Forget Twitter. COBOL is where it's at.

The most successful technology isn't always what the media is talking about or what Silicon Valley VCs are funding: it can be the boring old tech that makes the trains run on time.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

All the hipsters in Silicon Valley talk about PHP, Twitter, and Web 2.0. But recent surveys show that kids can't be bothered to use Twitter.

Meanwhile, COBOL, one of the industry's oldest programming languages, still "equates to 80 percent of the world's actively used code," according to Stephen Kelley of Micro Focus.

COBOL? Really?

Yes, really. COBOL keeps chugging because, as John Willis suggests, it continues to power the boring (but essential) software like CICS (Customer Information Control System). Not very sexy, but when you think about life for more than a nanosecond, most of what makes life work is the transportation, finance, health care, etc. systems that don't make waves but do make our lives more efficient.

This is why the hot jobs in the cold economy center on "old" programming languages like Java and .Net. They're not cool. They're essential.

I've grown to love Twitter, but I'm not waiting for it to change the world. My demographic (25- to 45-year-olds working in technology) believes it's changing the world, starting with the ushering in of a new age of Iranian democracy. But as Foreign Policy points out, Twitter does as much to help crush dissidents and spread misinformation as it helps to remedy things.

In other words, it's really no different from the old technology, except that it does a better job getting into the news.

In sum, forget the hype. While we think technology runs at breakneck speed, the reality is that technology adoption does not. It's simply impossible, especially for enterprises, to adopt new technology at the pace at which it is developed and released.

This is why, for example, companies pay Red Hat to make Linux move more slowly with an 18-month release schedule. Innovation is great, but many enterprises prefer to get innovation on the drip.

Even when people, usually consumers, do quickly adopt technology, this is often a sign that it will be dropped quickly, too. Consider MySpace. Once on top of the world, it's now hemorrhaging market share to Facebook, which in turn will likely evaporate in the face of The Next Big Thing.

I suspect that the longer the adoption period for technology, the longer it tends to stick around. If I invest a lot of time and money in an IT purchase, I'm less likely to drop it quickly.

I'm not suggesting that Web scripting languages like PHP aren't big, or that Twitter is irrelevant. I'm just saying that the reality of what sells today is often very different from what gets funded today in Silicon Valley.

Linux is now old hat and safe, which is precisely why the value of Linux skills has risen 50 percent in the job market. The same holds true for open source, generally: now that it's old hat, enterprises can't adopt it fast enough.

If you're looking for funding from customers rather than from VCs, you might want to consider that boring, old technology that keeps the lights on but doesn't light up the sky.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.