Steampunk Will Be The Next Big Rage, So Saith IBM
January 21, 2013 Jenny Thomas
If “IBM” was the only word in that headline that made any sense to you, you’re not alone. While IBM has spent the last 100-plus years making a name for itself in the computing world, it is probably not even on the list when it comes to discussing pop culture trends.
Let’s start with the obvious question. Steampunk is defined by IBM as a sub-genre inspired by the clothing, technology, and social mores of Victorian society. Wikipedia provides a more detailed description of steampunk as a type of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery. Steampunk works, which can include fashion, culture, architectural style, and art, are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American “Wild West,” in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power.
Why do we, champions of the IBM i, care about Steampunk? The short answer is: We don’t. It’s all about the data, baby. You see, IBM isn’t interested in getting into setting pop culture trends, but it wouldn’t mind being the soothsayer that the world looks to when wondering what the next big thing will be. The end game being that, using socially available data and historical research, IBM will be able to predict future trends for retailers, manufacturers, and other companies. . . presumably for a price, of course.
The first step to establishing oneself as a seer of the future is to make a prediction that hopefully comes true. Which is why IBM introduced its “Birth of a Trend” project along with the delivery of its steampunk prophesy. The project is designed to demonstrate how understanding the science behind predicting online trends can revolutionize an industry, as well as remove some of the risk associated with making predictions by studying how online trends spread globally and providing insight into whether what’s trending on social networks is, or is likely to become, commercially viable.
To give birth to the steampunk prognostication, IBM flexed its analytical muscles by crunching more than a half million public posts on message boards, blogs, social media sites, and news sources through its Social Sentiment Index software. According to IBM, the software can distinguish between sarcasm and sincerity, and applies machine learning to identify important social media commentary. The conclusion: steampunk will be a major trend in the retail industry in 2013. Major fashion labels, accessories providers, and jewelry makers are expected to integrate a steampunk aesthetic into their designs in the coming year, according to IBM.
Using advanced analytics, IBM is able to track the spread of trends geographically, chronologically, and culturally. Between 2009 and 2012, for instance, IBM’s social sentiment index found the amount of steampunk chatter increased eleven-fold. Since 2010, more than two dozen US department stores and specialty retailers have become steampunk savvy. And during the next two years, IBM predicts that steampunk will shift from low production, high-cost “craft” manufacturing to mass production. Check out this graphic from IBM illustrating the evolution of steampunk:
“Smart retailers are using social analytics to better understand, predict and shape consumer demand for must-have products before a particular trend gets saturated in the marketplace,” said Trevor Davis, consumer products expert with IBM’s Global Business Services. “By staying ahead of a trend as it develops, a retailer can more effectively control critical merchandizing, inventory and planning decisions. Technology can provide tremendous foresight to help businesses differentiate what is a fleeting fad, versus what is an enduring trend.”
Some other examples of interest from IBM’s social sentiment index findings on steampunk included:
Steampunk may be what all the kids are talking about this year, but it looks like the trend in the computing world will continue to be finding ways to gather and analyze big data into useable information. If you are still worried about keeping up with what the kids are doing, you can always stop by your local hardware store for a few gears and rivets, hot glue them to your favorite jacket, and you’ll be the coolest peep in your IT department.