It's that time of year again, when every half-wit with a Web site makes predictions about the world of tech. We're no exception--but we decided to do things a little differently.
We picked the ten most common predictions from scores of trend watchers, and then picked them apart using our secret weapon: a Magic 8-Ball. (Full disclosure: In some cases we had to shake the ball a few times to achieve the right answer.) Sometimes we agree with the prognosticators; other times, we don't. Predictable, no?
Read on, and then post your take on our predictions--or add your own--in the comments below.
1. The Internet Will Melt Down
Magic 8-Ball says: Very doubtful
Like one of Aunt Agnes's fruitcakes, this prediction keeps coming back year after year. And as always, it looks better than it tastes. Comcast, Cox, and other major Internet service providers already throttle BitTorrent traffic in an effort to conserve bandwidth. The Nemertes Research Group has predicted that without a massive surge of infrastructure investment, the Net will suffer brownouts due to audio and video downloads within two years. The Economist posits that in 2008 the Internet will look less like an information superhighway and more like a mall parking lot at Christmas: You'll get where you're going eventually, but it won't be pretty.
A problem? You bet. As in the past, though, we think the death of the Net has been slightly exaggerated. It will seem slower, because everyone will be accessing it more from slower mobile networks. Some ISPs will be forced to perform long-overdue upgrades to their infrastructure, which may cause some headaches. But there's still plenty of dark fiber waiting to be lit up, and eventually people will get the fat 100-mbps pipes to their homes that the telecoms keep promising--probably just in time for someone else to predict the next Net meltdown.
2. Social Networks Face Security, Financial Woes
Magic 8-Ball says: It is decidedly so
Over the next 12 months, social networks will look less like a social phenomenon and more like a social disease, according to some digital Nostradami. MySpace's problems with spam and malware are well documented. Security wonk Richard Stiennon expects the same nastiness to infect Facebook and other major networks in 2008, most likely via widgets.
On the business side, Searchblog's John Battelle predicts severe growing pains and a need for some adult supervision at Facebook. CNN's Paul La Monica questions whether these networks will really be able to cash in on all that user data they're sitting on. On the other hand, eMarketer projects a 70 percent surge in social network ad revenues, though the big sites will consume most of that.
Our take: Second- and third-tier social networks will start to shake out like fleas on a wet dog, while the larger ones will enjoy less hype and suffer more hard realities--including security threats. Wherever tens of millions of users go, malware authors inevitably follow.
3. DRM Is Dead, Jim
Magic 8-Ball says: Don't count on it
Digital rights management schemes took it on the chin in 2007. First, Steve Jobs dissed DRM on Apple's site, and then his company released EMI's catalog on the iTunes Store in a DRM-free form for 30 cents extra per tune (later slashed back to 99 cents). Last month, Warner Music announced that it would follow EMI and Universal Music in allowing Amazon to sell its music sans digital restrictions, leaving Sony BMG Entertainment as the last major holdout. Meanwhile, Radiohead elected to sell DRM-free music directly to consumers for whatever amount they want to pay--bypassing both the record companies and the online stores--and other bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Oasis announced plans to do the same.
So you can't really blame prognosticators for declaring that digital rights management will go the way of the 8-track tape in 2008. They'd probably be right--if you ignore Napster, Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, Zune, and other services that still use DRM to limit where and when you can listen to the music you've paid for. And when you consider movies and video, forget about it: Some form of copy protection software will lock that content up for years to come.
DRM is hardly the picture of health, but don't send flowers yet. It's still a long way from the grave.
4. Open Software and Open Networks Will Dominate
Magic 8-Ball says: Ask again later
Open-source software meets open wireless networks, fostering an unbridled era of innovation and consumer freedom. Right? Well, maybe one day, but don't bet the bank on it in 2008. Phones based on Google's Android mobile OS will appear later this year, cracking open the proprietary world of handset software. But AT&T, the top wireless carrier in the United States, has yet to sign on to the Open Handset Alliance, and number two Verizon's support for Android is still a little vague. Even then, only about one in ten handsets sold each year are smart phones that could take advantage of Android.
For the desktop, Dell, Everex, and Lenovo began selling cheap Linux machines to consumers in 2007, but less than 1 percent of the world's PCs run an open-source OS, according to Web surveys conducted by Net Applications.
Meanwhile, Microsoft Office remains the Joseph Stalin of productivity suites, capturing 95 percent of revenues, according to IDC. Open-source alternatives such as OpenOffice, StarOffice, ThinkFree, and Google Docs and Spreadsheets don't even amount to a rounding error in that calculation. Will the market be more open than ever? Yes, and that's a good thing. But will open platforms dominate? Not this year, Sparky.
5. Everything's Going Mobile
Magic 8-Ball says: You may rely on it
Hot new desktops? Yawn. The surge of fanboy infatuation with Apple's iPhone is all the evidence you need that the action these days is in cool connected devices you carry on your hip. That this trend will easily spill over into 2008 and beyond is a no-brainer, say observers.
Google's Android mobile operating system should spur a new generation of Web-savvy handsets to compete with the Jesus Phone, which itself will benefit from Apple's release of a third-party developer kit next month. The much-rumored iPhone 2.0 will appear some time in 2008 and will likely sport faster 3G network connections and possibly built-in GPS, predicts Yahoo Tech columnist (and PC World contributor) Christopher Null.
The mobile movement consists of more than just phones, too. Amazon's Kindle e-book reader--which uses Sprint Nextel's 3G EvDO network to stay always connected--sold out in 5.5 hours last fall, according to Amazon chieftain Jeff Bezos. New batches of ultramobile PCs are in the offing, as well, including possibly an Apple Tablet, according to online rumor mills
The flip side? Only about one in three Internet users have ever accessed the Net from a handheld device, according to Ipsos Insight. For the foreseeable future, the mobile Web will complement desktop surfing, not replace it, for most folks.