Through a Glass Darkly - Predictions Past and Future
It’s that time of year again - the toys have been opened (and the sundry pieces scattered to the four winds … sigh), the eggnog’s begun to acquire a slightly off taste and the stores have all finally turned off the elevator rendition of “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” (to much applause by the customers). Here in Canada we celebrate “Boxing Day”, a quaint tradition that used to mean that you would box up those slightly used clothes and toys to give to the needy and desperate so that you had room for the new toys and clothes, but now just seems to be an excuse for the stores to box up the slightly used clothes and toys that didn’t sell through the last month and sell them at cut-rate prices to the needy and desperate (or at least those who hadn’t maxed out their credit cards buying the same stuff at above bargain prices) so that they can free up room for the new toys and clothes. Funny, the parallels.
Predictions 2006: A Recap
Of course, this also means, poor desperate reader, that you are about to be subject to another seemingly enduring tradition - me trying to guess, based upon the odd little tea leaves in my morning brew (all the more unusual since I normally drink coffee), just what exactly the next year has in store for the various players in the XML industry. Before getting into it (and to put a damper upon my chances of getting hired by the Futurists Society any time soon) let me dredge up my 2006 predictions and see just how badly I fared (I’ll score this as two points for every prediction I made correctly, one point for every prediction that was in the main correct but whose effects are really just beginning to show up, and zero points for every prediction I missed completely.
Vista Fizzles … and Flares. All right, I think I hit this one on the head. Vista has debuted to the usual gushing by the captive press, but the reviews from the field have been considerably less kind. The recent kow-towing to the media-content interests may have seriously hobbled it, the fact that this has become a 2007 story instead of a 2006 story showcases that the delay issues are not minor (missing Christmas will put a major crimp in their sales figures), and the recent advances in the AJAX front have raised an unexpected vulnerability in their strategy … the fact that people will in fact migrate to web apps even with all the gee-wiz special effects and power features that Vista offers indicates to me anyway that Microsoft’s hold on the consumer (and more worrying from their perspective, the enterprise) is slipping. More on this below. (2 points)
SVG Everywhere. Okay, I’ll claim this one, though it wasn’t quite the banner year that I had hoped or expected to see. . SVG is becoming more pervasive, and the recent work by Opera, Mozilla and Apple Safari on that front means that SVG is becoming available to most of the major browsers. It’s not yet becoming standard fare in web page development, though I’ve seen it’s usage continue to creep up in the statistics I’ve seen. Adobe bowing out of this game (sort of) with their intent of dropping support for the Adobe SVG Viewer in 2008 caused more than a bit of a stir here, but I’m actually seeing some interesting things emerging with Mars that may make the issue moot. I’d say that SVG will continue to gain browser share, but likely it will do it slowly over the next year. (1 point)
The Electronic Paper Revolution Hits It’s Stride. Okay, I should stay out of the hardware arena, though this was more a case of being a little too early rather than being wrong. Hitachi did debut a 4096 color electronic paper display in July 2006, but the market for such paper is still somewhat debatable. I suspect as high energy costs (down from their peak earlier this year, but not by that much) continue to climb, so too will the appeal of ePaper as an alternative, inexpensive display terminal, especially in conjunction with a low powered wireless connector and a memory-stick, sized CPU. Perhaps this will end up being the REAL $100 laptop ….(1 points)
A Clash of Titans. Oooh, yeah!! I got this one dead-on, not that it was all that hard a call. Yahoo and Microsoft announced in mid-February that they were collaborating on a common IM integration platform, and the Yahoo/Microsoft partnership seems to be strengthening, especially as Google continues to push into Yahoo’s turf with the acquisition of YouTube. On the flipside, MySpace has emerged as a serious player in this realm as well, though I have my doubts about whether its brand of social networking has long term legs.
On the flip-side, I see some growing pains for Google at this juncture. Google ads are becoming background clutter, to the extent that I’m personally watching Google ads for my own sites produce considerably less revenue this year as compared to last. Their move into collaborative services, while intriguing, also make them more vulnerable to hacking, and energy costs and availability are increasingly becoming their Achilles heel - already the drain on the San Jose valley’s electric grid by Google’s server megafarms is prompting anger among neighbors. With the acquisition of YouTube, they’ve essentially also made more than a few enemies in Hollywood (see below). (2 points)
Tech’s Roller Coaster Ride. Okay, I got this one wrong, or again, was too early. The housing market had longer legs than I had expected, and social networking apps and companies that are cash-flush at this point kept the engines moving. However, the housing market IS collapsing now, dramatically (and far more than is being reported in the official statistics), which in turn is drying up consumer liquidity like one of those superabsorbant diapers. Companies are hurting for skilled tech people (no surprise there) but on the flipside their consumer and corporate market sales are dropping, inventories are rising, leaving many businesses in the very peculiar bind of having lots of capital but fewer sales and few investment or market opportunities. As a side note - cashouts … insiders selling major portions of their stock portfolio, are at a 20 year high. Twenty years ago, the Dow dropped by 500 points in a day. While I think that programmers and other IT folk that are left after the tech purge will be able to weather the coming storm just fine, I think that it will be as blustery as its been in British Columbia this fall (160km winds and heavy rain). (1 points)
AJAX Eats the Server. AJAX was THE story this year, though I see signs of both the inevitable backlash - AJAX is more complex that single state client server, good AJAX people are still hard to find, and right now I see a glut of AJAX packages out there as people climb on the bandwagon. Right now, I’d say that my odds-on favorite for establishing itself as the definitive package is the Dojo Toolkit - based upon a number of conversations I’ve had with developers who are all moving into integrating their OSS toolkits with Dojo. The Ruby on Rails based prototype.js has a number of followers as well, but my sense looking at prototype.js is that it has some serious deficiencies that will cause its use to wane over time.
I also think that we’re going to see the rise again in integration between XML as a framework and AJAX as the intelligence driving that framework, as I’ve seen this model followed in a number of commercial and open source toolkits. AJAX is now going through its methodology stage, and I expect to see more out the OpenAjax efforts, but it should continue to make waves into 2007. More on this below. (2 points)
Ruby on Rails. Okay, this was an easy call, and I think I pretty much aced this one as well. Ruby is maturing now, and I’m seeing increasing calls for Ruby programmers in want ads and related arenas. I have a few personal problems with Ruby - it is a very good language for doing fairly complex things easily, but you pay for that ease with somewhat limited ability to modify that functionality cleanly (of course, this can be said to be true of most framework languages, and Ruby is better than many in this regard). I expect 2007 will see the maturation of the Ruby market - already commercial vendors and developer houses are offering this as options in their development suite, and I figure its just a matter of months before at least a few commercial Ruby IDEs emerge. (2 points)
Media Casting. Blogging has definitely peaked and now is settling into its steady-state stage - it’s no longer novel, and the number of abandoned blogs on the Internet probably outnumber the number of active ones by a considerable amount, but I expect that it will likely reheat as collaborative tools such as Google Notebook (see below) go mainstream. I don’t have a lot of real hope for efforts like Flock - a good browser and useful for a number of things, but I’ve never felt that blogging would by itself prove strong enough to support a browser in toto. I think I’d also put paid to much of the social blogging infrastructure that emerged in the last eighteen months - they are, like many social movements, faddish, and like all such fads tend to surge and fade.
Podcasting and VidCasting, will likely go through this same phase, though I think that unlike the pure text area this field should continue to have legs. YouTube came out of nowhere, solving the big gordian knot of video codecs by assuming a lowest common denominator solution - Flash Video. I use my eldest daughter as a good social tech barometer, and notice that she has spent a great deal of time creating Avatar: The Last Airbender based video montages on our computer at home, mostly orchestrated with web-found music, which raises my suspicion that YouTube is largely sustained by thirteen year old girls creating romantic mashups of their favorite anime - but I think this is in fact a very good thing … it means that the technology has become pervasive and easily usable.
. Moreover, you’re beginning to see smaller video production houses use YouTube as advanced marketing for what they do, in many cases producing very high quality productions that normally might be seen in the art house circuit, if at all. If I was a major studio, I’d have at least one person on staff whose only job is to watch YouTube all day, both because I predict that the next “breakout series” will likely end up appearing spontaneously on YouTube long before it makes its way to television. Battlestar Galactica is a good antecedent here - it would have been cancelled if someone hadn’t done some research and discovered the fact that the reason people weren’t watching it on TV was because they had already seen it on the web - and the actual number of people to see it made it one of the most popular “TV” shows of the 2005-2006 season. I plan to devote a column specific to the future of video. (2 points)
Wireless Uber Alles. I think I can claim this one. Larger cities have become wired - even in sleepy Victoria, I can generally tap into the patchwork of wireless signals without having to rely upon the commercial connections, and there has been a nascent community web in the works for the better part of a year, but even given that wireless is still not pervasive enough to permit instant access everywhere. I think this is going to be a little longer in coming, not because of technology, but because it requires the marshalling of political will.
However, for all that, public wireless cities are emerging. Recently Forbes featured an article on the most Wireless Cities in the US , with the list including the following (in order of their most wirelessness, descending order):
- Atlanta, GA
- Orlando, FL
- Seattle, WA
- San Francisco, CA
- Raleigh, SC
- Miami, FL
- Phoenix, AZ
- San Diego, CA
- Tampa, FL
- Charlotte, NC
- Los Angeles, CA
- New York, NY
- Boston, MA
- Washington, DC
- Portland, OR
Significantly, it is the smaller cities that have taken the lead here - providing both publicly available hot spots in libraries and open public repeaters throughout the city. The formal specification for 802.11n should be completed in Nov. 2007, although already wireless routers that work to the preliminary standard are commercially available - which should also bump up both the range and the throughput of both the public and commercial wireless networks. (2 points)
The Security Guard Overstays His Welcome. I think for me the point where I knew that security had jumped the shark came when I (along with several million other air travellers) had to pull out of my suitcase the tube of toothpaste, two bottles of ink and a bottle of water and wrap them in the special Homeland Security approved ziploc bags. Internet Explorer 7 was built in response to Mozilla Firefox, but the message that the development team at Microsoft had was not - build a cooler, more powerful browser that is extensible, user friendly, and in the main well designed - but rather, build a browser that is more secure than IE6. It probably is more secure - you don’t spend THAT kind of money without it having some effect, even inadvertantly - but what many at Microsoft (and to be fair, throughout the computing industry) saw as being the new changed reality after 9/11 was, after all, just a fad.
One consequence of this is that in-your-face security is no longer sexy, no longer even that attractive. A little security goes a long way - you need enough of it to insure that you can work without fear of compromise or disruption, but past a certain point, security becomes onerous, irritating, and sometimes even damaging in its own right, as highly secure systems are also typically inflexible ones. I think that the rise of AJAX has shown that people are actually willing to deal with what has the potential to be a very insecure technology for the conveniences that it provides, and accept the inevitable snafu or small percentage of time where someone’s system does get compromised as the price of doing business on the web. (2 points)
All right - a quick tally, though obviously a subjective one - 17 out of 20, or about 85%. Granted, some of these were pretty obvious trends even at the time, but overall I have to admit to being somewhat pleased … I’d feared I’d done much worse. Now let’s lay my neck on the line again to see how well I do moving forward:
The XML Forecast for 2007: Cloud-y with a chance for Rain
I’ve not kept my hand in the field anywhere near as well this year as I’ve done last, so I have to admit to being a little more tentative about where things are going this time around. What I see mostly is that existing trends will likely continue in their current direction, though in a somewhat more muted fashion as they either become mainstream or fade out of that mainstream. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some very interesting things appearing now that will become very big this year:
With XCFs, on the other hand, it is the web developer/designer that sets up these behaviors, either extending languages such as XHTML with these developer defined tags or working within another framework language (XForms, XUL, XAML, Flex, Mars, OpenLaszlo, Boxely … the list is growing at a pretty rapid clip). This is to me the second half of the AJAX revolution, where the XML provides the “structural” part of applications and the AJAX provides the requisite databinding, visual componentization and so forth. XML Client Frameworks provide the basis for code reuse, deployment of skillsets into developer and designer, rich databinding and so forth.
I think things will heat up here at the standards level as well - already, there’s some significant movement to more readily integrate an XML Binding Language at the core application level (taking it out of the specific purview of SVG, which always struck me as being an odd place for this activity to be, and moving it into the internet application arena.
XForms Adoption. I’ve been working heavily with the XForms extension from Mozilla, and have also been in communication with XForms vendors throughout the industry - my original predictions for XForms adoption in late 2007 seem to be holding true. Again, here is a compelling technology that has a lot of use, makes for a powerful programming model, and works incredibly well with both AJAX type data feeds and XQuery based services. I hope to have a report on a case study that I’ve had a direct hand in producing later this month that covers exactly what can be accomplished with XForms technology, but for now suffice it to say that I think XForms will likely start appearing on IT managers’ radars towards the latter half of this year.
XQueryous. I was unable to attend the XML 2006 conference this year for personal reasons - an ailing wife and a heavy programming deadline, but from many reports (including Elliotte Rusty Harold’s very succinct summary , with his observations mirroring mine - 2007 will be the year for XQuery. I’ve written two books on the subject, and overall I’d begun to despair at the LONG timeline (I’d even turned down the opportunity to write a third book back in 2004 because I realized that it would be a long time for the standard to finally stabilize … a fairly prescient guess in its own right) but if the W3C stays true to form, the XQuery 1.0 specification will be ratified in February 2007. I’ve been working with XQuery and the Open Source eXist database, and have discovered something that I hadn’t really considered before .. as a query language, XQuery is reasonably useful - but with a few fairly minor extensions XQuery can be used as the foundation for a very powerful server language in its own right, especially given that invoking XSLT transformations take a single line of code and can be processed inline (this is REALLY useful with Saxon 8 as the XSLT processor, because it marries XSLT 2.0 technology with XQuery 1.0 technology (both of which use XPath 2.0).
If you work in data channels - take the time to become proficient with XQuery … it will serve you in great stead in the next couple of years. If you are a company evaluating a data publishing technology, make sure that XQuery is in the mix somewhere. I will not promise that XQuery is an easy language to learn … it’s not, in that you have to have a good grasp of set-oriented programming that XPath requires, but after being somewhat disdainful of XQuery in the past, I’ve become a convert. I think others will too, which is why you should be following what’s going on in this space very carefully (and should treat XSLT 2 as being an extension to this technology - subject for another article shortly).
3D Goes Local. Consumer-level 3D technologies wax and wane with surprising regularity, but I think there is more than a little evidence to suggest that we’re on the waxing side of the curve again. Vista’s 3D architecture, Linux’s Xgl, the Java Looking-Glass technologies, and so forth all bring 3D technology to the desktop at both a kernel level and fairly high in the application stack. Online games such as Sims 2 and Second Life have served to bring in millions of people into the 3D development fold (sometimes at the skins level, sometimes at the mesh) and there is now increasing interest in the X3D standard, based upon the older VRML specification, as both desktop and laptop capabilities now contain the necessary horsepower to display 3D architectures in realtime. Similarly applications such as Poser and Bryce have raised high render 3D into the art realm.
To me, this points to an environment where 2d/3d combined interfaces will increasingly become the norm. I’m not, in general, a big fan of the world-view as desktop interface … I think it replaces a very well understood conceptual metaphor with metaphors that are far more ambiguous and fraught with resonant meanings that can be a pain for UI developers to work with. However, as Apple has proven, you can do some very nice things with 3D as part of an interface, and as the tools to build these interfaces become increasingly available at ever higher levels in the stacks, the type of interfaces being built will likely surprise as much in their utility as in their novelty.
One project to watch in particular is the open sourcing of Media Machine’s X3D FluxPlayer as a SourceForge project in July 2006. I had a chance to talk with Tony Parisi, CEO of Media Machines and a pioneer in open 3D technologies, at the AJAXWorld conference in September, and he told me that their decision to make this available was due in great part to the realization that X3D was a viable technology but would receive only scant media attention unless there was a platform on which open source developers could really hang their hat on. He was also instrumental in getting a new AJAX community - OpenAJAX3D.org - off the ground, with its avowed purpose being the integration of 3D technologies with the emerging AJAX frameworks.
I think this is a revolution that’s primed, and all it really needs is a spark. As a guess, look to companies such as Google to push the boundaries here, probably mid-2007 or so.
The Fallout From Vista. Vista is large, ambitious, and has tied up the resources of Microsoft in one last great orgy of software production. The question now is whether or not the effort was worth it. I’m predicting that it won’t have been. I’m not being critical of Vista - yeah, there are several very nice 3D effects incorporated under the shell, there’s considerably more security (for good and bad) under the hood, and I have no doubt that it will doubtless end up on millions of machines by the end of 2007, though mostly through OEM channels rather than private sales. By Wall Street’s standards, Vista will prove to being a moderate success.
However, for all of this, I think that Vista will be the denouement of the Gates’ era, and will likely prove the catalyst for some major senior level bloodletting and organizational redefinition. Part of this comes from the question of whether in Microsoft’s efforts to define the next big operating systems they kind of lost sight of the question of whether investing in a new OS was really the best strategy moving forward.
Windows XP has been very successful, technically and financially. It improved considerably on the problems that Windows 2000 had (and don’t even start talking about Windows ME), it was generally more secure than its forebears, it was (until the introduction of IE7) quite stable, and probably makes up the vast majority of all desktops on the planet. People are happy with it. XP hit the sweet spot for both consumers and enterprises, and herein lies the problem.
The changes that Vista brings in were driven less by forward thinking than by reaction to hostile market conditions, and specifically the emphasis on security that seemed to define the market in 2001-2004 or so. The assumption was made that you could make a system that was more secure by working from the ground up to design it so, without taking into account the reality that in truth security is a double-edged sword - secure systems are intrinsically less user friendly and require more in-depth knowledge of how a system operates, which runs at odds with the requirements of building a consumer friendly device that is easy to operate for non-technical programmers. There is no accident that Linux has topped out at about 5-7% penetration on the desktop- it’s because Linux as a system was developed with developers in mind who know their systems inside out and backwards, and who have chosen it because they can in fact see what is going on deep down in the system to be able to keep potential vandals and crackers out.
Vista also largely suffers from the unstated belief that if you can get people weaned from the damn browser thing you can get back to the point where you can start selling shrink-wrapped boxes of software, because the services model just doesn’t seem to be bringing in the revenue. Unfortunately, the web browser is the world’s most versatile application - you can quite happily do much of your day to day operation without ever specifically leaving its confines, and where you can’t it’s still very likely that you will end up interacting with the browser in some manner or other. It’s also significant in that it assumes a somewhat lower level of technological ground state than most operating systems do, which in turn translates into ubiquity - I know that I can run these without having to spend the $400 or so to upgrade my system to the next big thing.
Moreover, the rise of AJAX has had a less than salutary effect upon Microsoft’s initiatives. The Atlas technologies - intended to be AJAX for Microsoft, have suffered considerably in terms of adoption, and by several accounts the most recent Atlas toolkit has actually needed to cut several client-facing features because of both lack of talented developers and complications integrating with other toolkits. This has meant in larger terms that Microsoft has been all but absent in the most recent Rich Internet Applications space, and by the very nature of that space is finding it hard to find a party to buy or co-opt. XAML/WPF (wth? Where’s Microsoft’s vaunted marketing arm?!) has not taken off in any meaningful fashion. Add to this the first stages of a rise of Enterprise AJAX building, and its very likely that MS’s RIA strategy will be MIA in the ERP Space.
My prediction is that Steve Ballmer will find himself having a long talk with the Microsoft board of directors, and sometime within the next twelve months he will announce that he is retiring after a long and distinguished career in favor of an outside candidate for CEO, more or less in concert with Ray Ozzie’s ascension as Bill Gate’s successor as Chief Architect. In the short term, I think this will result in a bit of organizational chaos (expect the retirement of several senior presidents and other upper level management in short order) but in the long term this will probably prove quite beneficial to the company (and perhaps to the software industry overall), as the emphasis will change from the oh-so-90s operating systems to playing more effectively in the true 21st century services economy.
Year of Enterprise AJAX. Several pieces are now aligning to ignite AJAX on the Enterprise. The toolsets are moving out of the “Hey, I just published a set of quick and dirty tools on my site” to fairly rich and comprehensive sets of components that are reasonably standardized, formal methodologies for working with AJAX are being defined making it easier for project managers and business analysts to estimate the viability of these technologies in their development effort and independent software development houses and consultants are now coming online with real success stories. Moreover, you have a plethora of technologies that have been pushing on the string for years because they have been outside of an established marketing niche that are now in one of the hottest, and this means that there are many “AJAXy” solutions that are already very well tested and proven that are coming to market.
This is already having a significant shift on the way that applications are developed, raising the “client architect” to a position roughly comparable to that of the senior DBA and shifting the focus of applications away from delivery of single pages of content to the delivery of multiple streams of partially or raw data. I expect that 2007 will see a fairly radical shift as companies re-evaluate their current delivery mechanisms and server-side solutions in favor of more RIA ones.
Going Atomic: REST Comes of Age I see as an adjunct to this an increasing hybridization between SOAP oriented web services and more REST-like ones, as the strengths and weaknesses of each approach have become known. My long term forecast for SOAP is that it is likely an interrim technology - useful in situations where you want to treat the server as being a clearly defined component within a larger scale integrated network, but increasingly being pushed into the background in favor of plain-old-XML (POX) and simple publishing APIs.
Atom and the Atom Publishing Protocol, APP, are likely to factor big in this - syndication oriented feeds have an enormous degree of utility, and I suspect that in the long term the APP will spell the difference in success between Atom and RSS 2.0. APP is about as REST oriented as you can get, with a simplified and standardized API for publishing in a clearly defined manner, and with the realization that such publishing does not just have to be for HTML news feeds. Expect new formats in this arena (such as my friend and colleague, M. David Peterson’s LLUP protocol) or the Google Calendaring API (which is Atom based) to become de facto standards in this arena.
The Fading of Microformats and the predominance of XHTML. Classification is hard. RDF can do it, but at the cost of comprehensibility. Several people have devoted significant portions of their life, such as G. Ken Holman’s work with the Univeral Business Language (UBL), in the effort to define adequate taxonomies. There’s been a recent effort on the part of a number of web developers to push the concept of Microformats, using the HTML
classattribute to contain semantic information about a specific element. Microformats look like such an obvious solution that their creators often wonder why anyone would need anything more complex for coding (the same point can be applied to the issue of tagging, such as delicious tags).
The problem with such folksonomic efforts is that not only do they suborne one of the more essential aspects of contemporary XHTML to impute semantics, but they also make an implicit assumption about structure that is very difficult to validate, transform, or otherwise manipulate. These aren’t HTML problems, they are deeper data model semantic ones, and as with folksonomies they basically work until you end up with enough edge cases that don’t that they have to be abandoned.
My suspicion here is that as XHTML becomes increasingly the norm, the baby steps of categorization will likely end up being replaced with a more formal XML collection, something probably resident within the XHTML
<meta/>tag will likely end up becoming increasingly the norm. Whether this will end up being an RDF document (possible but unlikely, given RDF’s complexity) or a more ad hoc schema (as I expect will likely occur out of the Atom efforts) is hard to say, but this modularization is more consistent with the longer term direction of XHTML as being an aggregator of other content.
I won’t necessarily make this a major “prediction” because it is largely underway already. HTML is a finite, fixed schema with few, largely highly constrained points for extensibility. XHTML is a potentially infinite schema that can host other schemas (XForms, SVG, MathML, RDF, X3D, fill in the blanks) with namespaces playing the key role. A proposal being floated with the XHTML 2.0 Working Group is also discussing the ability to create an overriding blanket namespace that could create a temporary binding of other namespaces into one overarching one, with the requirement that ambiguous elements (ones where two namespaces have common terms) be explicitly defined on elements. While there are some technical difficulties to be discussed here, it is likely to clean up the alphabet soup of namespaces that is the one primary failing of XHTML as a technology.
With XHTML as a substrate language for hosting other XML vocabularies, you begin to move into a realm where you can define your own XML vocabularies, bind them into formal implementations, and utilize these implementations to create very rich web applications. But this comes at the cost of HTML itself fading over time, and with it many of the HTMLisms that currently persist in development. Some of these efforts (such as Canvas, developed largely due to opposition to SVG) I consider to be good and useful technologies that can just as readily migrate into the XML realm, but attempts to try to shore up HTML’s deficiencies by creating ever increasingly bizarre prop technologies will likely only be met by market indifference and eventually obsolescence.
Media Gets Tubed. If I was a junior-level exec at Warner Brothers, or Paramount, or Disney, or any other major studio, I’d likely not be sleeping very much at night anymore. The deconstruction of the industry is underway, and its about to go into overdrive - and that cush seven figure income I’ve been making is likely to go the way of the dodo bird. Put a video camera into somebody’s hands, and they quickly become a director - whether documenting the injustices of oil company dealings with native indigens (as one recent Brazilian tribe did), making the next version of Star Trek (which a group of Trekkies did recently, creating a very credible and fairly engaging story within that universe) or creating their own “series” that often end up with viewerships comparable to those from television. Provide a forum like YouTube or MySpace to host this content, without the layers of censoring and competitive pressures, and all of a sudden the whole foundation trembles.
Video hosting is certainly nothing new - it’s been possible to host video since the late 1990s, but the welter of video and audio codecs, the requirements of having different “players”, and the delays in downloading even streaming versions of these resources has long proved a deterent to all but big pockets, who of course preferred it this way. YouTube changes that equation, and does so in a radical way — it essentially democratizes the process, and in so doing play havoc with advertising models, distribution channels, equity arrangements, royalties and just about every other aspect of media production. What’s worse, this genie has escaped the bottle - if Youtube gets shut down, the advantages accrue to other players willing to pick up the pieces, probably outside the immediate juridiction.
What’s worse - advertisers, the life blood of media production, can see the writing on the walls as well, and will start to divert more and more of their dollars out of the traditional media into the new. Obviously, they won’t be funding the thirteen year olds creating Anime music videos, but they will likely be interested in working with those new players that have professional operations but see YouTube as an appropriate venue. They will in fact tend to encourage established players to go onto the web, because with the web they have known metrics, can measure down to the individual who is watching, and can in general negotiate far better deals with these smaller players than they can with the established networks.
I expect the big media players to respond shortly to this drain on their authority and power, likely first through lawsuits, then through technological “solutions”. This was of course what all the DMA crap has been about in the first place. My suspicion is that in the long run, Google will either be forced to cut and scale back their services (giving rise to competitors out of the country who will happily take the business) or will become powerful enough in their own right that it will be the media giants that knuckle under. If they can weather the next year, Google will become a media player in its own right. Either way, I wouldn’t be investing in large studios for long term financial returns.
Where the Tech Players Are. Speaking of Google, I’m beginning to become a believer that their “desktop” strategy may actually have some longevity to it. I’m not necessarily a huge fan of Google, though I think as a company they are young enough that the mistakes they make are due largely to naivete rather than calculated malice. However, overall, I think the one thing that I like about Google over Microsoft is that Google “get’s the Internet”, whereas in many ways I see Microsoft as being so beholden to its own legacy applications that it continues to have trouble in even getting traction in the online world.
This is likely to be a rough year for Google, but a rougher year for its competitors. Ad revenues are declining, in part because of the aforementioned consumer liquidity drop that is affecting Google, eBay, and just about every other retailer and advertiser in the US or Canada. Many of Google’s assets aren’t “real” in the sense that they are driven largely by a high stock price - any major correction in the market (and one is imminent in my opinion) will significantly reduce its own liquidity. Their bigger danger comes in aggrevated energy prices, and with a clear civil war in Iraq, reduced supply due to increasingly savage storms, the recent decision on the part of Iran to make their oil transactions Euro-denominated and China’s recent announcement that they will be reducing their dollar holdings significantly in the wake of this, I believe that energy costs will exceed last summer’s levels by at least another $10 a barrel by next summer.
Google consumes a huge amount of electricity, though they are far from the only culprit in this - an aging energy infrastructure, the increasing likelihood of brownouts and blackouts and significant maladjustment in the energy sector over the last decade all raise the spectre of an upper limit to what Google can achieve, though realistically the solution may be to simply start distributing their farms more effectively. Still, this will prove a drag on the bottom line.
If Google is going to be hurting, Yahoo is going to face a serious midlife crisis. Their energy requirements are close to those of Google, they are being hemmed in by having an anemic video offering (higher in “quality” content and immediate potential eyeballs, but expensive to license and limited in quantity), their IM services, even with the consolidation with MSN IM, are fading as IM moves to an increasingly commoditized role, and their “groups” and social networking spaces are suffering from attrition and abandonment, in part due to overly aggressive censoring of groups in the last year or so. Yahoo has a fairly decent position overall - 1 to 3 in just about all categories, but in general they are suffering from the purchase of a number of fairly profitless enterprises (Flickr, while fascinating from a social networking standpoint, isn’t a big revenue generator, for instance). Other areas, such as their travel services, are likely to get hammered as the housing recession and high energy costs cut down considerably on air travel in particular.
I’m anticipating the possibility that Yahoo will likely end up becoming a buyout candidate within the next year, though it may be too rich for most suitors. More likely, I see it shrinking via a series of divestitures, possibly to Microsoft, possibly to Murdoch and mySpace. MySpace is still something of an unknown to me - Murdoch has a reputation for cut and burn business, but as mySpace looks to be gearing up to be the real likely competitor to Google’s YouTube (I think Microsoft is too late with too little in this space, unless they can integrate it into their XBox line).
Mozilla has had a trying year, but I think the prospects for Mozilla are actually pretty good this year - enterprise adopting AJAX plays very much to their strengths and gives them commercialization opportunities that is pretty much theirs for the taking. Europe will continue to divide at this point between Mozilla and an increasingly invigorated Opera, with IE continuing its precipitous drop to likely below the 50% threshhold. I’m actually quite pleased with the Mozilla 2.0 implementation, and like the direction I’m seeing with 3.0 in the various nightly builds.
Cloudbursts and Hurricanes Ironically, I think that this year, and in the next several, the weather forecast will need to be considered in the business forecast.The storms that have hit this sector of the world have spooked me, because you’re no longer seeing single isolated events - the blizzard of 64, the typhoon of 81, but instead are seeing waves of nasty storms, one after the other. Whether this is global warming or simply a local cyclical trend (though the evidence tends to point toward the former), what I see is that weather driven interruptions are likely to be increasingly the norm rather than the exception. Parts of Seattle were without power for nearly a week, ditto Vancouver and here in Victoria - and San Francisco has been hit by many of the same (massive) storm systems.
I’m obviously not going to predict the time and place of massive storms, but my suspicion is that this next year will prove to be just as nasty as the last, and the year before that. Storms in the Gulf of Mexico were muted this year, probably due to the effects of a La Nina in the Pacific, but that moderating influence will likely not hold true next year. This is going to have an effect upon politics (expect global warming to be a BIG issue in the presidential campaigns, along with protection from housing foreclosures) but I also suspect that it’s going to have a more immediate effect upon business - higher energy costs and blackouts due to air conditioners in the summer with the possibility of storm damage affecting infrastructure - enough storms occurring frequently enough will basically make it impossible to keep the grid up and running, and the political demands for shutting down largely optional internet services for essential heat and light will likely start putting its toll on companies with big server farms.
On the flipside, I suspect that weather monitoring and analysis may very well prove to be the next big “social networking” app to invest in. I also think there will be a real market for a low-powered “emergency laptop” that would be able to sip power, work well with ad-hoc wireless networks, can run off of AA batteries and can be combined with an AM-FM radio. You wouldn’t use it for heavy duty processing or surfing (well, you probably wouldn’t) but it would have enough horse power to let the kids play basic games and otherwise keep them occupied, and it’d probably come with a portable LED lighting panel for illuminating the room. I’ve not seen the use for most “internet appliances”, but something like that … hmmmm…
All right - it reads like War and Peace (and I’ll probably add to it over the year), but this is what looks to be the dominant trends at this stage. You’re welcome to agree or disagree with anything or everything - I make no claims to omniscience, and would welcome your feedback.
On a final note - I did want to announce that I’ve recently completed a software project with a client and am currently in the market again for work. If you’re looking for an XML/XSLT guru, AJAX senior dev, web applications architect, content management architect, technical evangelist, API author or business analyst, my resume is online, I am open to relocating if necessary, have no problem with travel and I’m available pretty much immediately.
Kurt Cagle is the author of twenty books on XML and Web technologies, a freelance web systems architect and technology evangelist. who lives in Victoria, British Columbia, where he is still picking up tree limbs from the last storm.