The Golden Hammer

hammer

kyle may

Every so often a “new” technology catches on. Right now it’s nosql databases. A couple years ago it was Ruby, before that it was java. Each arise because they propose a solution to an existing problem, or in other words a better way of doing something.. something, but not everything.

Unfortunately knowing when to use the technology requires actual experience with it, which never seems to catch up to the hype engine quickly enough, so consequently the technology transforms into a “golden hammer”. Better at everything and ready to displace everything that existed before. Of course this nearly never happens because it’s not rarely true. Current technologies exist because they do something well. when a new technology emerges it will likely be good at a different thing meaning the two will co-exist.

The second stage of the hype factory is when it spills into the business world. Last week I had a VC ask me if we were using Hadoop. DId he really care if we were using Hadoop? Of course not. He didn’t know enough about our needs or architecture to even know if Hadoop would be appropriate. He just knows that Hadoop is an emerging technology that a bunch of people are talking about. Really what he wanted to know was are we keeping up with the latest technologies.

The current situation is due the popularity of the LAMP stack which is a victim of it’s own success. While Linux is virtually universal in application today, Apache, MySQL and PHP each have their own niches. The LAMP became so easy to use together that people began to use MySQL for things that relational databases aren’t good at and are unnecessary for. NoSQL isn’t remotely new technology, though until recently open source implementations either didn’t exist or went unnoticed.

As Facebook, Twitter and others saw them as solutions to their massive scalability solutions (and because they were using relational databases for things they shouldn’t have) people began to see NoSQL as a golden hammer, big enough to solve Facebook’s problems.NoSQL is a good solution to the right problem, though unfortunately the gain in popularity now largely exists because well intentioned, though seriously misinformed people believe it’s the next golden hammer.