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Disagreeing with The Economist on 2008: A Matter of Perspectives

The Economist published 3 predictions for technology in 2008. I agree a little, but mostly I disagree. I think it is a matter of perspective.

I can’t hold the unnamed editors at TheEconomist.com accountable for their article, nor can I engage them in debate unless they happen upon my little blog here, but I can present their “predictions” and my own perspective on the issues covered. At least that will document my read of their perspective, and my own “predictions” on the same issues.

TheEconomist says:

1. Surfing will slow : “…the one thing we can predict with at least some certainty is that 2008 will be the year we stop taking access to the internet for granted. The internet is not about to grind to a halt, but as more and more users clamber aboard to download music, video clips and games while communicating incessantly by e-mail, chat and instant messaging, the information superhighway sometimes crawls with bumper-to-bumper traffic.”

I completely agree - for some users, but by my view the web will accelerate for another class of users. I think TheEconomist is all wrong when it says

“Soon, portable media-players, personal navigators, digital cameras, DVD players, flat-panel TV sets, and even mobile phones won’t be able to function properly without access to the internet….Expect even digital picture frames to have a WiFi connection…users are changing the way they use the internet…they are now uploading…gigabytes galore…popularity of social networks like Facebook, YouTube and MySpace…..Everyone… is suddenly… sharing his or her home-made videos with fellow YouTubers….music videos and TV episodes of hundreds of megabytes are being swapped over the internet…it’s all two-way traffic…That’s just the beginning. Legal or otherwise, swapping multi-gigabyte high-definition video and movie files is becoming increasingly common….it will soon be the norm…The result is a gridlock. That the telephone companies are running out of bandwidth can be seen from their equipment orders.

The “telephone companies” have nothing to do with this. As use increases, every smart technology provider in this space will segment the traffic and monetize it. As uploads increase, costs will increase for uploading users. Just as we now have “basic cable” for $12, “regular cable” for $45 and “digital I/O” for $110 per month in my area, users will begin to pay for access to what they want. Oh, and even if I have that top-tier $110/month cable package, I still need to pay an additional $100+/month for access to programming packages like NHL Center Ice so I can watch them. And did I mention that the content providers (the NHL in this case) meanwhile managed to move many of their games off Center Ice to a second, separate and competing channel where I would have to pay again for access to those games?

Did you watch the Olympics on TV last time? Didn’t it suck? They chopped it up into too-small content segments, added too many commercials, seemingly randmized the presentation order for their “audience capture” convenience. Would you have paid more to see the actual Olympics on TV, instead of that butchered “let’s try and make this profitable even though we paid $bijillions for the rights to air it” version? Of course you would. And someone will figure out a way to make that possible. Very soon. The hacked up ADD version will still be there for those who want it (or don’t want to pay for the real thing).

Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Ultimatum (the novel) bares almost no resemblance to the Bourne Ultimatum movie, but both have audiences. Watching the movie was like watching a 90 minute trailer, or an accelerated episode of 24 Hours.. a separate and distinct entertainment experience from the story told by Ludlum in the novel. Was it worth $9 per seat to watch? Nope. Was it worth $3 to rent the DVD for 5 days? Sure.
This is how it works now, and this is how it will go in 2008. How could it go any other way? The only network that will “slow to a crawl” will be the NewAOL… the network that purposefully decides to lock up its user community the way AOL did in the 90’s, offering them a package deal with no options, badgering users with ads and throttling their use until the only remaining member were the ones willing to tolerate the delivered level of service for the offered price. Eventually, that audience will know of nothing else and accept it as “good”.

If TheEconomist is frugal and stays with such a package (perhaps the new Google network?), yes indeedy performance will suck. But I expect to simply pay a lot more for what I want - and I expect I will get it for that same reason - because I will pay for it. Let’s face it. Almost anyone can get a pipe to my house these days, and at several hundred dollars per month in access fees, there is plenty of revenue to share with the infrastructure providers.

The Economist says:

2. Surfing will detach : “techdom has been abuzz with rumours about Google getting into the mobile phone business…The aim… is to flood the market with open access phones that have none of the restrictions that big carriers impose… because Google’s core business is organising knowledge and giving users access to it…Internet searches will doubtless as popular among mobile-internet surfers as among their sedentary cousins”

Nope. Again, mobile phone Internet use will not replace computer use, but will supplement it. I’ve been using Winblows Mobile with Google maps and Opera and it’s great, but it is a completely different animal. I need my desktop, and I need my mobile. And I need something not yet available - smart hooks between the two. Those smart hooks, which enable my mobile to utilize knowledge of my desktop use, will increase efficiency and boost mobile web use. And that mobile web use will b a different kind of Internet use than we know today. Google is in the business of serving effective advertisements, and channelling traffic. It is the latter, not the former, that will pay off as mobile adopts the web. Mark my words — Google’s future is in traffic, not ads. Whatever it takes to own that traffic… that’s what Google will do, and that is what every other ISP will fight (Verizon, Bell South, TheNewATT, etc).

I expect surfing to get richer and richer and moble web access to get thinner and thinner and everyone will want both. Eventually they won’t seem anything at all like each other. “Surfing will detach?” Nope. Surfing will anchor to the desktop.

And finally, The Economist says (bold added for emphasis):

3. Surfing and everything else computer-related will open: “…Bulletproof distributions of Linux from Red Hat and Novell have long been used on back-office servers. Since the verdict against SCO, Linux has swiftly become popular in small businesses and the home….Like other Linux desktop editions, Ubuntu works perfectly well on lowly machines that couldn’t hope to run Windows XP, let alone Vista Home Edition or Apple’s OS-X…Your correspondent has been happily using Gutsy Gibbon on a ten-year-old desktop with only 128 megabytes of RAM and a tiny 10 gigabyte hard-drive...and some 23,000 other Linux applications available for free seem more than ready to fill that gap. By some reckonings, Linux fans will soon outnumber Macintosh addicts…”

Wow. At the end of the article we learn TheEconomist writer is a tech geek using a 10 year old PC running Linux, and the third prediction seems to suggest Linux will take over the desktop? So, so, so wrong.

Seriously. Visit Costco to see fully-blown entertainmnet systems with massive LCD screens and 7.1 audio priced sub $1800. If you shop locally, more mainstream fully functional systems cost merely $400. Hardware is not an issue, and no one will care if something runs on 10 year old hardware. Neither is the OS an issue. Windows is fine for the masses, and Microsoft will make sure that remains true for a long time to come. More Linux users than MacIntosh users? When did that matter? I love Linux, but it’s not for the masses on their “personal” computers unless they choose it. K-12 Linux is an awesome product, as is Ubuntu, when used to satisfy a need (locked down school computers, utility servers, tech development workstations, etc). Marveling at the sub-$100 PC for “the common man” is quaint, but not realistic. The Internet will not wait for those commoners to catch up. They are not the ones creating and supporting the web experience. We are still a decade at least away from the day the Internet techno-political infrastructure (which doesn’t even exist today) gives a hoot about the costs of access.

My perspective: things will become more proprietary, not more open, for everyone except those who pursue the use of open systems (just like today, but harder). More and more Open Source stuff will break apart, as open source developers focus on the core code and leave the implementation/packaging to for-profit cooperatives and companies. Today we have Drupal which almost any tech person can install, configure and customize. In the future we will have something like DrupalCore, which any tech person can install, configure and customize, plus a slew of companies specializing in Drupal customization, Drupal management, Drupal eCommerce, etc. That model works, and I expect we will see more and more of it. Commercial users and non-techies will have to pay, and techies will get paid. The early days of Open Source existed because they enabled the techies to show how it could work, but now that point has been made, and the piper must be paid.

I will add one more prediction TheEconomist did not address: Publishers who do not offer real value on the web will go out of business. Articles which simply present a fancy headline or present a position without strong evidence or which are easily exposed as “empty” will cease to perform economically. Will it happen in 2008? I’m not sure, but the writing is on the wall, and publications like Wired and Forbes and The Economist should consider the impact on their profitability now, before it hits them hard.

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4 Responses to “Disagreeing with The Economist on 2008: A Matter of Perspectives”

  1. IncrediBILL Says:

    The #3 item is probably correct and the evidence is that new $200 Everex gPC running gOS being sold as fast as they can stock the shelves at Walmart.

    Keep up with the times John!

  2. john andrews Says:

    Hah I’m keeping up just fine, Bill. Did you check how many “flew off the shelves”? Not so many compared to the market for PCs. I was one of the seekers walking the Walmart aisles when it became available, and I’d still buy one if they had one. But I’m a geek and it’s a novelty. If you think the $200 PC buyer is going to drive commerce, we have a fundamental problem on our hands.

  3. IncrediBILL Says:

    The $200 PC fits the newcomer that needs an appliance and has no allegiance to legacy software or historical data needing to be preserved moving forward.

    If all you need is web access and maybe a spreadsheet (Open Office comes with it) it does the job, does it cheap, and every redneck and hillbilly that “Ain’t buying no damn computer!” can suddenly afford one.

    Pay attention in class ;)

  4. Mobile gal Says:

    Looking on webpronews. com can’t agree with yours “Publishers who do not offer real value on the web will go out of business”.

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