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Predictions and Predilections in 2004

by Jay Boynton
3.29.2004

Making industry predictions is a risky venture, especially when dealing with technology in the Northwest. But every year the WSA gathers round a hand-picked panel of experts to hear what they have to say and this year’s prognostications meeting witnessed some impressive leaps of logic, hunches and humor. We’ve had Q1 to get a good head start as the year unfolds. What might the next three quarters bring based on the early 2004 forecast?

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Our prognosticators: Jim Louderbeck of Ziff Davis Media served as moderator. Louderbeck is the vice president and Editor-in-Chief of Internet properties at Ziff Davis where he oversees ExtremeTech.com, the online presence for PCMagazine and eWeek, gamers.com and Microsoft Watch.

Members of the expert panel included the Seattle Time’s Paul Andrews, a veteran technology writer who has a weekly column called E-conomy. Also on hand is Steve Broback of Avondale Media and Jon Peddie of Jon Peddie Research, a multimedia research firm that follows and consults on industry trends.

Jim Louderbeck is willing to climb out on limbs as diverse as predicting the US Soccer team will win the world cup before the Boston Red Sox win the World Series, and that Bill Gates will leave Microsoft and devote himself fully to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this based on zodiac reports from Astro.com.

The WSA panelists based their comments on firmer ground. Paul Andrews began with an observation on Internet-based electoral politics, citing the rapid rise of grass roots sites such as moveon.org and meetup.org that have helped energize a section of the electorate that has historically been quiet.
“The fundraising impact of the Internet is incredible. The ability to link people up with other people of like minds is incredible. We haven’t really scratched the surface yet.” Paul predicted that the growth of Internet-based political organization communities would be one of the biggest trends of 2004. It currently manifests itself on the national level but Paul feels that it will extend to the local level in a significant way in 2004. “The Internet has such a bigger presence than the numbers [of Internet penetration]. If you look at the raw numbers they’re not that impressive. But the presence factor is important. The Internet enables a connection on a very personal level that would not have been there without it.”

Jim Louderbeck interjected, “How many people think Bush gets the Internet?” Not a hand went up in the room.

Paul moved on from grassroots Internet to the previously-dead topic of IPOs. He predicts in 2004 that the IPO market will see a rebound and that behavior of venture capital people are the reason for this hunch.

“Lately, if you get together with them [venture capital types] they are all twitchy. You can just feel that they are ready to jump again.” The speculation behind Google and Friendster IPOs contributes to this.

Lastly, Paul addressed the perception that things on the Internet should be “free.” As time passes, the sentiment that free items on the Internet will steadily be replaced with the reality of having to pay for things. “Free is just another word for nothing left to click,” he says. “Basically, stuff is going to start costing money. I think the value is there in a lot of respects, it’ll dilute the schlock factor, we’ll get a lot for our money and it’ll sort out what is real and what isn’t.”

The next panelist, Steve Brobeck, predicted there will be a revolution in the importance of Metadata. He defined this as the information tags that can be attached to files and spoke about digital photography as an example. Metadata is the information about a particular photo such as time it was taken, compass direction the camera was facing, or one of many other possible pieces of data about the file like GPS locations, light readings or exposure settings. The importance of these new pieces of information is that they can be used to catalog files for storing and access. The more Metadata that emerges with files, the more ways we will be able to catalog and document our lives. As the number of digital documents that we carry around increases, the importance of being able to categorize and organize it all will increase.

Steve also predicted that Google and Amazon will become competitors. “Google is already bumping against Ebay in a couple key ways.” Google has a service called “Froogle” that lets shoppers type in a product name and then presents them with a list of sellers of the item, for example.

Steve’s last prediction was that Linux will emerge as serious competition for Microsoft in the international market. Various international markets and cities in Germany and Japan for example have made significant investments in Linux that will place downward price pressure on Microsoft Office applications. “2004 will be the year of genuine deployment.” With many Microsoftees in the room it was a bold prediction indeed.

Finally, Jon Peddie began with a qualifying statement about the predictions business in general. “If you ever hear a prediction about something about which you know nothing, and that prediction is for less than three years, it is B.S. I try to keep my predictions real far out, that way it is hard for people to remember what I said.”

These comments notwithstanding, he threw in his lot with the entertainment PC industry, predicting that in 2004 this area will finally see significant growth. “Entertainment PC’s” is a PC that will play movies, store music, and in general do whatever a PC does. “It is a home entertainment system brought back into prominence with Microsoft’s push into this area with its Media Center.” The efforts of the “ABMS” (Anything But Microsoft) competitors will finally make up enough ground to be seen as a significant threat to Microsoft’s Media Center and help stimulate development in the industry overall.

Beginning with the introduction of the next version of Windows, called “Longhorn,” Jon postulated that the ongoing serialization of the PC will prevent backward compatibility. To him, Longhorn represents a genuine break with the past. To put it bluntly, he stated that “the systems we buy in the last half of 2004 will not be backward compatible.” Luckily, no one could seem to agree on when Longhorn will actually ship thus forcing everyone to discard old software and upgrade everything. “But it will do what good technology does do, which is stimulate people to think about things that before they were either afraid to think about or they couldn’t see their way past an obstacle.”

So from the world of grassroots electoral initiatives to potential Google IPOs to Microsoft’s next paradigm-changing operating system introduction, the WSA Predictions dinner sent attendees home with plenty to think about. [24×7]

Jay Boynton publishes Cascade Insights, an analysis of business and technology in the Northwest. For archived issues and the companion international affairs newsletter Global Insights, go to www.boyntonweb.net/insights.htm.