Jaxon Rice

Seven web predictions for 2008

I always wanted to be like Siener Van Rensburg, except without the beard, male-pattern baldness and crazy right-wing followers. Predicting the future seems to be a pretty easy gig — if people find out you are wrong on something you simply make up some new predictions, and if you turn out to be right you look like an absolute genius. With that in mind, here are my web predictions for 2008.

1. The rise of the geographic web — it’s all about location
There were a few signs this year that Google is taking location-based services very, very seriously, and is positioning itself to be a dominant force in this field in 2008.

The first sign of this came with Google’s purchase of Finnish microblogging start-up Jaiku in October, choosing it over the larger Twitter, probably the most hyped web app of 2007. Jaiku had far superior mobile presence and location tools, and it is probably these features that the folks at Google were after.

The Jaiku purchase made even more sense when Google introduced its My Location feature on their mobile Google map’s application, which uses cellphone mast triangulation to emulate a GPS and place a person on a map with an accuracy of about a kilometre. The cellphone networks have traditionally kept this data to themselves and charged handsomely for its use — Google’s move enabled the 85% of phones that do not have built in GPSs to become location aware for free, something that opens up fascinating possibilities for hyper-local information and search.

Similarly Android, Google’s open-source mobile phone operating system, has location services embedded into it, meaning that all user applications will have access to the device’s location. All of a sudden the barriers to building hyper-local and location services have been lowered much sooner than expected, and a lot of developers, myself included, are drooling at the possibilities

Flickr led the field in geotagged information in 2007, with its members uploading and tagging millions of photos. Expect to see that trend continue in 2008 as geotags add a new level of context to web documents and become as ubiquitous as timestamps. News agencies will also start geotagging news, and I think this will be standard on a few major news sites by the end of the year (SA blogger Uno De Waal blogged about this way back in July).

In five years’ time we are going to look back at 2007 and wonder just how we survived without geotagged information. This is a fundamental change in how we process and interpret data on the net, and it will change the way we interface with and use the internet.

The big prediction: The big web app of 2008 will be a location-based social network that will primarily run on mobile devices. Google will probably have a big hand in it.

2. Entrusting your data to the cloud
2007 was the year that the public finally became totally comfortable with entrusting its data to internet storage. Google led the way with their fantastic Google Apps while Flickr and YouTube became the storage solutions of choice for photos and videos. Facebook caused a few privacy concerns with its Beacon advertising program, but in general people seemed very comfortable with contextual advertising alongside their personal emails and data.

Microsoft, IBM and Google are all developing their own cloud-computing services, but Amazon made all the headlines and innovation in 2007, adding the scalable SimpleDB database service in December to complement its S3 Storage and EC2 web services. There were initial rumblings of discontent from developers concerned about the lack of an SLA and the beta nature of the service, but Amazon has allayed most of those fears by providing a rock-solid service and great pricing. A number of notable companies including 37Signals and Smugmug have embraced their services along with a host of smaller developers, myself included.

Amazon’s web services are a godsend for internet start-ups. They handle the hassles and headache of maintaining scalable hardware and let you concentrate on actually building your application, only charging for the resources that you use. The start-up that I am busy building will in all likelihood run entirely on Amazon’s web services — something that was unthinkable 12 months ago

I think 2008 will see Microsoft, IBM and Google trying to compete with Amazon in pricing, reliability and features, and cloud infrastructure, gaining mass acceptance with developers and becoming the solution of choice for internet start-ups.

The big prediction: Pricing and feature pressure from the other cloud services will prompt Amazon to cut its pricing for storage and bandwidth by at least 33% in 2008, making their service even more affordable and putting traditional hosting companies under incredible strain to stay competitive. Google will offer 50GB of free storage space for offsite back-ups for individuals.

3. The decline of Facebook
2007 belonged to Facebook. Microsoft bought a 1,6% stake for $240-million, which ultimately valued Facebook at $15-billion. I think 2008 will see Facebook suffering the same fate as MySpace did in 2007 as users tire of it and move on to something new. Facebook’s initial attraction was its clean interface and sensible design — something that has been ruined by the countless useless third-party Facebook applications that clutter up most profile pages.

Facebook has lost a lot of its value as a business and connection tool and people have tired of spending half an hour every day answering spam requests from their network. It also suffers from being a walled garden. While most other social networks let you access your data in new and interesting ways, Facebook remains steadfastly closed.

Big Prediction: Facebook isn’t going to disappear — it’s still an extremely successful phenomenon, but I think at the end of 2008 it will have a more reasonable valuation of $7-billion to $8-billion. It will also see a decline in growth, as early adopters abandon it for smaller, more specialist social networks.

4.You are the social network — the rise of the aggregator
The next generation of social applications will simply let users aggregate all of their data from their various networks (Last.FM music recommendations, Flickr photos, Delicious bookmarks, Twitter tweets, personal blog posts etc). More and more social networks will embrace OpenID and Oauth so that users do not have to create a new profile and a whole new network of friends every time they join a service. We will use the current so-called “social networks” for what they really are — web services that provide data streams that combine to form the open social web.

There is a lot of talk at the moment about semantic applications. 2008 is too soon to see them gain mainstream acceptance, but we should see the early versions of the first generation of semantic applications launch sometime during 2008.

Big Prediction: Lifestreaming will replace blogs on users’ personal websites. Google and Microsoft will finally embrace OpenID, causing a flood of smaller services to offer support for it too.

5. Beginning of the end for broadcast TV as web video goes high definition.
2008 should see the small jerky YouTube videos of 2007 being replaced by glorious high-definition streaming video, thanks to the new Adobe Flash Player codenamed “Moviestar” that supports hardware scaling using the h.264 video codec.

Online video monetisation will also finally become feasible thanks to full-screen video and new interface improvements by start-ups like Ooyola. Professional television and video producers will embrace the web this year once they can monetise their content effectively. You can expect to see television series episodes starting to be streamed online at the same time as they are broadcast over the networks

Big Prediction: Professional content producers will embrace web video, giving rise to the first commercially successful internet soap opera. We will also see specialist video interfaces for different types of content like live sporting events and concerts.

6. Social sites start paying for content
Whilst Wikipedia Jimmy Wales puts the finishing touches on his people-powered search engine/social network called Wikia, Google announced its own move into wikipedia territory with the announcement of Knol.

Knol follows Squidoo and Mahalo’s business model by letting authors earn revenue from advertising on their pages. If Google can get Knol right they pose a serious threat to Wikipedia by addressing some of Wikipedia’s weaknesses, namely the lack of author branding, recognition and compensation.

Google are sure to lure some of Wikipedia’s better content producers away by sharing revenues, and it is going to be interesting to see how Wikipedia reacts.

Big Prediction: Wikipedia will add advertising to high-profile pages and split the revenues with their editors in an attempt to keep the talent in house. This is not a bad thing at all, and will signal a general move towards social sites rewarding their main content producers.

7. Some things will never change
Despite the wonderful advances in technology and exciting new applications some things on the internet are constant and will never change. There is a certain solace and comfort in receiving the same dreaded virus email warning for the tenth year in a row or cursing internet explorer when it breaks your lovingly crafted standards-based website.

Things that definitely will not change: 90% of all internet traffic will still be porn of some sort, a Nigerian prince will offer me $10-million in exchange for my banking details and a scan of my passport, and Vincent “Freak Magnet” Maher will continue in his role as protector of the SA blogosphere by engaging in a flame war with every single mentally unstable blogger in the country, thereby leaving the rest of us to make our top 10 SA start-up posts in peace. Bliss.

I am sure I have missed a lot of stuff out, and I may be totally wrong about all of this (it would not be the first time), but I feel incredibly positive about the internet going into 2008.

What are your predictions? Leave comments below, or check out ReadWriteWeb’s excellent 2008 web predictions for 2008 for an alternate peek into the year ahead.