What will they think of next?

January 02, 2007|By Steve Ballmer

With the arrival of the new year, experts from the tech community look ahead to the innovations that could change the ways we work, play and communicate in 2007.

Right now, I am as excited by the prospects for technology-driven change as I've ever been. The impact of the Internet, e-mail and mobile phones has been so powerful that people tend to think the digital revolution has already happened. I think it's just getting started.

Many technologies have the potential to catch fire, including Internet television, mobile video devices and even robots. New business-intelligence technologies will make sophisticated data-analysis tools easy enough for anyone to use. New "digital rights" technology, which gives copyright holders more control over the distribution and reproduction of their work, will continue to transform the entertainment industry.

But when we look back in 10 years, it probably won't be a specific device or company that stands out. Instead, 2007 will be the year when unified communications technology helped us regain control of our information and our lives. Ironically, the proliferation of new technologies up until now has made communications harder, not easier.

In 2007, I believe that phone numbers and e-mail addresses will begin to give way to a single identity, and the desktop phone will merge with the PC and mobile phone. Messages will be routed to you on a device that will be smart enough to know whether you can be interrupted based on what you are doing and who the message is from. Instead of being ruled by e-mail and cell phones, we'll have control over when and how we can be reached, and by whom.

Steve Ballmer is the chief executive of Microsoft Corp.

Ned Sherman

The trend to watch in 2007: virtual worlds, one of the most populous of which is Second Life, a 3-D environment built and owned by its residents (currently about 2 million).

These digital playgrounds combine elements of social networking with aspects of a multiplayer online game. At Second Life's virtual marketplace, residents buy, sell and trade millions of dollars in digital goods. Even more fascinating from a business standpoint is that millions of dollars in real-world currency are being generated from the exchange of virtual dollars into hard cash.

A cottage industry is beginning to develop around virtual communities, with real-world businesses profiting from the sale of related goods and services. For instance, there's an e-commerce site that allows you to customize your "avatar" - the persona you create for yourself online - and another company that puts together custom games for organizations that want to use Second Life for training and education.

Second Life may not grow to the scale of a MySpace or a YouTube, but it may be laying the groundwork for something that will.

Ned Sherman is chief executive and publisher of Digital Media Wire (digitalmediawire.com).

Kevin Werbach

I expect that this year, at least one file-sharing - or "peer-to-peer" - television service will hit the exponential growth curve of Napster, Skype and MySpace. YouTube woke up users to the Internet as a video platform, but because even a small video file can take up several megabytes, a centralized Web site such as YouTube needs to limit clips to a few minutes.

P2P applications make every recipient of a file also a potential server, distributing the load throughout the network. This is the technique Napster and Kazaa used to upend the music business. By leveraging the distributed power of the network, P2P video allows you to download and watch much larger programs more quickly than you could at a centralized Web site.

There are several candidates lined up to be the YouTube of P2P video. BitTorrent has content partnerships with major media companies. The Venice Project is being developed by the team that created Kazaa and Skype. Or, the winner might be one of the fast-growing P2P video companies already operating in China, such as Xunlei and PPLive.

Not enough attention is being paid to these services because of the perception that YouTube has already "won" the Internet video war. But central video hosting was just one battle. P2P video will become too big to ignore.

Kevin Werbach (werbach@wharton.upenn.edu) is an assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the organizer of the Supernova technology conference (supernova2007.com).

Chris Anderson

I'm willing to bet that 2007 is the year when somebody figures out how to make video advertising work in a YouTube world. And if I'm right, the TV industry is going to get very rocky, very fast.

I doubt that the same disruptive force will hit movies, however. The big-screen home-theater boom created a market for high-def films, and that factor-of-10 increase in downloading time bought Hollywood another five years or so to figure things out.

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