Tech Trends, Trends and Forecasts
It’s that time of the year, when trendspotting tends toward the short-term. Here are items I’ve encountered over the past few weeks, gathered into the three general categories above. I’ve added the trends I discussed at the OLA SuperConference.
Some of these are from library people, some aren’t.
In the Midwinter 2009 issue, I quoted from my 2004 mini-essay on the “top technology trend,” quoting Cory Doctorow and Boing Boing. Repeating part of the beginning of Doctorow’s entry: “The last twenty years were about technology. The next twenty years are about policy...” I believe that’s still true—and maybe the economic reality that emerged last year and will be with us for some time to come demonstrates that better than anything. Technology helped get us into this mess; I don’t see any way that technology will get us out of it.
Beyond that, I see these trends as vital for thinking about libraries, technology and life:
▪ Limits: They exist. Your financial resources are limited; you can’t keep borrowing against tomorrow indefinitely. Deny them as we might, limits—natural resources, time, attention—don’t simply disappear. Denying limits and hiding them under various odd assumptions can lead to disasters of various sorts. (No matter how hard we all clap our hands, you can’t spend 60%-110% of your gross pay for housing—at least not for very long. Eventually, the fairy dust falls to the ground.)
▪ Business models: They matter. When you’re considering how various services for your own work and your library’s work will work, think about business models. To what extent are you relying on free services that don’t appear to have any source of revenue? What happens to your service if those services disappear? Do you have any rational basis to believe they’ll continue to exist, grow and be developed without clear revenue sources? Your library has a business model, typically that of a community service: People pay in advance in order to fund a common good.
▪ Trusting the cloud: Set aside the jargon—the cloud’s just software and services on someone else’s servers. “Trusting the cloud” has three key aspects, one particularly important where library functions are concerned: Trusting that the services will remain (see “business models”); trusting that your data will be safe; and trusting that confidentiality will be preserved. I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t use the cloud; I am arguing that you should think several times before relying entirely on the cloud.
▪ Valuing existing users and services: Yes, you need to see how you can serve emerging needs of your community (your community)—but times of limits make your existing services more valuable than ever. Don’t ignore your existing users in order to court a minority of people living the digital lifestyle; find a balance. And if you find that some of the digerati really do have all the money to satisfy their instant-everything demands and have no intention of using your services—well, in fact, you can’t please everybody, and there’s a limit to how hard you should try.
▪ Real communities: What technologies and balances serve your users in your community? The answer’s considerably different for a town in which 99% of residents are wealthy and have high-speed broadband and smart phones (if such a town exists) than it is for a city where many people aren’t online at all (except at the library), many more have only dialup at home, and $100 a month for a smart phone data service is an outrageous expense. Where’s your community—and how does your library serve your users effectively?
▪ Taking back the language: That’s a group heading for a number of language-related issues. It means understanding that “Essentially free” means somebody somewhere is paying a lot of money. It means thinking to yourself “what you mean we?” when someone pronounces something that “we” or “we all” do or think. (The full phrase, from a brilliant song by Oscar Brown, Jr. regarding the Lone Ranger and Tonto, is politically incorrect—although, you know, a majority of those using unfounded “we”isms are indeed white men.) It means flagging “inevitable” as a typically nonsensical substitute for argument. It means honoring skepticism while trying to avoid cynicism.
Steve Lawson uses that title for “my top tech trend to watch” in a February 4, 2009 post at See also… Portions of it complement portions of two of my trends above (business models and trusting the cloud), and it’s possible that we discussed these earlier—but in any case Lawson offers a vigorous, important discussion. Lawson credits Jason Scott’s ASCII blog (ascii.textfiles.com) for inspiring his thoughts—and notes that Scott uses strong language to make his points. Excerpts:
AOL Hometown shut down with very little notice to the people who still had their sites hosted there. Google is closing, stopping development or otherwise 86’ing Google Video, Notebook, Catalog Search, Jaiku, and Dodgeball. LiveJournal laid off a bunch of people and sorta forgot to comment on it publicly for a while, leading people to suspect that they have something to hide and may not be long for this World Wide Web. Social bookmarking site, Ma.gnolia, had “data corruption and loss” on Friday, and at the moment they still haven’t recovered. Thomas Hawk has been blogging occasions where Flickr permanently deleted users’ accounts with little notice or negotiation…
I admit that I’m conflating some not-entirely-related phenomena: sites where the owning company pulls the plug; sites that have one-time serious, possibly irrevocable losses; and sites that are too eager to not just suspend users’ accounts, but to delete everything they have posted.
But it goes back to something I wrote about two years ago in a post called “When good sites go bad.” It’s great to put stuff on these sites to increase your media’s visibility or to find a more convenient way to share documents or something. But what happens if your free hosted wiki site suddenly goes bankrupt or your document sharing site’s servers are accidentally sold for scrap, or the video hosting site you use objects to the hot book-on-book action you have posted?...
Libraries and librarians and archivists who care about preserving the world’s cultural output: where are we now? Do we have anything to add to an effort to help keep online culture from going down the drain? I fear that most libraries can barely deal with the digital content we are directly responsible for, leaving the wilds of the Internet to people like Jason Scott and Brewster Kahle to deal with, but I’d love to hear examples of libraries taking on this kind of responsibility.
[To] quote from [Jason Scott’s] “Cloud” post:
If you want to take advantage of the froth, like with YouTube or Google Video (oh wait! Google Video is [not accepting new content]) then do so, but recognize that these are not Services. These are not dependable enterprises. These are parties. And parties are fun and parties are cool and you meet neat people at parties but parties are not a home…
So that’s my top tech trend for 2009. There’s a reason it’s called “cloud” computing. It looks beautiful now, but could be gone in a moment.
You might want to read the whole post—and, if you can deal with it, the Jason Scott posts Lawson links to.
Morgan wasn’t at the session. Excerpts from a January 10, 2009 post on the LITA blog (litablog.org), with my notes in brackets:
▪ Indexing with Solr/Lucene works well. [True—and library groups have been using both for some time now.]
▪ Linked data is a new name for the Semantic Web. [The Semantic Web just isn’t happening, for good reasons. Linked data? Maybe.]
▪ Blogging is peaking. “There is no doubt about it.” Morgan also believes the number of posts to existing blogs is decreasing, as well as the number of new blogs. [At most partly true. For many of us, blogging isn’t “hard work.”]
▪ Word/tag clouds abound. [A true observation. They’re fun, but are they meaningful?]
▪ “Next Generation” library catalogs seem to be defined. [He doesn’t think the definition goes far enough.]
▪ The Digital Dark Age continues. That is, digital preservation of internet resources stinks. [On the other hand, when Morgan says “Somebody is going to want to do research on the use of blogs and email”—uh, Eric, been doing it for blogs for some time now, although I may have to give it up. I guess I’m not on your radar?]
Houghton-Jan wasn’t at the session. Excerpts from a January 24, 2009 post on the LITA blog, again with my notes in brackets.
▪ The art of web presence maintenance: With libraries extending their web presences out beyond the borders of their own websites proper, the coordination and successful maintenance of these presences has become a skill in its own right… Managing a library’s extended web presence truly has become an art, and an art that each library needs to (and seems to want to) learn about. I see the future bringing more and more libraries focusing on this aspect, and the real skills that these tasks require, such as customer service, web skills and knowledge, writing skills, etc.
▪ Plug-ins, widgets and hacks, oh my! Websites are no longer stand-alone entities. They are segmented bits of code…all grouped together to make dynamic and interactive pages. The number of plug-ins, widgets, and hacks in the last year that can be used effectively on library websites has increased dramatically compared to previous years…The number of libraries taking advantage of these will continue to grow, especially in times of difficult budgets when “free” is the only choice.
▪ My kumpyootur kan has a kloud: Cloud computing as been discussed a lot in the information community in the last few years. Libraries have taken advantage of this already by using services such as Google Docs to offer services or enhance communication. When cloud computing becomes the norm (which I and others think it will in the next few years), this will be a boon for library users… [Apart from the overly cute title, this leaves out the whole issue of trusting the cloud for data security and confidentiality. I’m not among those who expect full cloud computing to become the norm—and, as I’ve noted elsewhere, it’s odd that this is being pushed at a time when local computing power and storage have never been cheaper.]
▪ Online training has its debutante ball: To date, most libraries (and by libraries I mean library managers and supervisors) treat online learning like it isn’t valid… Most libraries that I have visited (a mix of public and academic) have little time for staff to go to training, and little funding at that. However, they will happily pay for an in-person class that also involves an hour of travel time for the attendee, but not give the same person time to watch a webcast on the same topic from his/her desk. It’s almost as though there is an unwritten rule: “If you’re at your desk, it’s not real training.” While as a trainer I completely agree that some topics require in-person classes, most topics can be covered through online screencasts, webcasts, written tutorials, and the like. Fortunately, in the last year I have seen more libraries opening up to online training as a valid training delivery method…
▪ Less $ = Less eResources (a disturbing trend): It seems that eResources (databases and eBooks) budgets are being cut more than the traditional collection budgets are… Times are tough—which is precisely why eResources make more sense. They have a higher return on investment, examining cost vs. use, (up to 5 times as much in my studies)… Especially for periodicals, eResources make more sense than physical ones. And yet, this year, periodical budgets aren’t being cut but periodical database budgets are… [Some informal anecdotes I’ve heard have suggested low use of licensed databases in public libraries. Is there hard evidence on either side? Houghton-Jan asks whether libraries have asked the users, always a good question.]
Coombs was at the session (and included in Landgraf’s notes below), but also posted a commentary beforehand, in a January 25, 2009 post at Library web chic (www.librarywebchic.net/wordpress/). Excerpts, with my notes in brackets:
▪ My personal A-HA trend: Web applications that are extremely flexible, versatile and extendable… (Specific example: Drupal.)
▪ The everyone’s going to say it but it needs to be said trend: Mobile technologies are changing society. They are here to stay, they are only going to get better with time, and we need to expect mobile devices to be a significant portion of our usage. [Since Coombs, unlike some others, sees “significant portion” rather than ubiquity and “triumph,” I don’t disagree. And yes, mobile came up.]
▪ The one that scares the sh!t out of me: The waking digital preservation nightmare. Whether it is books digitized by Google, videos posted on the web, or Flickr photos the explosion of digital content for which there isn’t a clear curation plan has created a void which few libraries seem to be willing to step up and fill…
▪ The trend I think may empower smaller libraries the most: Hosted supported open source software. There are an increasing number of companies both in the library and non-library world providing hosting and support for open source software…
Excerpts from Greg Landgraf’s “Midwinter Sunday: Top Tech Trends,” posted January 25, 2009 at AL inside scoop (www.al.ala.org/insidescoop/):
Participants…focused on four topics: the management of open-source software, the growth of geolocational technologies, linked data, and the effect of the economy on technology choices in libraries.
Open source: Karen Coombs…observed the number of companies being formed to manage open-source software…
Geolocation: Karen Coyle sees the ability to deliver information based on where someone is on the earth; for example, seeing a building and having information about it delivered to them…. Clifford Lynch and Karen Coombs focused instead on what Lynch termed “fine geolocation” to provide GPS-type data within an individual library. For example, a cellphone-based system that “can tell you you’re in the wrong shelf; you need to be two shelves over,” Lynch explained….
Linked data: Roy Tennant…said…linked data may make him “eat half of my hat” regarding his skepticism toward the Semantic Web, although there are not yet specific examples. “First we have to make it possible to do things and then see what happens,” he said, noting that the Library of Congress is planning to put up a site using linked data in the next 4-6 weeks.
Economic considerations: [Paraphrasing: More libraries may install self-check; libraries may “get rid of the silly stuff,” ignoring the question of who decides what’s silly. Broadband access is still a problem—but as much a policy as an economic problem.]
I was at this meeting—atypically, because I thought it might inform my later appearance at OLA. While Landgraf’s summary leaves out some of the more peculiar (in my opinion) moments, such as when I thought I heard an assertion that “all information should be geolocated,” which strikes me as silly, it’s a good roundup of some of the more cogent points. Did the session leave me hungry to rejoin the Trendsters? Not for a minute, but it did remind me why I left and have never regretted the decision.
One odd note: Clifford Lynch discussed the changing use of displays and asked for a show of hands of those who use multiple displays. Karen Coombs estimated “at least 85%.” I don’t believe I saw that many hands, but I’d agree it was a majority (and I had my hand up, to be sure). Does this mean libraries need to provide multidisplay public computer stations? That seems to me to run up against real-world economic limits in most cases.
It’s rare to cite a blog post that’s longer than the article it’s being cited in—but at 7,800 words (that would be ten pages of Cites & Insights), “Ten trends & technologies for 2009” (posted January 12) surely qualifies (the “Tech Trends” section of this article is just over 4,400 words). There’s even a link to a 17-page PDF.
If you read the Midwinter 2009 issue, you already know my opinion of a few of the buzzwords thrown in here. Here are the trends themselves, with a few comments here and there:
▪ The ubiquity of the cloud. [Throw in “the great jukebox in the sky” as an apparent universal certainty and preference, the usual “bloated software suites” snideness about anything beyond Google Docs and you have a veritable perfect storm, which ignores little things like the total loss of first-sale rights (and most fair use rights) as you give up physical media and saving your own stuff.]
▪ The changing role of IT. [Among other things, Stephens concludes that this means library schools “are no longer preparing people to be reference librarians or children’s librarians.” So libraries have no need for children’s specialists? Or is it just that LIS is and apparently should be too busy with “a more IT-focused skill set” and “an emphasis on communication, people skills and humanism”?]
▪ The value of the commons.
▪ The promise of micro-interactions. What’s that, other than another buzzword from another guru? “The everyday exchanges we have with a product, brand and service.” [I don’t have “exchanges” with products or brands—they’re not people. What this really seems to be about is how hot Twitter is and why every library should use it. Oh, and we get “workstream,” in case “lifestream” isn’t enough.]
▪ The care & nurturing of the tribe. [Whazzat? Another Guru, Seth Godin, and yet another theory of everything—this time our need to be part of a “tribe.” Oddly, for all the talk of new interaction tools making us more human, what I’m finding as I experiment with FriendFeed and Facebook—and what I found with Twitter—is anything but a “tribe.” I find that, unless I’m militant about hiding, unsubscribing, refusing, etc., I wind up with so much noise from so many people I’m vaguely acquainted with that it all becomes mush, with the humanity pushed out of those tiny messages. For that matter, one of the comments in that section is oxymoronic: “The more people or customers participating in your network, the better the conversations.” I’d reverse that: Beyond some limit, the more people involved, the more the conversations are attenuated to the level of uselessness. Of course, “better” is in the eye of the beholder.]
▪ The triumph of the portable device. [People snicker when I mention “triumphalism,” but Stephens is honest enough to use the word. Triumph. Not significance, triumph. Oh, and another reminder that libraries aren’t supposed to be peaceful places: Stephens once more insists that you take down any signs about cell phone use.]
▪ The importance of personalization. [I’m not sure how this relates to putting more labels on books, but maybe…]
▪ The impact of localization. In this case, a definition may be needed: The concept here is location-based services, not assuring that your library primarily serves your local community.
▪ The evolution of the digital lifestyle. [You know the drill. Physical media: Dead. Newspapers: Dead (and, of course, Stephens doesn’t take one). Sigh. Do people losing their homes, finding that their resources really weren’t unlimited and otherwise dealing with real-world limits really need “digital lifestyles”?]
▪ The shift toward open thinking. [I’m not sure I see a close connection between open source software and “innovation and creativity.”]
I have to quote this sentence, the comment under one of “five related things we just can’t ignore,” namely Privacy: “We need to rethink our privacy concerns, offer varying levels of opt-in and educate all of our users about what it means to participate in the networked world where our lifestreams are saved throughout the cloud.” Gotta say, “networked world where our lifestreams are saved throughout the cloud” is truly prime NewSpeak.
This is, technically, a list of “top technology breakthroughs of 2008”—but the breakthroughs lead to trends, and the introduction ends up saying these breakthroughs “rocked our world in 2008—and will change yours in 2009.” (Emphasis added, noting how often it disagrees with what the article actually says.) Boldface trends followed by my comment if any. The list is in the usual TV-show “last to first” order. What’s strange is the mix of actual breakthroughs, items so far from production they can’t possibly change your world this year and items that are commodity-level technology by now—and that the #1, presumably most important, “breakthrough” is another way to spend lots of money on frequently trivial items. One wonders whether Wired’s writers can even conceive of an age of limits and choices.
▪ Flexible displays: Still in the “plausible” stage, as it’s been for years. Don’t count on much in the marketplace this year.
▪ Edible chips: Silicon chips that is—”tiny chips…that, once swallowed activate in the stomach” and send signals to patches outside to monitor vitals (or, the piece suggests, “track when patients take their pills.” Not even in clinical trials yet. I wouldn’t hold my breath (bad for your vitals).
▪ Speedo LZR: This one’s reality—the swimsuits that revolutionized Olympic swimming competition last year. Maybe this year you’ll be able to swim in your very own girdle. This constitutes one of the ten most important technology breakthroughs for 2008? Fancy swimsuits?
▪ Flash memory: There’s a hot new trend! Gee, you could have MP3 players that fit in your pocket and hold multiple gigabytes, or tiny little backup devices or… Oh, wait: These have been around for years and are nearing commodity pricing. The hook for this item is that the “star power” behind flash drives means “prices have nowhere to go but down,” unlike hard disk prices which, as you know, have been… nope, that can’t be it. The reality: Big flash drives use a lot less power than hard disk drives—but there’s still the limited-cycle issue, which isn’t mentioned here. (The piece says “faster response,” but the sector balancing that can make the typical 100,000-write lifetime more useful also slows down response.) Do I think flash memory will be more important in 2009 than in 2008? Of course: Bigger MP3 players, better netbooks, etc. But this is a commodity, not a breakthrough.
▪ GPS: Another commodity—but the Wired piece is about geoservices. Great—if they’re actually services and not new ad, spam and stalking systems. It’s not the technology, it’s the uses—and in 2009, I think we’re going to see that “free” only goes so far.
▪ Memristor: Ideally, a replacement for RAM that retains its memory when powered down—but the article says it’s at least five years away.
▪ Video-capable SLRs: Interesting, here now, high-def. Hard to say how important it is.
▪ USB 3.0: Even higher-speed USB—but saying “users need the increased speed” is only true for some subset of users.
▪ Android: Google’s smart phone OS. Since Google can do no wrong and never shuts down a product, and everybody loves them… Well, maybe, maybe not.
▪ Apple’s App Store: Since “we all” have iPhones, and since “we all” have unlimited funds to buy mobile applications, this is a sure-fire huge success that changes things forever. It’s nice that there are no limits on income, expenditure or silliness.
Paula J. Hane posted “Review of the year 2008 and trends watch—part 2” on January 8, 2009 at ITI NewsLink (newsbreaks.infotoday.com/). I’m including a few trends that may be particularly relevant to the U.S. scene for libraries.
▪ Growth in the mobile web (increasingly location-aware services)
▪ Open source solutions looking increasingly attractive…
▪ Web apps…gaining traction over expensive software solutions
▪ Increasing traction for open access journals
▪ Increasing use of social networking services for communication (rather than email)
▪ More innovative web mashups
▪ Further developments in semantic technologies and applications, increasing context of content
▪ Increasing movement to enhanced library catalogs (reviews, ratings, tags, etc.)
▪ Ongoing book digitization projects—some partnering with Google, others making it on their own
▪ More options and improvements in ebook readers, increased adoption, and, hopefully, lower prices (Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, iRex suite, Foxit eSlick, Bookeen Cybook, etc.)
▪ Security and privacy remaining major concerns [a permanent trend].
These are trends Hane will be watching; she’s not predicting massive adoption. It’s a solid list.
Highlights from Goldsborough’s “Future trends in personal technology” in the January 2009 LinkUp Digital (www.infotoday/linkup/). These are taken from a JWT report—that is, an ad agency. My notes in brackets. (Thanks to Paula Hane for this link.)
▪ Use of email will decline. An ad executive calls it “an increasingly outdated medium” because “younger people” prefer texting and social networks—and because “people of all ages are fed up with overflowing inboxes.” [So email is like those nightclubs that nobody goes to because they’re too popular? Somehow, “overflowing inboxes”—in mail systems with decent spam filters—and “declining use” is slightly oxymoronic. Even more amusing: the report from which this comes calls “email overload” a “serious productivity drain”—whereas, you know, texting and social networks hardly affect productivity at all, right? It gets sillier: Twittering and social networking are better than email because “communication can more easily be restricted to a specified group.” What? Email systems automatically broadcast to everybody? Let me clarify: Yes, email might decline—but the reasoning and commentary here are, well, ludicrous.]
▪ Computing will increasingly become untethered—in other words, cloud computing will grow. [Likely right, within limits—and with a variety of unintended consequences.]
▪ Use of mobile devices will continue to increase. [Well, yes…]
▪ Netbooks will increase in popularity. [Well, yes…even as the definition of “netbook” gets increasingly fuzzy. Someday soon, someone’s going to call the MacBook Air a netbook…]
▪ Personal computers and TV will “continue to converge.” [Not really. TVs may gain more internet connections, but primarily for streaming media, not personal computing.]
The ever-trendy, neologism-happy trendwatching.com offers “half a dozen consumer trends for 2009” as their January 2009 Trend Briefing at www.trendwatching. com/trends/halfdozentrends2009/ (hoping to entice you to buy their 150-page 2009 Trend Report for a low, low $799). Here’s the set, with trendwatching.com’s ever-trendy names and my own brief summary of what it’s all about:
▪ Nichetributes: They say “Low-cost, practical tributes to the zeitgeist.” I say: an extended set of gimmicks appealing to your “niche lifestyle”—e.g., “iAnything” (gloves with metal dots on the fingertips), “social networking mobile phones” and, of course, more, more, more. We’re assured the trend is “important and recession-proof” largely because these are supposed to be practical gimmicks. (OK, there’s a clear marketing trend for 2009: Calling things you can buy, buy, buy “recession-proof” and desperately hoping that’s true.)
▪ Luxyoury: “In 2009, you define what constitutes luxury.” We’re told that luxury is based on scarcity. But good marketers should “focus on defining [luxury],” which says a lot about the idea that the individual defines luxury. Examples of the new luxury? A hotel with little “funky” rooms and shared bathrooms—but “fine wines, plush bedlinen, carefully curated art, and top-notch personal service.” What a concept: Lacking a private bathroom is suddenly luxury. (One paragraph of this description is a veritable goldmine of marketspeak and neologisms—perkonomics, premiumization, etc.)
▪ Feedback 3.0: “Think we’ve reached full transparency?” This seems to be about companies talking back on review sites—and the example offered does not paint a pretty picture. (Someone using a pseudonym gives a truly bad review to a hotel. The hotel owner writes an even nastier response. Gotta say, the owner convinced me: I wouldn’t touch that hotel on a bet.) Realistically, minus the neologisms and market-happy nonsense, this is both a real trend and a good one. It makes sense for hotels, restaurants, etc. to be able to offer both apologies and other responses to reviews, and a fair number of sites are doing it.
▪ Econcierge: Oh, please. “Savings are the new green.” The idea’s not bad though: Firms and services that help households “go green.”
▪ Mapmania: “Why maps are the new interface.” I don’t know about all sorts of stuff coming together “in one orgasmic celebration of map-based tracking, finding, knowing and connecting” (sounds a little…weird…to me), but sure, map-based stuff continues to be more important for online applications.
▪ Happy ending: What? A trend with an English name? “The silver lining of each downturn.” Somehow, even this one seems to turn into ways to sell, sell, sell.
Whew. Now that you’ve had just a taste of true trendiness, there are others to mention.
Dawson is a self-identified Very Big Deal, “globally recognized as a leading keynote speaker and authority on business strategy.” These six “forces” (his trends, my commentary except for quoted material) appear in a December 16, 2008 post at Trends in the living networks (rossdawsonblog.com/weblog/). Thanks to “tango” at Libraries interact for summarizing this.
▪ Constant partial attention. People “consuming 20 hours or more of media a day.” “Over two-thirds of people watch TV while reading.” “To be successful, we need to thrive on constant interruption.” [Emphasis added.] So CPA is essential to succeed (and presumably leads to the best-quality thoughts and products)? Right. (A commenter pushed back, noting “multitasking has proven to be less efficient than concentrating on one task at a time”—and Dawson says “it’s inevitable that our attention will fragment” and calls those of us able to focus “meditators.” I don’t see the difference between CPA and multitasking.)
▪ Half of us expose ourselves; the other half watches. Dawson really believes “half of us” will be “sending video updates of our every move” in 2009, and that people “living their lives online” will be the norm. Oh, and those of us who haven’t become exhibitionists will become voyeurs. I feel safe in saying this one is nonsense, at least at those levels. (Apparently Twitter’s rapid growth in 2008 is the basis for all this. Anyone else notice a Twitter backlash? If so, let me know—on FriendFeed, my blog, or via email.)
▪ Gen Y wakes up to Gen Z. Dawson defines Gen Y as those born in 1979-1990 (too bad—that won’t make it the largest generation ever, at least not in the U.S.) He also defines it as the “me generation,” whereas “Gen Z” (people no more than 19 at this point) is “sophisticated and with a social conscience.” I think it’s all gen-gen and increasingly divisive nonsense.
▪ Outsourcing for the masses. We’ll be using “assistants in India or Hungary to make travel bookings, set up a personal website, or design a flyer for the school fete.” He does mean we—not companies but individuals in America and Australia. Dunno about you, but there’s a semi-retired 63-year-old guy in Mountain View who does my travel bookings (other than cruises), and would do so even without paying attention to real-world budgeting. Is anybody really going to pay for and cope with issues involved in passing such trivial stuff off to India and Hungary?
▪ Companies become social. “In 2009, companies will truly embrace social networks, blogs, and other Web 2.0 tools…” Dawson believes that corporate Facebook profiles and blogs will lead to “a transformation of how we work.”
▪ Media industry shatters. Ah, but “journalists themselves will prosper.” Really? Yes, it’s probably true that some media companies will go under (since that’s always happening). It’s still also true that most local newspapers still earn healthy profits. How do journalists make money without salaried outlets? Blogs? Really?
Short-term predictions are tough…because people will be around to see whether they were right. With that in mind, here are a few forecasts and scorecards on past forecasts.
This is a Very Big Deal blog—with loads of ads. They throw out so many forecasts I’d be unwilling to list all of them (I count 56 in all from various team members), but here are a few interesting ones:
▪ iTunes will add social networking features.
▪ Yahoo will get bought by some big media company, not Microsoft.
▪ Microsoft will release a “cool online version of Office” and Google will release an “amazing new version” of Google Docs.
▪ Twitter and Technorati won’t get acquired but FriendFeed will (probably by Google).
▪ Twitter will be acquired. (OK, one of these has to be right…)
▪ Lifestreams (sigh) will continue to evolve. (Alternatively, “lifestreaming” products—this person mentions FriendFeed—will remain niche products serving early adopters. I’m on FriendFeed: so much for that prediction!)
▪ Twitter will figure out a way to make money.
▪ An iPhone will appear with video recording capabilities.
▪ “Google backlash begins, Apple backlash does not.”
▪ Yahoo gains goodwill (and Google loses it).
▪ Twitter will start to embed ads into user streams.
▪ “Pro Twitterer” will be a real job.
▪ Microsoft buys Netflix and resurrects WebTV.
▪ Facebook Connect will become the de facto universal logon—or Gmail will be, once Google makes Gmail logons OpenID-compatible.
▪ eBay will be acquired by Amazon.
That’s a quarter of the forecasts, some of them at odds with one another. (One commenter nicely captured some of them in a trio of can’t-possibly-be-wrong alternatives.)
Douglas is head of digital production for The Telegraph (UK) and has the good sense to say, “No sensible commentator would go anywhere near predictions for the following year” before giving his. (You’ll find the whole post, “Next year in technology,” on December 23, 2008 at blogs.telegraph.co.uk/ian_douglas/blog/. Thanks to Library stuff for the pointer.) These are my paraphrases, with comments in [brackets].
▪ Computer sales will be down, but “the few computers sold will be higher quality items, intended to last a couple of years at least. Think Sony and Apple rather than Dell or Packard Bell.” [Packard Bell, maybe—but are Dell products really that inferior to Sony VAIOs? My last Gateway was still going strong after five years, and I never heard them touted as being markedly higher quality than Dell.]
▪ Microsoft will suffer as people skip the “ridiculously overpriced Office suite” and turn instead to free online word processors…and piracy of the software will increase. [I still cannot, for the life of me, see how $130 for three users is “ridiculously overpriced” for Office 2007 Home & Student—particularly when it shows up for $99 on sale. Maybe there’s no such animal in the UK?]
▪ Sales of “larger but essentially useless items” will dwindle, while “small but life-affirming purchases” will rise. What’s fascinating here: Douglas calls HD camcorders and netbooks “larger but essentially useless” items and iPhone apps, Wiis, iTune songs, DVDs and digital film downloads “small but life-affirming.” [So a $250 netbook or $160 camcorder is “larger and essentially useless” and a $300 Wii is small and life-affirming? Not to mention that to buy an iPhone app you have to have an iPhone and a data plan… OK, now that that’s clear…]
▪ “Blu-ray will die as HD downloads and super-fast broadband spread.” [Oh yeah, Blu-ray’s dying in 2009, y’know, ‘cause we’re all suddenly getting super-fast broadband. Maybe in the UK; sure as hell not in 2009 in the US!]
▪ “Your mother will follow you on Twitter, so you’ll have to find another community.” That one might be right.
▪ Battery life will take over from processor speed as the big number on billboards. [I haven’t seen CPU speed as a big number for some time, except for gaming systems, so it’s hard to comment on this.]
▪ At least one of the big three American car companies will become bankrupt. [Plausible.]
Electric cars will begin to replace hybrids as the environmentalists’ choice. [In 2009? With the unlimited venture capital funds now available to make true electric cars factory items? Talk to Tesla about that particular short-term projection.]
“Predictions for 2009,” posted January 7, 2009 at www.freedom-to-tinker.com/blog/felten/, offers 38 predictions based on input from 13 people. Just a few of the 38…leaving out some really interesting ones. Except for [bracketed comments], these are all direct quotes.
▪ 1. DRM technology will still fail to prevent widespread infringement. In a related development, pigs will still fail to fly. [They predict this every year. So far, 100% correct.]
▪ 3. As lawful downloading of music and movies continues to grow, consumer satisfaction with lossy formats will decline, and higher-priced options that offer higher fidelity will begin to predominate. [I suspect and hope they’re right—and, actually, iTunes moving to 256K is already a sign: It’s still lossy but higher fidelity.]
▪ 6. Questions over the enforceability of free / open source software licenses will move closer to resolution.
▪ 13. There will be lots of talk about net neutrality but no new legislation, as everyone waits to see how the Comcast/BitTorrent issue plays out in the courts.
▪ 24. Shortly after the start of the new administration, the TSA will quietly phase out the ban on flying with liquids or stop enforcing it in practice. [As a commenter notes, TSA’s already announced this for fall 2009—this would just move it up a little.]
▪ 27. An embarrassing leak of personal data will emerge from one or more of the social networking firms (e.g., Facebook), leading Congress to consider legislation that probably won't solve the problem and will never actually reach the floor for a vote. [I’d say the odds of both are extremely high.]
▪ 30. The Blu-ray format will increasingly be seen as a failure as customers rely more on online streaming. [I think Blu-ray will do just fine in 2009, but not become dominant by a long shot. A lot depends on your definition of “seen as a failure.”]
▪ 33. A hot Christmas item will be a cheap set-top box that allows normal people to download, organize, and view video and audio podcasts in their own living rooms. [Really? Do “normal people” care that much about podcasts in the living rooms? Streaming video, absolutely, and that’s already happened.]
▪ 34. Internet Explorer's usage share will fall below 50 percent for the first time in a decade, spurred by continued growth of Firefox and Safari and deals with OEMs to pre-load Google Chrome. [Possibly—but are either Safari or Chrome major players? At PLN, where Firefox registers at 33% over a recent month, Safari looks like about 1%-2% and Chrome doesn’t even register.]
Freedom to tinker is scrupulous about reviewing past predictions. Omitting #1, which is always the first prediction and always right, here are a few of last year’s predictions. Again, direct quotations, with 2008 predictions in italics, hindsight in ordinary type, my comment if any in brackets. From a January 6, 2009 post.
▪ 2. Copyright issues will still be gridlocked in Congress. We could predict this every year, and it would almost always be right…
▪ 4. DRM-free sales will become standard in the music business. The movie studios will flirt with the idea of DRM-free sales but won't take the plunge, yet. This was basically right. DRM-free music sales are much more common than before. Whether they're “standard” is a matter for debate. [Right for 2009, a little premature for 2008. The blog’s “mostly right” is generous.]
▪ 7. Second Life will jump the shark and the cool kids will start moving elsewhere; but virtual worlds generally will lumber on. Second Life seems to have lost its cool factor, but then so have virtual worlds generally. Still, they're lumbering on. [Second Life never did gain massive numbers of return users. Still, “mostly right” is probably right.]
▪ 11. A Facebook application will cause a big privacy to-do. There were Facebook privacy issues, but mostly about non-application issues. Overall, interest in Facebook apps declined during the year. Verdict: mostly wrong.
▪ 13. An epidemic of news stories about teenage webcam exhibitionism will lead to calls for regulation. Verdict: wrong. [I’m pleasantly surprised that this projection was wrong.]
Last year, they only offered 14 projections and scored “six right, four mostly right, two mostly wrong, one wrong, one unknown.” Not bad, although the scoring may be optimistic.
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