Since 1997, It’s been a long running game here at TNL.net central to make wild predictions about the upcoming year that have turned out to be only somewhat off (and, as always, I promise to revisit them around the end of next year to assess how far off base I was) so here goes this year’s edition.
Broadband penetration will continue to increase in the United States and Europe. Large scale deployments of city-wide broadband efforts in several large cities will start making internet access similar to phone or electric service, widespread and the type of thing few people think of. On the bleeding edge of the Internet access development world, some large scale networks, most probably coming from phone companies, will break the 10-Mbps barrier and close in on the 100-Mbps speed, making internet access on par with regular local network access.
The downside of this widespread deployment of high-speed internet access will be in the phone industry, where next generation (3G) rollouts of high speed wireless networks will prove costly and offer lackluster service considering its high price. This will force a drastic reduction in prices towards the end of the year or early 2007, in an attempt to recover some revenue from the large investments.
Implications of increased broadband penetration
The increase in broadband penetration will have several large implications, including the rollout of more voice over IP services, video services, and the infrastructure security.
Voice Over IP
Voice over IP will continue to see widespread deployment and large phone companies will start migrating their full networks to IP-based traffic. This will make VoIP the primary form of telephone communication for wired lines by the end of 2006, though few people will be aware of the change as it will largely happen behind the scenes, not touching people’s independent system.
Telephony services will increase as the VoIP phenomenon continues to increase. Expect early efforts in video telephony to start rolling out and becoming more mainstream towards the end of the year. Also expect to see the rise of wireless devices that can bridge the gap between computer and regular telephony, providing access to the network in a number of different ways.
Video over IP will be very hot in 2006, with several major changes in the industry. First will be the announcement, by Apple, of its new mac-mini intel-powered platform designed specifically for the living room. Following on the success of the iPod, Apple will market the device less as a computer and more as a video consumption tool that will include stunning high definition resolution and will offer direct access to the iMedia store (formerly known as the iTunes music store) where one will be able to download movies and TV shows, as well as content created by amateurs.
Google, in partnership with AOL (and its sister companies within the Time-Warner world), will offer a pay-per-view system, mirroring some of the iMedia store offerings. The system will be available both in the AOL closed garden client (where it will use some level of acceleration to speed up delivery) and on the web through a new client package offered by Google and largely developed by the AOL client software team. The strength of the move will generate enough positive buzz for AOL that Time-Warner will be able to spin-off the unit and will be considering an IPO towards the beginning of 2007.
Seeing their advertising revenues eroding, TV stations will start offering more content online, also sponsored by advertising. New types of online video ad insertion and tracking system will be created by several companies, with Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! offering aggregated model based on something similar to Google AdWords but offering not only targeting based on keywords but also based on certain demographic information.
New video aggregators will start appearing, offering a way to customize your own TV station. Some will be acquired by the major portals (unless the portals themselves have already developed that capability by the time this trend manifests itself). Meanwhile, Tivo will recast itself as one of those portals and will be acquired by Microsoft and merged with MSNTV (unless it is acquired by Sony, and merged with the PlayStation 3, or Panasonic, and kept as a standalone.)
Having lost in the bidding war for Tivo, Yahoo! will decide to acquire NetFlix and merge it with some of its video offerings, providing not only distribution of DVDs but also online streaming of content.
On the strength of revenues from online ads, some small cable or local TV stations will start offering their complete programming slate online, for free, and adverting supported. This will rankle a few of the cable companies and syndicators who looked to those companies as another revenue stream. Meanwhile, on the same basis, most local TV news will be available online for free through an advertising supported model. During one major story, a local TV station’s feed will compete with the national networks in terms of reporting, as more viewers flood its website than watch the same story unfold on television.
The competition for those types of stories will continue to increase, as citizen journalism provides raw unscripted video of events. Videocasting, following on the success of podcasting, will start seeing some traction with a few podcasting and vidcasters signing deals with traditional media. Traditional media will look at it as an interesting set of development but one that ultimately won’t be trusted by the public because they do not have the right seal of approval; their prediction will turn out to be wrong.
The rise of broadband and the increasing numbers of basic services running on the internet infrastructure will give rise to fear that the infrastructure is under-protected. From a technical policy viewpoint, electronic infrastructures will become a major national security matter with fears that the very openness of the internet could represent a large security risk. This will be seized upon by the network providers (phone companies, cable companies) and some security consultants as a way to push for policy that will allow those incumbent communications services to administer their networks with tighter control, with decision as to what they are willing to let run on the network and what they are not willing to. A subsequent battle will ensue as VoIP companies and media companies will complain about the network providers squeezing them out. No decision on any of this will be made in 2006 but the debate will continue through 2007 and beyond.
Growth and Scalability
2006 will be an explosive year in the Web 2.0 sphere. Explosive because it will see triple if not quadruple digit growth in number of users but also explosive because it will see several popular sites unable to deal with the capacity issues relating to that explosion.
On the RSS end, the explosion in growth will really start when Internet Explorer 7.0 becomes a priority upgrade on windows stations. The inclusion of some RSS feeds as defaults in the browser will prove to be too much for some sites which had not expected the onslaught of millions of new hits. Readership from RSS readers will increase as more users realize that they can get their favorite sites delivered to them instead of going out and checking to see if they are updated.
As more people discover RSS, more of them will start valuing blogs and many will start their own. However, the concept of becoming a professional blogger will decrease as many people who thought they could make money off their blog will find that the effort in doing so was higher than they had expected and will abandon their blog.
Meanwhile, other web 2.0 subjects will fail: Tagging services like del.icio.us will be see as too complicated by the general public (although they will continue to thrive in the more geeky world) but tagging of pictures (as in Flickr) will continue to grow. Most blog networks will fail to attain the amount of traffic required to play seriously in the advertising world and will be forced to either merge or shut down. Meanwhile, companies offering only a set of web services with the idea to generate revenue solely from advertising may find themselves in a bind as advertising revenue will fail to grow at the same pace as the new offerings.
Implications of Growth
The explosive growth in traffic see during 2006 has implications across a number of players in the blogging world and metadata space. It also has implications in terms of scalability, business, and trust.
Blogging, podcasting, vidcasting
As blogging takes better hold in the mainstream (your parents WILL be blogging), the number of subscribers per individual blog feed will drop into the low teens, with blogs being read by close family members and friends only. A few breakout blogs, specializing on particular narrow subjects will manage to increase their readership but the world will largely consolidate around less than 1,000 major blogs: of those, the vast majority will not be from any members of the Technorati 100 or any other such list. The vast majority of those mainstream blogs will be the ones created by mainstream media outlets, which will use their existing reach to heavily promote their own blog.
Radio stations will increasingly start offering podcasts and TV stations will offering vidcasts. Most, however, will do so through centralized hosting capabilities provided by their parent companies. Smaller podcasters and vidcasters will have a hard time to compete with those larger companies as they are forced to look into ways to support their own bandwidth costs and will sign contracts with hosting services promising a share of advertising revenue in exchange for doing the hosting: that share will largely go to the hosting service with many podcasters/vidcasters finding they are not really making more than a few 100 dollars a months from all their hard work.
Crash and Burn
One of the hosting services will crash in a major way, taking with it a few days worth of the hard work of thousands of people who were hosting on it. The provider will initially recover but suffer a subsequent crash that will seal its fate as a doomed company. The majority of its users will leave and join one of the larger hosting services provided by Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google.
Beyond the hosting world, scalability will also be a hot buzzword as more services, ranging from RSS hosting providers like FeedBurner to search engines like Technorati and Feedster to analytics providers like Google and MeasureMap will experience temporary failures and growth pains.
The cost of upgrading the service infrastructure will be too much to bear for some companies, which will be forced to shutter their door, sell out, or merge with a similar service. Meanwhile, many web-based service companies will fail to generate enough advertising revenue to continue upgrading. A flurry of mergers and closures will happen over a few months, leading people to wonder if this is bubble bust 2.0.
The downside of all those fears about a bust will be in the increased number of negative stories about technology in the mainstream media. Stories will mention the hubris of web 2.0 founders and will showcase Google as a typical example of this hubris, highlighting its free lunches and other things that were thought cool in 205: As a result of all those negative stories (and others but more on that later), Google will loose several billions (possibly even tens of billions) of dollars from the high of its market capitalization, shedding anywhere from 10 to 25 percent off its high.
After the consolidation, there will only be one or two independent players in each of the following (notwithstanding the fact that there will also be offering from the bigger portal players): blog hosting , vlog hosting, podcast hosting (WordPress and Typepad will either be the two in these three sectors or will have merged), blog search, social networks (speaking os social networks, Yahoo! or Microsoft will buy LinkedIn (if it’s Microsoft, LinkedIn will quickly be integrated with Outlook and offer Plaxo-like features).
Meanwhile, a sector which will have been decimated will be tagging. Following slow adoption by the mainstream, largely due to the complexity of adding tags to pages, many tagging companies will fail. Tagging, as a concept, however, will remain and be adopted by most major search engines: as Metadata entry is simplified with the introduction of Windows Vista and Office 12 (both of which will be delivered by Microsoft to a relatively lukewarm market), and tagging becomes a browser feature, it stops being a differentiator.
Trust is hot topic
Fear of Google knowing a little too much about people will bring a slate of bad press for a company that was the darling of the mainstream media in 2005. The introduction of its Google finance service, hooking up into people’s bank accounts and payments systems will be seen as the company becoming too large a player, with fear of it becoming a monopoly. The backlash will first start in silicon Valley, with many tech luminaries starting to tear down the company. It will continue with publications that were once its biggest cheerleader becoming its biggest detractor. As a result, many of the companies that relied on Google for key services (advertising, analytics) will try to distance themselves from it and start looking for other providers (meanwhile, companies looking for funding will excise Google from their business plans, in order to avoid being associated with it by VCs). Yahoo! will pick up some of the adsense/adwords business, along with Microsoft, which will offer a similar service.
Meanwhile, in the analytics space, new companies will be formed and attract a lot of venture capital. Many of them will offer ways to opt-out of their tracking and some will offer added incentive to people willing to provide them with more information. New models in the space will emerge and at least one player will provide a revolutionary approach that will change the analytics landscape.
In the blogosphere too, trust will be a major subject as some of the top bloggers will grapple with issues surrounding defamation of character, libel, accuracy, and reliability after a top-name blogger is sued for something he/she said or linked to. Furthermore, some of the top bloggers will grapple with issues relating to invasion of privacy as they become more famous in the mainstream media.
On the Wikipedia end, anonymous editing will be abandoned after the revelation of a major hack altering minor facts over several months in an automated fashion has rendered a core version of the wikipedia unusable. The wikipedia trustee will revert wikipedia to an earlier date, erasing all changes performed during that period of times and destroying several significant entries on 2006 current events. The mainstream press will pile on about the inaccuracies of wikipedia, bringing back earlier scandals as proof that no information on the internet can be trusted unless it comes from a reliable source (incidentally presented as being a member of the media establishment).
In late 2006, a substantial portion of these predictions will be wrong and some may turn out to be dead on (although most of the ones mentioning companies by name will most probably be wrong).
Meanwhile, on a personal level, 2006 will be a year of big changes. However, I promise it will also be a year of continued writing on TNL.net, even if it is at the same substantial post every week or two rate that readers have gotten accustomed to. I hope you’ll join me for the ride.