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Big Blue wants to show off its ability to chew on Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to predict the next big mainstream fashion: steampunk.

So now you know what your kids will want for presents this year: don't be surprised if they want to suddenly build dirigibles instead of rockets and ask for a steam-powered, gear-driven analogue computer for purposes as yet undefined.

Paul Marsh

Paul Marsh's Steampunk iPhone 4 case... circa 2011

Of course all of us at The Reg were into that neo-Victorian retro-fad two years ago, and we're completely over it now. As an example of the fashion, see the iPhone case on the right. Imagine modern tech but powered by hot air.

With a lot of its growth staked out on "smarter planet" initiatives to bring big data to bear on public projects, IBM wants to prove that it not only knows how to aggregate and process telemetry, but that it also has expertise in "sentiment analysis".

So the tech titan has turned its digital analytical engines on more than a half million public posts on message boards (people apparently still use these), blogs, social networks, and news websites. Now it says that Victorian-inspired steampunk is going to be a major trend this year, with steampunk twists being added to clothing, accessories, and jewellery.

IBM says in its statement that the retro-futuristic steampunk genre is influenced by Jules Verne, HG Wells, and Nikola Tesla. (I would think Tesla would be an electropunk, or more precisely, an alternating current electropunk, even though he is most certainly from the late Victorian age.)

What is important for retailers is this: IBM says that steampunk-inspired products will go from high-cost craft manufacturing to mass-production over the next two years. It also charted the rise of the fashion trend:

Steampunk is about to go mainstream, says IBM

Steampunk is about to go mainstream, says IBM
Click for the full timeline

Big Blue is connecting a lot dots to come to this conclusion in time for this week's National Retail Federation Convention in the Big Apple. Chewing through those half million pages of chatter and news stories, IBM says that the amount of yammering and bickering about steampunk has increased by a factor of eleven in the past three years.

The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford had an exhibition of steampunk-inspired art and objects that ran from October 2009 through February 2010, and a ComicCon NYC event in October 2010 featured lots of steampunk action, too. These were big drivers behind the four-fold increase in charter about the retro-futuristic meme in 2010.

There are six times as many discussions about steampunk on Twitter as on Facebook, if you are looking where to hang out, and interestingly about a third of the steampunk fashion chatter online is on gaming websites.

As you may have guessed, 63 per cent of the talk about steampunk is among people who are 30 years or younger and, unlike many of us, cannot directly remember the Steam Era that barely predates the Computing Era.

So you may have to pretend to be younger than you are or start a steampunk trend among the grownups.

More than two dozen retailers (both department stores and specialty retailers) have started catering to steampunk tastes. It might be a good time to invest in companies that make goggles, brass buckles, rivets, and gears. You can get your Steampunk Vickey and Steampunk Jack costumes here at Party City for next Halloween, or spend a fortune at local craft fairs and really do it up.

Or better still, real steampunks make their own outfits. ®

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