Newsletter January 2010
My predictions: always right and always wrong

I have been working in technology consultancy since 1997. Over those 13 years, when my clients asked me about the future, I correctly predicted almost every major technology trend.

Let me give you an example or two. I was convinced even before reading Esther Dyson's book "Release 2.0" in 1997 that online communities would be very important in forming the future of the Internet. By the time I read her book it all seemed trite, even though everyone else seemed to think it revolutionary.

And I knew that Wireless Devices would become important for email in the late 1990s, although at the time the idea seemed more like science fiction.

My predictions are almost always correct; however, they do have a tendency to be way premature. When I was younger, as soon as I became aware of technologies, I thought that they would become mass market much earlier than they did.

I have learnt the hard way that technology that works is one thing but making it commercially viable can take a lot longer. In my opinion, it's only in the last year or two that some technologies which I thought would have taken off over 10 years ago have really become commercially viable for the mass market: for example, online communities and mobile email.

Some technologies are still a long way from being easy to commercialise in the mass market, even though they have existed for many years. WiMax is a good example: something I have been aware of for a long time and which I predicted would be earth-shatteringly important to the future of the Internet. But it hasn't really got off the ground yet.

WiMax is an industrial strength wireless technology which will bring lower pricing for both home and business Internet connections and give broadband access to places where it was previously unavailable. It will blanket entire countries with super high speed broadband and bring lots of futuristic applications to life, for example very usable and truly portable live TV on your phone. Another consequence will be that everyone will use VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) for phone calls; why pay phone companies when such amazing wireless internet connectivity will be everywhere?

The lesson to be learnt here is that new technologies take an awfully long time to become mass market. In my experience they take a minimum of two years and a maximum of 10 to go from proof-of-concept to mass market. This is not always true of technologies which are very similar to but better and more mature than existing ones, for instance Friendster to Facebook. The likes of Facebook can take off because they can learn from the mistakes made by the more primitive and early forms of the medium, make improvements and then go like wildfire. Not necessarily innovative but often successful.

Now, when clients ask me about Google Wave for example, a cool but very new technology, I am careful to advise them that although it will probably be massive at some point, it might not be for a while. It might not even be made by Google when it is a hit. Would I advise someone to launch a marketing campaign only on Google Wave right now? Answer: No!

Malcolm Graham, CEO LimeTree


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