral product that will bring a new technology along with it? 3-D home theater? OLED portable tablets? Flexible displays in consumer packaging? Pay attention, as those that catch the virus early might very well reap some pretty important rewards. •