If an Algorithm Finds and Defines a Trend, Is It Still Cool?


steampunk motorcycle

Here’s a pickle — WWD reports that IBM developed an algorithm to use social media to suss out rising trends.  The company is hunting down movements before they hit the Twitter hashtag stage — the project, “Birth of a Trend,” looks for truly new movements that just a few people are talking about.  With that information in hand, brands can market themselves to niche demographics accordingly.

One of the rising trends defined by IBM’s “Birth of a Trend” algorithm is steampunk.  Should we just kiss the look goodbye?

But if brands use the technology to exploit trends first, tapping into those movements and ramping up relevant marketing, will the trend die?

While the technology is no doubt pretty cool (and whoever found an algorithm that could define and glean something substantial from “signs of people struggling to describe something they’ve never seen before” deserves a genius award), it’s truly difficult to imagine the project having a positive impact on fledgling fashions.  Have tastemakers ever wanted to be discovered and defined by a computer program, then sought out by marketers?  It’s totally possible that IBM’s technology could backfire, allowing retailers to blow up too quickly the very trends they’re trying to take advantage of.

Part of long-term movements’ success stems from being given the time to simmer and spread organically.  While we’d love to hear what “Birth of a Trend” discovers (and you know, congratulate ourselves if we’re already in on whatever it may be), we’re equally interested to see how the program’s discovery affects, for better or worse, the arc and popularity of the very movements it defines.


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