Rather than rehash the year that was in this space, I’d like to introduce the year that will be. Recently I paid a visit to the Javits Center for Internet World, the industry’s leading trade show. It was a good place to check out the latest wares and decipher what will be hot in 1998. You may disagree with a lot of my predictions, but I’ll make you a deal: I’ll revisit this column at the end of the year and see how far I was off the mark. And now, on to the auguries:
Technology: The two top technologies this year will be new markup languages DHTML and XML. DHTML will be standardized by mid-year and with both Netscape and Microsoft behind it, we’ll see a more interactive Web. Upcoming versions of both browsers will feature XML parsers and vertical industries will develop XML standards to exchange information, probably starting with the banking industry introducing its own Dtd for electronic cash.
The Browser War: By mid-year, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator will have clual market shares. Contrary to what some may think, the fifth generation browsers won’t add too many features. While the browser war rages on, we’ll see the debate shift from new features towards network architecture differences (CORBA vs. COM). The Department of justice investigation into Microsoft’s bundling of Internet Explorer 4.0 with Windows 95 will drag on until it’s no longer relevant. A new DOJ investigation into the tight integration of IE in Windows98 will be launched and still be discussed by year’s end.
Silicon Alley: 1998 will be a bi year for the Alley, with content and commerce gaining respect as serious ventures and some content plays buzzing about 1POs. However, consolidation will continue and smaller shops might get squeezed out. For a few months, the industry will worry as small companies close their doors. However, the businesses that survive these shaky times will emerge stronger than ever.
Smart Agents Run Websites: A new set of tools will allow Webmasters to automate their sites more with agents that organize, format and repackage data for different browsers. Increasingly, a small number of specialists who will know how to tame those agents will run large sites.
Instantly Updated Software: New software packages will become more self-aware, making it easier for users to obtain the latest upgrade. Using push technologies, companies put together self- updating software packages. (This is already happening with the Pointcast any AOL clients which download add-ons and upgrades automatically).
Commerce tools grow up: 1998 will also be the year of measurement tools and commerce packages. As commerce sites make more money, basic requirements such as fraud control, multiple payment systems and inventory integration will appear. SET, which sounded promising in 1997, won’t take off because of incompatibilities between the different packages offered.
Measurement is hot: Back-end tools that gather several kinds of psychographic and demographic data will appear on the scene. Expect large corporations to warehouse increasingly more information about their visitors.
Show me the money: In 1998, companies will also look more closely at where they’re spending money. New performance analysis tools and cost allocation for networks and servers will make their way into the market by year’s end.
Push for Push: It was hot in 1996 and downplayed by the end of 1997, but push will make a comeback in many forms: over your TV network (think of companies like WaveTop and WebTV), your telephone, (sports scores, stock quotes and news will be pushed to your web-enabled phone) and your pilot (expect the pilot to double up as a smart pager by the end of the first quarter).
Talk to your site: As voice interfaces become more common, talking Websites will appear. Chat rooms may soon allow you to talk instead of type. Expect a combination instant messaging/Internet telephone package this year.
I may be going to the brink with these prophecies, but they’re the trends I’ll be watching for in 1998. We’ll see how I fared come December.