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Commentary

In Defense of Hype

As a writer and editor, I felt a twinge of guilt when I read Seth Grimes' blog on hyperbolic PR and "writers and editors who don't have the time, knowledge, and/or judgment to ask the right questions." Seth's last two blogs came about because a SaaS-model BI vendor served up what he felt was self-conscious PR overstating its actual accomplishments. But what's true of this startup company is still true of Salesforce.com and was once true of Google.
As a writer and editor, I felt a twinge of guilt when I read Seth Grimes' blog on hyperbolic PR and "writers and editors who don't have the time, knowledge, and/or judgment to ask the right questions." Seth's last two blogs came about because a SaaS-model BI vendor served up what he felt was self-conscious PR overstating the market significance of the company's actual accomplishments. I guess I've read so many press releases -- and so few that tow the sober, responsible line that Seth puts forth -- that I've developed a permanent BS filter (and after rereading my own blog on said vendor, I don't feel guilty).Seth went on to lament "yet another company hanging on salesforce.com's coattails," but lets look at Salesforce.com itself. The company had revenues of about $310 million last year. That's peanuts, yet the company seems to get about as much media attention as IBM, Oracle and many other technology titans many times its size.That level of attention will be seen as justified if, years from now, we see a "forest" of SaaS products where there once were but "a few trees," to borrow Seth's analogy. It's notable that Oracle, SAP, Business Objects and Cognos are all responding to and experimenting with the SaaS model.

Google was once a tiny company, too, and its revenues ($10.6 billion in 2006) are still only a fraction of Microsoft's ($44 billion) or Exxon Mobile's ($378 billion), yet its influence (in the media and on Wall Street) is justifiably huge. My point is that sometimes startups and new categories can have an impact that is far out of proportion to the dry facts of how much revenue they generate or the limits of product portfolios today. True, many big dreams just won't pan out. For every Amazon.com there are 10 if not 100 Pets.coms. Or perhaps it's that for every iPod there is a Newton -- maybe we'll only see a few trees, like Salesforce.com, grow into giant sequoias.

Either way, there are often big possibilities in seemingly small developments. Sober PR is a good thing, but I'm willing to cut some little guys a bit of slack for having big dreams.As a writer and editor, I felt a twinge of guilt when I read Seth Grimes' blog on hyperbolic PR and "writers and editors who don't have the time, knowledge, and/or judgment to ask the right questions." Seth's last two blogs came about because a SaaS-model BI vendor served up what he felt was self-conscious PR overstating its actual accomplishments. But what's true of this startup company is still true of Salesforce.com and was once true of Google.