Web users drive change in 2007

It is often said the only constant in the world of hi-tech is change - a fact that makes prediction notoriously difficult. But here three tech veterans give their view about what will drive change over the next 12 months and beyond.

There is little doubt that 2006 was the year that web users started to flex their muscle.

Although everyone is familiar with web giants such as Google, Yahoo and Amazon, the last 12 months have shown that their reign at the top is perhaps not going to last forever.

In 2006 it was YouTube, MySpace, Bebo, Facebook and many other social sites that grabbed the headlines.

The focus on users and online communities will continue in 2007 said Kathy Johnson from Consort Partners - a Silicon Valley-based firm that advises start-ups targeting the so-called Web 2.0 space.

The big trend among hot web companies will be the "actualisation of perso­nali­sation" she says. By that mouthful she means web firms will find a way to mine the information generated when net communities spring up.

For instance, she says, although web shops such as Amazon make recommendations about new books, CDs, DVDs or gadgets you might like based on what you have bought, few people trust these as they are not entirely sure how they are generated.

And, she said, the recommendations made by net retailers were often not very accurate.

People were much more likely to trust recommendations that come from an online interest group they had joined, she said.

"That's why all the companies are talking reputation management and melding it with personalisation so when you get recommendations you can trust them," she said.

Ms Johnson said start-ups such as music community sites Last.fm and Mog were leading the way but she had seen many more being founded along similar lines.

Mix and match

For serial entrepreneur Philippe Courtot, 2007 promises to be a year of big changes for the broader technology industry which will also be set in motion by greater use of web technology.

The ease and speed with which web programs can be put together is driving more and more businesses to question how they create the software they use to keep their organisations running.

"You cannot keep on developing software the old ways," said Mr Courtot who is founder and chairman of online security firm Qualys. "The costs of distribution and support are higher and higher and the customers are less and less satisfied."

Instead of buying a licence for a program and developing applications themselves, companies will move in great numbers towards firms offering software as a service via the web browser. "It's going to be much more visible than it has at any other time," he said.

As customers start to dry up he predicted a wave of mergers and acquisitions as old-fashioned software firms consume each other to stay in business.

"There's going to be huge consolidation," he said.

Phone home

For Dr Martin Illsley, director of the European research labs for tech consultancy Accenture, 2007 will also be a big year for personal technology - in particular the mobile phone.

As the numbers of handsets bearing cameras reaches a crucial point they will start to make possible all kinds of unforeseen changes - ones that businesses may struggle to cope with.

"Camera phones will allow customers to communicate with businesses via pictures in addition to phone and e-mail," he said.

"Consumers will be able to complain more easily by snapping the offending incident or object," he said.

For businesses the downside is the weight of evidence that customers can amass about faulty goods or shoddy service. However, he said, smart firms will find a way to use the information being generated and which may be impossible to capture any other way.

Also in 2007 he expects other technologies, in particular robots and wireless sensor nets, to start to weave themselves into everyday life.

As the component costs of these devices fall they are much more likely to be used everyday, he said.

"New generations of service robots will not be very intelligent but will provide cheap help for a range of tasks such as packing, cleaning, checking and basic assistance," he said.

By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website


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