Technology On the Edge

I’ve often used three phrases to describe the state of advancement of some piece of technology and recently realised that while two are well known the third is not. Most people have heard of “Cutting Edge” and “Bleeding Edge” but rarely “Beyond the Edge”. Here are my definitions of these terms, yours may differ but hopefully not too much.

Cutting Edge

I regard this to be the same as “State of the Art” and possibly the same as “Leading Edge” although there seems to be some debate about the latter. It is the best technology you can by off the shelf, available through retailers and comes with some form of support. In terms of software it should be considered the latest production ready release. This is technology for the mass market where it needs to just work. With this category of technology the reliability and ease of use is more important than the features it has or even the cost. The balance of features against cost must provide enough value for money, if not it isn’t ready for it’s intended market. It must wait for either the cost to come down or the features to improve. The only thing that isn’t negotiable is the reliability and easy of use.

Bleeding Edge

This category of technology should be considered more risky and/or harder to get hold of, it emphasises the increased risk, you might cut yourself on the edge. You’re going to have to work a little harder to get hold of it and to use it. You may even need extra domain specific knowledge to use it. This could be by getting a specialist company to put together something bespoke. It could involve building pre-release beta software that comes with caveats about it’s readiness or known bugs. Ease of use is still important but equally, or less so, than the cost and feature set. People will go for this category of technology to get some killer feature that is worth the risk or maybe just because they like to live life on the edge.

Beyond the Edge

Technology in this group goes even further than bleeding edge technology. Such is the risk of getting and using such technology, you have literally gone off the edge and have nothing to stand on if it goes wrong. It will probably involve putting time and money in to creating something new and novel that has never existed before. Your options for getting it will likely be limited to a small set of companies or people that are advancing what is possible with a specific technology and pushing the edge forward. Domain specific knowledge is almost certainly required. At this level the ease of use and reliability are entirely secondary to the feature set, such risk or cost wouldn’t be acceptable if there wasn’t some new ability you get that makes it worth while.

I find this to be a nice way to categorise technology, the importance of reliability and ease of use diminishes as the importance of a specific feature (or group of features) increases. As this happens the risks associated with obtaining and using the tech also increase. While the phrases “Cutting Edge” and “Bleeding Edge” are well documented I don’t know where the phrase “Beyond the Edge” comes from. If you happen to know please leave a comment.

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