Bill Thompson, independent journalist and regular commentator on the BBC World Service programme Digital Planet, has spread out his predictions for the Internet. Given that Bill helped to create one of the UK’s first ISPs in the early 90s and has been a reliable commentator on the scene ever since, it’s worth noting his predictions.
• Social networking: He notes that last year he wrote “we are building our lives around the network and the things it makes possible, and 2006 marks the year in which this became a sensible and indeed rather normal thing to do rather than something that marked you out as a geek”. But he notes that Facebook and other similar sites are still not as widespread as you might think.
• Mobile Web: Smartphones are also not yet a mainstream, full-blown ‘mobile web’ proposition. Perhaps the iPhone will change that?
“The iPhone has accelerated the process begun by Symbian, and the rollout of Google’s Android and open source phones like OpenMoko may help, but it will be a few years before the devices are completely freed from reliance on the network.”
• WiFi: “The widespread availability of 3G data cards for laptops on fixed monthly rates could hasten the demise of the pay-per-use services” forcing the operators to do more deals to offer free access like the one between The Cloud and McDonalds. Bill says “I wouldn’t be surprised to see free wireless in Starbucks by the middle of the year.”
• Broadband: Faster broadband services beckon as ISPs try to keep a competitve edge.
• Screens: Better screens, with multi-touch interfaces appearing on bigger devices.
• LBS: More and better location-based services, such as the newest version of Google Maps for mobile, and mashed-up with social networks. (Something I’ve been predicting for a while).
• Web apps: More processing moving away from the user and into the ‘Cloud’, along the lines of Nick Carr’s new book The Big Switch, where he argues that computing power is becoming a utility. However, Bill says “Moving everything onto the network may appeal in the rich countries of the industrialised world but offers little to rural India or sub-Saharan African countries. And there are massive security and data management issues to be solved.” But the potential benefits are “too great to be ignored.”