Trends to Watch in 2006

Here’s part 1 of a list of trends I saw gaining momentum in 2005 that I see growing even more important in 2006. Part 2: Synchronization and Local Store

This started out as a list of technological trends, with RSS, Ajax, and Ruby on Rails being the headlines, as all three had huge years in terms of implementation and being squacked about. But these things, while interesting, aren’t really trends in the way that people are using the Web. Instead, they’re trends in building. Nothing illustrates the disparity between technology and usage more than the what Yahoo had to say in their October whitepaper: RSS-Crossing into the Mainstream. They claim that while over 1/4 of all Web users consume RSS in one way or another, only 4% know it.

So, in the spirit of usage I offer the following trends, focused on the way that those in the curve use the Web. Those ahead of the curve are probably on to whatever will get mainstream next year…

Here’s part 1 of a list of trends I saw gaining momentum in 2005 that I see growing even more important in 2006. Part 2: Synchronization and Local Store

This started out as a list of technological trends, with RSS, Ajax, and Ruby on Rails being the headlines, as all three had huge years in terms of implementation and being squacked about. But these things, while interesting, aren’t really trends in the way that people are using the Web. Instead, they’re trends in building. Nothing illustrates the disparity between technology and usage more than the what Yahoo had to say in their October whitepaper: RSS-Crossing into the Mainstream. They claim that while over 1/4 of all Web users consume RSS in one way or another, only 4% know it.

So, in the spirit of usage I offer the following trends, focused on the way that those in the curve use the Web. Those ahead of the curve are probably on to whatever will get mainstream next year…

The Subscription Model

Through blog and news feeds we are learning the value of subscription on the Web. Borne out of our experiences with newspaper and magazine subscriptions, we’re subscribing to information sources that are as specialized as we want them to be. These are written not by professional writers in prestigous publications, but by folks whose passion or interest is their ticket to the show. Their writing, never as clean as what you’ll read in the Times or the Post, is always as interesting.

The subscription model is about getting content on your terms and not on somebody else’s. It’s a pull technology, so we only get content when we want it. This is unlike a push technology such as email, in which you’re damned if you ever give out your email address to the wrong person. The power of the model is apparent every time we open up a feed and view an item in its perfect plainness. Imagine being asked 3-4 years ago if people would stand to read content that is styled generically and with very little logo or branding to speak of. It would take a powerful model to convince us of that, but the subscription model does just that.

Attention and Gestures

Our attention is all we have. To give or to receive. To not give or to not receive. All other value flows downhill. Attention is two way on the Web, and we’re finding it increasingly difficult to keep our attention on any one thing long enough to learn what we need to learn before moving on. The statistic that the number of scientific journals doubles each 15 years is piddling. The number of blogs doubles in a matter of months.

Gestures, as it has been explained, are the unit of attention. In other words, you can measure attention by giving weight to and counting gestures. As Steve Gillmor is quick to point out, however, gestures include the negative as well as the positive. If I link to a web page, then that means something about how I value it. If I don’t link to a web page, that can mean something too, but it may be much harder to discern. Obviously, not linking to the billions of web sites out there doesn’t mean that I value each of them as equally worthless. I simply make no gesture toward them. No gesture is different than a negative gesture. But if I have the opportunity to link to something, and don’t, then that’s a gesture of inattention. Count up those and you’ve got yourself an interesting metric…

Identity

Another problem arising from the increasingly networked world we live in is how to model our identity online. Right now we’re modeling it so poorly that we really don’t have an online identity: we have our information spread across siloes of data on dozens of web sites. Since we can’t aggregate it all, if we needed to, then we really be identified by it in any general sense. The symptom that afflicts users is that we can’t remember the passwords for each site. The bigger problem is that our data is everywhere outside of our control. We should be in control of our own identity!

Startups like Sxip aim to solve this problem by creating a single datastore that allows people to identify themselves to a third party, choose what information to divulge, and when. There are several other initiatives as well. One thing I really like about what Google and Yahoo do is that I only have one username and password for all their services, and given that I use several of each it saves me a little headache. But it’s not yet one ring to rule them all.

Identity will become important when people realize that we should be in control of our own identity data, that signing into each site differently is not only difficult but backwards, and that we have power as buyers. Until then, we’ll probably all use two or three passwords for the 20 or 30 sites we log into, thus taxing our minds less but also lessening security benefits across the board.

To be continued…

Published: January 4th, 2006

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