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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 11:57 GMT
How to hype IT up
Graphic, BBC
The secret's finally out ... disappointed?
Last January, leaked reports about the birth of a "revolutionary" invention from technology guru Dean Kamen set the world abuzz with speculation. Was IT all just hype?

When, in January, BBC News Online users e-mailed in their suggestions about the true nature of the latest secret creation (intriguingly codenamed IT or Ginger) from celebrated US inventor Dean Kamen, hopes were clearly high.

"IT's the cure for the common cold," said Martin Milginney.

Man sneezing, BBC
It won't stop the sniffles, Martin Milginney
"Perhaps IT's a device for detecting when politicians are lying to us," suggested Andy Nield.

"I may be getting a bit wild here," ventured Mark B, "but has he invented a matter transporter? Beam me up, Scotty, and all that."

Well, it turns out that IT is nothing so spectacular. The product it was said would "profoundly affect our environment and the way people live worldwide" is, in fact, a scooter.

Granted, IT's a swish, stand-on scooter which "intuitively" knows where the rider wants to go and can run for hours on a few pence-worth of electricity, but IT's a scooter nevertheless.

Disappointed?

Having had their expectations raised, some critics have begun waspishly likening the "revolutionary" IT to that decidedly naff technological flop of the 1980s: the Sinclair C5 electric car.

Indeed, Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future, says there is already a name for people who have been turned off by the hyperbole surrounding IT's development - they are called "Ginger-slammers".

Proud Sinclair C5 owners, BBC
Will IT go the way of the C5?
Even back in January, there were some BBC News Online users who refused to be carried along by the wave of hopeful speculation.

"IT is 99% hype and 1% battery-powered, re-chargeable, overpriced scooter," sagely advised R Watts.

Excessive and exaggerated publicity - or "hype" as it is more succinctly known - was not what Mr Kamen said he had in mind for IT.

He was left downhearted by the leaking of information about his secret project and regretted that IT had become the subject of "spirited speculation" and "expectations beyond the mere whimsical".

So how did his tiny scooter find itself in very real danger of being crushed under the wheels of a hype juggernaut?

  • The Man: Dean Kamen may not be a household name in the UK like fellow inventors Sir Clive Sinclair or Trevor Baylis, but he's a star to those in the know.

    Dean Kamen on his scooter, AP
    Look, no hands, but plenty of hype
    He famously made a $60,000 killing in the summer between high school and his brief time at college by creating an audio-visual control system. The drop-out was a multi-millionaire at 31 thanks to a revolutionary drug infusion pump.

    President Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Technology and the current White House incumbent, President Bush, has visited Mr Kamen's hilltop hexagonal mansion.

  • The backers: investors Credit Suisse First Boston reckoned IT would be such a hot product it could make Mr Kamen richer than Microsoft's Midas-like boss Bill Gates.

  • The buzz: Jeff Bezos, boss at dot.com bookseller Amazon, and Apple Mac guru Steve Jobs, both gave IT the thumbs-up during early development.

    It was even said to have had Mr Bezos "honking" with laughter.

  • The leak: no lesser authority than the Harvard Business School Press reportedly stumped up $250,000 for a book about IT, despite not being told exactly what IT was.

    IT scooter riders, AP
    Expecting more of IT?
    Journalist PJ Mark caught wind of the deal and managed to winkle a copy of the book proposal from his publishing industry contacts. He was amazed by the glowing praise the "secret" invention had received.

  • The medium: unfortunately for Mr Kamen, Mr Mark wrote for a medium ideally suited for spreading tech rumours instantaneously to every corner of the globe - the internet.

    Within hours of Mr Mark's article being posted on Inside.com, the intense and "spirited speculation" Mr Kamen said he was hoping to avoid was in full (and unstoppable) swing.

The IT rumours made it into every newspaper that matters - equating to millions of pounds of free publicity.

Whether IT was worth all the column inches is... well, frankly being debated in countless more newspaper spreads, online chatrooms and internet news sites.

See also:

03 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
'IT' is finally unveiled
12 Jan 01 | UK
Will 'IT' change your life?
17 Jan 01 | UK
You've guessed IT ... maybe
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