Looking Ahead to 2006

December 31, 2005 – 7:00 pm

[I wrote up these thoughts for the NZ-2.0 list, but thought you might
be interested]

I’ve been thinking lately about Things To Do In 2006, and trying to
figure out where technology will go in the coming year and where there
are opportunities to ride that wave and win. I’ve come up with eight
broad areas, each of which I could easily build a company (or a
half-dozen companies!) in.

First, voice. Internet voice applications are hard to do in New
Zealand, because of the piss-poor upstream bandwidth in standard
broadband offerings. However, there are two ways to bypass that:
through the phone system (as aangel.co.nz did) or by simply making
intranet applications. Clay Shirky’s fond of saying that once a group
gets Asterisk, their workplace practices are forever changed. Every
meeting can be recorded, every Internet service can be given an
extension, everything online can be accessible offline. New Zealand
(and, in general, the world) has not realized the potential of voice
applications. There are huge opportunities here–the ability to have
voice as data (saved, moved around, copied, created) is new and the
applications it brings are far beyond “like we had with old phone
systems, but cheaper”, which is all that’s being touted at the moment.
Where to start: Asterisk, Gizmo Project, TellMe, and of course the
ETel conference

Second, real time mobile connections between people. Broadband may
lag in New Zealand but mobile adoption (as with the rest of the world)
is huge. Everyone SMSes, everyone talks. Watching the new Big Games
projects shows that there are lots of interactions with SMS, lots of
ways to connect with people through the phone, that haven’t yet been
tapped. I think there’s huge room to connect people through mobile
devices and screens (mobile screens, TV screens, sports stadium
screens, even advertising billboards) in ways that we’re only starting
to see. I think real time mobile interaction is killer here: seeing
your message on the screen seconds after you sent it, watching half
the stadium stand up spontaneously, etc. Where to start:
Communities Dominate (read the book, too!).

Third, text as lowest common denominator. SMS and IM will be the new
medium of choice. We’ve had e-mail bots, web bots (CGI), and now we
have IM bots. AOL launched AIM bots earlier this year, but you don’t
need AOL’s cooperation to do cool things–look at Phil Torrone’s
home-made AIM bot for MAKE Magazine. There’s ten years of expertise
in building IRC bots, in open source, and now we get to move that
expertise to the phone. Lots of challenges, of course, but tapping
the huge search market puts visions of dollar-plum fairies in the eyes
of many. Skype, Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, are all expected to follow
with APIs for their Messenger/Talk/etc services. Where to start:
writing irc bots in Perl, MAKEbot,
4info (example of company being built around this).

Fourth, undervalued content. I think New Zealand has a ton of TV,
radio, and music content that’s undervalued because of the perceived
lack of international audience for it through traditional channels
(radio, TV, and CDs). I think the Internet changes this. If you’re
looking for cheap content to build services with, look no further than
local producers. I don’t think an Internet content-delivery service
would work here, but as a prototype to sell to Americans, it’s
definitely a flier. There are also opportunities here for new
distribution: for example, 128M MP3 players are practically free out
of China now, so get branded ones with NZ music preloaded, for sale in
airports and tourist outlets. Where to start: local clubs for music,
this list of production companies for video.

Fifth, geo. Every app has a location component, and mapping those
locations brings clarity to the data. There’s no reason why every app
in New Zealand shouldn’t have a map built in: the data’s free from
LINZ, the software’s free to use it, and zoomin.co.nz have an API if
you can’t be arsed to learn geo to drive the data and software. Where
to start: zoomin, LINZ data, ka-map,
and my Where 2.0 conference.

Sixth, storage. Disk space is at an all-time low. It’s ridiculous
how cheap this stuff is. There are huge opportunities for companies
built around this: off-site backups, web drives, etc. A lot of
companies are doing it, but nobody has the angle that makes everyone
go “wow, I need that!” While you only sell to people who’ve already
lost data and now realize they should have had backups, you’ll only be
small. Where to start: discount hard-drives on the net.

Seventh, shepherded sales. This is also called “curated consumption”,
the idea that people want to be protected from the choice available to
them. It’s the fourth cycle that Linda Stone (who coined the term
“continuous partial attention” for our fragmented 1985-2005 cycle) has
identified, one where trust is all-important. With a million choices,
we need curators, editors, filters to help us find what we really
want. Part of this is brand, part is technology. Where to start:
this Listener article,
Amazon‘s recommendations,
Wikipedia on
reputation management
, and this year’s ETech conference.

Eighth, reach. I think Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft are in a great
position. They each reach millions of people, and there are some
things available at that scale that aren’t available to startups.
They’ve been buying startups and hiring like mad, so I expect to see
them start releasing the fruits of those acquisitions and hires in
2006. What can Joshua Schachter (delicious), Tom Coates (BBC), Fake
and Butterfield (Flickr), Andy Baio (upcoming), and the rest of the
team come up with when their audience isn’t 100k nerds, it’s 100M

These thoughts are what inspire me when I think ahead to 2006. Where
do *you* think the opportunities are?


Nat Torkington

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