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My Fearless Forecast for 2003
Will the broadband revolution ever happen? Will the promise of Internet phones finally ring true? With apologies to Miss Cleo, here are my predictions for the year to come in tech.
FORTUNE SMALL BUSINESS
Sunday, December 22, 2002
By David Lidsky
When I was a kid, I always loved this time of year because of the ludicrous astrologer predictions for the future. From the pages of a tabloid, Jeane Dixon would scream at me some nonsense about how Michael Jackson will be driven insane by fame and will engage in increasingly erratic behavior. Or that Cher will be abducted by aliens who will slowly replace her anatomy with auto parts. According to the Skeptic's Dictionary (www.skepdic.com, a personal favorite of course), "Ms. Dixon was never correct in any prediction of any consequence." But she was quite famous and no one ever said she wasn't entertaining. So with that in mind, I'd like to channel my own psychic powers and offer up predictions from the tech world for 2003.
- The hot e-commerce trend of the moment is to buy stuff online and then pick it up at a nearby physical store. Circuit City says more than half of its web sales are in-store pickups, and places like Borders, CVS, and Office Depot have all recently launched similar services. In the year ahead, the consequences of this trend will bring the world to its knees as the unctuous salespeople at Circuit City and the methadone outpatients that staff every CVS I've ever been to are no longer needed and wreak havoc upon our cities like some true-to-life version of Night of the Living Dead. Keep these people off the streets! Embrace this trend at your own peril.
- Internet phones ("Voice over IP" if you're more technically inclined) take off this year after many false starts when people realize that cell phones have so diminished their expectations for clear call reception that they have nothing to lose.
- Broadband still won't grow as fast as proponents would like, and now Congress is getting involved in trying to jumpstart its deployment with legislation. This bill will fail, but a subsequent one putting broadband development in the hands of the Department of Agriculture passes. Much in the way it pays subsidies to farmers to not grow corn, the agriculture department will pay broadband providers to shut up about how oppressed they are in an effort to protect people who are sick of their whining. Maybe then someone will start building applications that make people feel they need a broadband connection to enjoy them.
- Spammers, seeing that the backlash against them may threaten their survival, abandon their aggressive, intrusive tactics. Spammers will now adopt a passive aggressive marketing strategy, hoping to subtly frustrate users in an effort to manipulate them. Typical subject line of the "new" spam: Don't mind me. I'll just sit here in your in-box waiting until someone wakes up to what a great deal I am offering.
- Amazon.com recently took over CDNow. (Oh, forgive me, CDNow says it's "teamed with Amazon.com," but come on, is there a lump on my head from where I fell off the turnip truck? I know what's going on here.) Amazon's global march to be the only e-commerce site on the web will flame out this year when a pernicious rumor spreads online that Amazon has "teamed with the government of Nigeria" to offer customers a large piece of Amazon's profits if they just hand over their bank accounts first.
- Weblogs' popularity will halt abruptly when the New York Times ceases publication and bloggers discover they now have nothing to write about.
- The statistic of 2002 had to be that more U.S. homes have outhouses (671,000) than TiVos, the digital video recorders (504,000 to 514,000). Seeing a bigger opportunity, TiVo will start making outhouses, equipping them with technology that automatically suggests other rustic experiences you may enjoy, like heating your corrugated tin shack with a coal stove and scrubbing laundry on a washboard. This then prompts a spate of lame sitcom pilots and Wall Street Journal stories about "My TiVo thinks I'm a redneck."
Research firm International Data Corp. came out with its own list of New Year predictions. Among them were revelations that IT spending will grow 6%, wireless networks will surge in popularity, and online messaging and e-mail volumes will increase significantly. I predict that analyst groups will continue to make stunningly obvious predictions that will sully more daring New Year's prediction lists like mine.
David Lidsky is a senior editor at fsb.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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