Top ten Internet predictions for 2004

Guest technology columnist Rob Greenlee provides his list of tech developments for the new year.

Editor’s note: The Index’s tech column, which normally runs every Friday, is running a day early this week in order to make room for coverage of Thursday’s Phase 2B ribbon cutting at the University of Washington Tacoma.

We tech-focused folk have a lot to keep us cheery. Sometimes it seems like most people just don’t realize how much technology is changing all of our lives, mostly for the better. It will continue to do so in 2004.

While there are many interesting developments on the 2004 horizon, the top ten that caught my attention are:

1)The decline of the Web browser usage on the desktop as a way to get to Web content; 2)The growth of Internet applications – the executable Internet; 3)All things wireless; 4)Digital media enters the living room; 5)Professional journalistic Weblogs are syndicated through RSS; 6)Microsoft mobile platforms; 7)Voice over IP (VoIP) makes mainstream calls; 8)Internet radio revenue; 9)Online search extends beyond Web; and 10)How online popularity is creating world wide celebrities.

1. Decline of the Web browser: Google sounded the bell that signaled the gradual decline of the Web browser by recently launching the Google deskbar. The deskbar enabled direct Web search without needing to use a Web browser such as Internet Explorer.

2. Internet applications: In place of the browser, we are seeing growth of Internet connected executables or applications that perform data services and search requests delivered through task specific applications and not through the web browser. Even the RealOne media player and the new Windows Media Player have integrated Web viewing into those digital media viewing applications.

The browser is rapidly being made unnecessary as we find very specific uses for sending and receiving digital information and as we become more interconnected to the Internet, whether it is through wired home devices or wirelessly with our Wi-Fi connected PDA’s and bedroom alarm clocks.
Internet users spent an average of three hours and 37 minutes per month using Internet applications.

The top five applications are Windows Media Player, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger Service and Real Player. Of these top five applications, Windows Media has the largest active user reach at 34 percent. AOL Instant Messenger was next at 20 percent, followed by Real Player, also at 20 percent, MSN Messenger Service at 19 percent and Yahoo! Messenger Service, which reaches 12 percent of the active user base.

Nielsen//NetRatings, the global standard for Internet audience measurement and analysis, reports that three out of every four home and work Internet users or 76 percent of active Web surfers, access the Internet using a non-browser based Internet application. Media players, instant messengers and file sharing applications are the most popular Internet applications.
“With 76 percent of Web surfers using Internet applications, functionality has grown beyond the browser to become a fundamental piece of the overall desktop,” said Abha Bhagat, senior analyst Nielsen//NetRatings. “It’s become harder to distinguish when you’re on the Internet, blurring the lines between what’s sitting on the desktop and what’s coming from the World Wide Web.”

3. Wireless: The wireless movement will really catch hold in 2004 as more product roll out with options to eliminate wires from the desktop to mobile media players, cell phones and PDA’s with the combined use of bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ultra wideband, infrared and RF transmissions frequencies. The biggest impact will be on your mouse and keyboard connectivity as these all go wireless and the cost for these drop drastically. Wi-Fi will also connect most home networks in 2004. The cost and security of these access point transmitters become better and cheaper.

Wi-Fi will continue to grow in the home, with free community/city sponsored hotspots and corporate networks. The national paid subscription networks will slow in 2004. More consolidation and coverage is needed to provide significant value to the subscriber and more Wi-Fi enabled devices are needed in the market before people will sign up for monthly subscriptions. These Wi-Fi subscriptions will need to be part of your cell phone data plan before mobile Wi-Fi goes mainstream.

4. Home Digital Media: 2004 is the year for digital media to make it into the living room. This years Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2004) will feature products that will really bring all your PC stored digital media into your analog TV or plasma panel screen. Internet radio & streaming video, mp3 files, photos, home videos, cable TV, DVD, VHS and radio will be connected to the PC with the new version of Microsoft’s Media Center PC.

The new TV set-top PrismiQ Media Player will enable you to access and record all your digital Internet audio and video content on your PC via Wi-Fi or wired network connections for playback on the living room TV. CES will also show off new plasma panel TV’s that have integrated PC and Wi-Fi that will enable a new living room media experience.

New adopters will still want their PC separated from their TV panel. We will want to centralize our home media to a single media location in the home network that will enable digital media library playback from any PC or PC-connected plasma panel on the network. Microsoft’s Xbox is going to continue making improvements until it truly becomes the center of home gaming and another alternative to the Media Center PC.

5. Professional Blogs: Weblogs in 2004 will go through a transition as the explosive growth in the number of bloggers will slow, but the quality of the active blogs will become much better. The blog technology and uses will expand in 2004 to include more professional journalists, online experts, major media and corporations. The blog hype in 2003 will settle into a smaller group of bloggers as many personal blogs will go out of date for increasingly longer periods of time as many lose interest in keeping them up to date. This is the way personal webpages declined a few years ago.

Really simple syndication, better known as RSS, took the Internet by storm in 2003 as many bloggers began using this XML-based standard to share and syndicate written content to RSS News Reader applications. RSS is not really a new Internet protocol as it uses the web to syndicate and share content and links. Look to 2004 to be the year of RSS as we see it compete directly and improve on the World Wide Web and be a part of the decline in use of the web browser.

6. Mobile:The words “mobile” and “wireless” will continue to be the buzzwords for 2004. The most significant change in the Mobile and Wireless landscape is Microsoft’s growing presence in these markets. The Microsoft Windows Mobile platform will make 2004 a year to remember. The early reviews coming out about the Microsoft Smart Phone and Pocket PC Phones are strong now and will continue to only get better over the next 12 months. 2004 will present to us the opportunity to truly integrate our cell phone smart phone with our desktop PC. For corporations, this Microsoft Mobile platform will enable real-time access to network data and communications from anywhere at anytime by combining Wi-Fi, bluetooth and cellular data connections. Look for 2004 and 2005 to be the years Microsoft integrates all of its applications into a true mobile wireless computing and communications experience.

7. VoIP:Voice-over-Internet Protocol voice data communications services will explode in 2004. The baby bells see the path ahead and it is not analog switched phone calls. Internet based phone calls are here to stay and is a reality that all telephone service providers must provide or they will die. Look for some big VoIP service announcements early in 2004. Consumers will win as VoIP will enable lower cost long distance calling and better integrate the services provided by present telephone companies as they become data companies in 2004.

8. Radio: Digital video and audio consumption will show significant growth in 2004 as streaming media, Internet radio and downloadable formats continue to grow in popularity. Music and videos will be the main drivers of this growth. Don’t overlook the growth of digital media consumption in areas like news and talk radio. 2004 will bring new networks and devices to consume digital media from media enabled smart phones, PDA’s and new media playing devices. This growth will push listenership of Internet radio to 20 million listeners per week and thus usher in a flood of much needed advertising revenue opportunities for online radio stations and shows.

9. Search: Online search will go beyond just the web and will dramatically change in 2004. Google will continue to lead the changes to online search, but Yahoo and Microsoft will steal some of Google’s search market share. The New Year will continue with the growing effort to index more than just the World Wide Web, as search companies find other deep database information to index and make public on the Web.

Amazon.com was a surprise player in this effort with “Search Inside the Book,” an entirely new way for customers to find and discover books by searching the full text inside them, not just matches to author or title keywords. With this new collaboration with publishers, Amazon.com is enabling customers to find books at Amazon.com based on every word inside more than 120,000 books – more than 33 million pages of searchable text. Customers can also preview the inside text of these books. Search Inside the Book is integrated into Amazon.com’s standard search and includes books from all genres.

Look for more surprises from Google, Microsoft and Yahoo in 2004. Look for location-based search, indexing digital media and more clustering by keyword search results. All of these search innovations are driven by online ecommerce, as people look for information of all sorts as the find products to buy. E-commerce will continue to boom in 2004.

10. The New Celebrity: Lastly, the most insane twist in 2004 and beyond is the online creation of worldwide fame and celebrity first on the Internet. The example that comes to mind is the Paris Hilton online sex video in 2003. Ms. Hilton’s fame was created online first and then it impacted the offline world. We will see more stars created online in 2004. All you need to do is watch the content of SPAM e-mails and the top five search keywords to follow all high impact trends online in 2004.

Rob Greenlee is host of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based nationally syndicated radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.

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