U.S. tech trends for 2008

[Editor's note: This is an Op-Ed piece by Bernard Moon, an entrepreneur who blogs at Silicon Moon. It's time to hear from an entrepreneur, as we've already heard from the VCs; see here and here.]

A couple of months ago, my wife and I visited Seoul, South Korea—a trip that inspired me to come up with a list of technology predictions for 2008 and beyond. The land that brought us bottle service, massive multiplayer online role playing, and paid online casual gaming serves as a good place to consider emerging trends—not just technologies that are on their way to the U.S. but also those the U.S. will export to the rest of the world. Here are a few predictions of what I see lurking on the immediate and not-so-immediate technology horizon.

Mobile videoconferencing reaches the states. If you’re a teen, the only thing better than gabbing on your cell with a friend is gabbing on your cell with a bunch of friends—and seeing each of them on screen as you do so. In Korea kids are doing just this—videoconferencing as they speak to friends via mobile handsets—and loving it. Since kids are kids everywhere, we can expect to see a similar response in the United States, though we probably won’t see it happen before the end of 2008. Unlike Korea—which has the only commercial WiMAX networks in the world—the United States doesn’t have the Mobile WiMAX capabilities required to stream video at 8 megabits per second or greater (16 Mbps or greater for downloads). In the U.S., you’re lucky if your cable modem service gets 6 Mbps—and a range of 2 Mbps to 4 Mbps is far more typical. When mobile videoconferencing does become a reality here, how will it impact handset manufacturers? Can we expect to see larger mobile phones and bigger screens as a result? Only time will tell.

Virtual currencies warm up. Content is not the only driver for sustainable online communities; virtual economics play an important role as well, with virtual currency serving as an increasingly critical tool. Virtual goods already provide a viable business model in online worlds—with companies providing outlets in which players can convert in-game assets into real-world wealth (and vice-versa). Virtual goods are starting to find their way into every other area of the Net as well—only now it’s not just about generating revenue but about paying people (in virtual currency) for their eyeballs. Virtual currency is already used to grab users’ attention for online product launches and games and could soon become a common feature in all online networks and worlds. As companies and services vie for user attention, we can expect to see more and more of them rewarding users with virtual coins or points that can be traded for cash or noncash goods and services. Worst-case scenario, we all turn into brain-dead mouse clickers obsessed with accumulating Yelp and Starwood points. Best-case scenario, we’re rewarded for our time and effort with healthy incentives.

Semantic Web slowly begins to gel. Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the Web of the future—in which data itself becomes part of the Web and can be processed independently of application, platform, or domain—is finally becoming a reality … albeit slowly. In 2008 we can expect the various filtering, aggregating, and grouping efforts to continue as the Web 2.0 services that initially captured our attention (such as Radar Networks and Adaptive Blue) expand and evolve. Now the questions become, how will data be organized? By advanced algorithms? By humans (no, not Mahalo)? And what format or tools will be used? Tagging? Grouping? Finally, what do users want? Friends’ feeds? Multimedia files? The latest books, photos, and gossip on Britney Spears? I believe we’ll see a couple of tangible and useful services take off next year (including some of the stealth startups I’ll be writing about soon).

Location-based mobile services gain ground. According to Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker, 20 percent of mobile phones currently include the satellite-based navigation system Global Positioning System (GPS)—a number that’s expected to grow to 50 percent within five years. This means that at last a critical mass of end users has emerged for location-based mobile services that take advantage of GPS. Thus, we can expect to see a surge of activity in this area. I can visualize it already—my weight soaring as In-N-Out pushes me a coupon every time I get within proximity of an outlet, my credit card bills soaring as Nordstrom and Macy’s send my wife sales notices and coupons. It will be horrible; I’ll be dragged to these places more often. Forget it! I hate location-based services already!

Interactive TV makes a comeback. This won’t be like watching Evander Holyfield or Mike Tyson attempting a comeback—a one-time champ too old and worn out to rise to prominence again. Instead, it will be more like watching a boxer who debuted too early return and live up to his initial promise. This time around the infrastructure is actually cost-effective; the integration of the Internet and TV has created infinite collaborative possibilities; and new entrants (such as consumer electronics makers) are eyeing the market. Interactive TV won’t be a media champ; however, it will serve as an important secondary source for information, commerce, and social networking. Efforts such as Apple TV (which combines Internet content and television) represent the first step in Internet content being ported to millions of U.S. couch potatoes. With consumer electronics manufacturers eager to capture more of their customers’ mindshare, this represents a potential battleground for cable and satellite operators.

Watch for the trends I’ve spotlighted here to emerge in 2008 and beyond—and let me know what technology trends you see on the horizon.

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