Web Informant #139, 18 January 1999:
Top Ten Web Trends and Predictions


  1. Internet stocks defy logic

    The market capitalization of Amazon.com is six times that of K-Mart, yet Amazon has yet to turn a profit. What is going on? You got me. All I know is that my new stock-picking credo is buy high, then sell low. (Not a good way to get rich.) Time magazine's recent Winners and Losers said it all boils down to this: "Ten guys buy gifts online, and the NASDAQ explodes. Who owns suckerventurecapitalist.com?"

  2. You've got email

    Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan weren't the only ones exchanging email in 1998. It was the year everyone took it for granted that you had an email account, even relatives and friends who still don't know what "modem" stands for. We have AOL (and cheap PCs) to thank for that one. What's next? I predict that in '99 sending targeted email messages, and building advanced applications on top of the existing Internet email structure, will be the technological sweet Spot.

    What was the most interesting story about email in 1998? How it helped save one sailor's life.

  3. MP3 Rocks the Web

    In 1998, MPEG-3 emerged as the dominant format for distributing music, with thousands of sites using it to download and upload songs. Because you can fit over 100 songs on a standard CD (and play them on your PC using a wide variety of software tools), the MP3 phenomenon isn't going away, despite the music industry's attempt to create its own digital music standard. The format will continue to bloom, as more players besides the Rio come to market this year. The music industry will never be the same. A good place to read about this, along with a plea to these same executives to endorse MP3, is at Robert Seidman's site. And listen to my own comments in an interview with Sam Whitmore here.

  4. The changing face of Internet access

    I won't hazard a guess as to whether 1999 will be the year that broadband access, or perhaps DSL, finally reaches critical mass. What I have noticed, though, is how my own Internet usage patterns changed the moment a cable modem entered chez Strom. Surfing is faster, so everyone in my family spends more time on the computer. And we casually download huge files without worrying how long it will take. Continuous Internet access at home also makes it more palatable to listen to Web-based radio, and to track your financial portfolio and engage in real time chats.

  5. gLite will be DOA

    DSL offers lots of promise, but it's far from ubiquitous. The problem is its many variations of speeds and feeds. One of the problem configurations is called gLite, which is best described as too little speed too late in the game. Brian Johnson at 3Com believes that "the entire ADSL gLite compromise is just that, a compromise forced on the telcos by the Universal ADSL Working Group. gLite means telcos don't have to figure out how to re-tariff T1 and offer full rate DSL at the same time. Give us a break. How can we possibly be satisfied with 1.5Mbps when almost the same technology will get us 10Mbps? " Expect gLite to debut in PCs later this year, but few will use it. I am still bullish on "full speed" DSL access, though.

  6. A firewall in every home

    My colleague Eric Hall said it best: "If you've got a permanent Internet connection, you need a firewall. It's that simple." As more small businesses (and homes) get continuous connections to the Internet, they will need better and cheaper firewalls. WRQ's AtGuard is one software solution; Sonic System's Sonic Wall is an inexpensive hardware solution. Look for more innovation, cheaper prices, and better features to follow in 1999.

  7. The era of bad feeling

    We all missed the Era of Good Feeling back in the post-war America of the 1820s. But the Era of Bad Feeling is certainly upon us. What else can you call a year that saw the rise of Matt Drudge, the Starr report, and Clinton's video deposition, all shoveled full-force onto the Net, not to mention the hacking of the home page of nytimes.com. And it will only get nastier out there in 1999.

  8. Plastic rules

    The only payment scheme accepted at all web storefronts is good old plastic. Despite attempts by the banking industry, IBM, and a few other vendors, Secure Electronic Transactions went nowhere this past year, and I predict it will die off in 1999. Electronic wallets, or eWallets, will suffer the same fate. Maybe now that we know how people are finally paying for things they buy online, store owners can make the shopping experience easier for customers.

  9. eCommerce not yet fit for normal human consumption

    This past holiday season the news media was obsessed with reporting how much money people were spending online. What you didn't here much about were the problems eShoppers encountered. Sites were slow and overcrowded. People's systems crashed. Unable to handle the traffic, some sites shut down. On others, it was near impossible to uncover the shipping costs or find out if an item was in stock before you bought it. Here is more on the offenders.

  10. The browser becomes the defacto interface

    This past year saw an explosion of applications using the browser as their interface of choice. Of course, Microsoft would like to claim that they invented the web desktop interface (found in Windows 98), too. Everyone does it: firewalls, printers, email servers, cameras, routers, hubs, and calendaring software are just some examples you'll find here: http://strom.com/places/browsergui.html. Where will this go? I don't really know, but expect more applications to make use of the web in new and interesting ways this year.

    That's my list of trends and predictions.

    Martin Focazio responds with his own predictions:

    1. At least one major Internet E-Commerce/Portal will buy a "traditional" consumer products distribution or sales business on the scale of hundreds of millions or possibly billions of dollars. The goal of this purchase will be to obtain terrestrial distribution network that turns "stores" into places to buy or simply examine products you plan to buy online - and more importantly, these physical locations will become "mini-hubs" for highly regional home shopping. These store/service hybrids will be somewhere between a supermarket and a Wal-Mart. Fedex stock goes insane. As an aside, large, secure drop-boxes for home delivery of all kinds goods become a consumer product you buy at Home Depot. Rubbermaid will make them.

    2. 2. A major corporation or online media property will have its web-collected customer data stolen by a disgruntled accounting clerk or IT department grunt. This information will be used to supply a wide-spread "identity theft" scam run from a third world nation. It leaves some people bankrupt and gets national attention. European-style privacy laws are called for and "privacy brokerages" suddenly become a relevant business - probably run by Equifax, TRW or Visa. Lawsuits to eight figures as a result.

    3. My mom will prefer to shop online for everything but groceries.

    4. Visa, Mastercard and American Express will enter the public-key cryptography industry with something marketed along the lines of "Visa Credentials". While it will be marketed as "Your electronic signature" and promoted as a consumer protection scheme, in fact it will be a merchant protection scheme. You will do something requiring your physical presence - probably at a bank - and you will be photographed and/or fingerprinted and at that time you will set a PIN code for your Visa account. Visa will then state that the card number + PIN = you. This replaces the horrendous SET protocol/software nonsense and makes Biometrics authentication seem "cool". Like a check card, you are totally responsible for fraud if the card number was accompanied by a valid PIN - the card number alone is useless.

    5. You will be able to make an appointment with your doctor or dentist by email.

    6. Web development among large, established firms will both grind to a halt and explode with activity in the 3rd & 4th quarter as these companies fix or replace mission critical systems for Y2K - opting to keep what they have or just start over - web enabled from the start. Y2K will still have problems that are alternatively annoying and serious.

    7. Full-time internet connections will happen faster than the base of modem users grew the current internet population. Apple will introduce yet another "cool" computer - but this one will have a cable TV jack on the back, and will be leased (not sold) pre-configured to work on your cable company internet system. No technician will call. Apple will begin to dominate the home internet utility device market. Mom won't know if she's running "Windows" or MacOS or something else- she just bids on Ebay with the machine as a tool.

    David Strom
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