Predictions may be more useful for the writer than the reader. After all, if you’re as specific or as provocative as you should be, you’re going to be wrong at least half the time, and that’s not a very dependable percentage to prove your worthiness as a futurist. For me and other prognosticators, though, predictions are a useful way to ready ourselves for the coming year (OK, it’s already here)–to tell ourselves what to pay attention to and to provide a vantage point for assessing the many events and announcements to come.
So here’s my attempt to predict a bit of what’s going to happen in technology, mainly on the Internet–that is, the scattered parts of it I pay attention to. I’m also going to follow up with two separate but related posts: what won’t happen this year, and what I wish would happen but probably won’t.
* Merger mania will accelerate in technology. Valuations of private companies in particular seem low enough, but won’t be forever. And the industry’s leaders–Cisco, Google, Microsoft, HP, etc.–not only have the cash but have said
they’re ready to spend it
. Both sides know that cosmic convergence won’t last for long, so they’re ready to deal. I don’t know that multibillion-dollar deals will happen but I bet there will be many smaller deals.
* Branding will start to become more apparent in Internet advertising. That’s mostly because brands won’t be able to treat “digital,” as traditional ad types quaintly call it, as an add-on anymore. The Web is becoming the main event for too many consumers now. Plus, targeting technologies of all kinds, along with new ad formats, are starting to get good enough that brands can stomach using them. Not least, display ads, the chief vehicle for online brand advertising, will be a big focus for Google
this year. While it’s not at all certain Google can master branded display ads, its efforts
no doubt will move things forward.
* Google’s software efforts will finally establish it as more than a search company, making it apparent what this pony’s second trick is: Whether it’s because of Google Apps, Android, Chrome OS and the Chrome browser, or some new product, Google will be seen as the software company it really is. It will continue to be seen as a media company as well, but that’s only because software provided as a service on the Net is the new media. It’s just that few people realize this, least of all traditional media, to their everlasting detriment.
* Yahoo will surprise on the upside, thanks in part to that pickup in brand ad spending, which has always been Yahoo’s strength. Also, people may be underestimating CEO Carol Bartz’s ability to get Yahoo, which has more resources than its performance in recent years would indicate, back on track.
* Mobile applications will start to take off. Only start? For the masses, yes. I can assure you that even many of my tech-savvy friends in the Valley have no idea what Foursquare is. Plus, bandwidth limitations will only get worse, which could delay mass rollouts of data-intensive apps. But there’s a reason smartphones are exploding, and it’s not because they’re a computer in your pocket. They’re the Internet in your pocket.
* Twitter’s main business model will become more apparent–whatever it turns out to be. But it won’t knock everyone’s socks off–at least if it turns out to be mainly selling data feeds to other companies. I’m also not sure lead generation, e-commerce or even in-stream ads
are killer businesses. None of that sounds like the next AdWords to me. I’m not privy to Twitter’s plans, but I have to think the ambitions of its founders and everyone around them require some new kind of advertising that’s just as fast and easy for advertisers as search ads.
* Facebook will keep growing, providing perhaps the first test of whether social media is a blockbuster business after all. Although I’ve been on Facebook a long time now, anecdotally it feels like my generation (let’s just say, not in our 20s and 30s, OK?) has just started embracing it bigtime. And that’s a lot of people. Eventually, and I think before long, Facebook’s scale could create fairly specific audiences that could rival the reach of television. That’s the Holy Grail. What I don’t know yet is if Facebook will be able to seize that opportunity.
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