(Note: While I'm on vacation this week and next, I'm offering some feature material in lieu of our news coverage. I hope you enjoy and learn from these think pieces, and please don't be afraid to contribute your thoughts on them to our discussion section )
The most obvious answer is a recession. Having searched in vain for some form of excess that will derail the economic train it now looks like we have a winner. It's inflation, driven by rising energy prices. Voters and politicians have ignored or rejected this problem for 20 years. Now there's no one for a President Bush to kill to get oil, no easy answers for a President Gore.
High oil prices mean inflation, high interest rates, and less market liquidity (because there's less free capital to invest). There's a premium on efficiency, and it's easier to create efficiency by distributing goods from a truck than by having consumers go to the store for them. Eliminating business meetings also makes sense with higher airfares, and e-signatures make sense when there are real costs attached to sending papers to be signed.
Before broadband becomes real two bottlenecks have to be addressed. Nokia's RoofTop system is one solution to the "last mile" problem, and its CityHopper is one alternative to the related problem of moving data from a local phone switch to the point of presence (POP) of a national ISP. We can hope that pressure from these devices will force cable, wire telephone, and licensed wireless providers to really compete with one another. I also expect to see new frequencies offered, both licensed and unlicensed, in ever-higher bands - that's the most important technology change I'm predicting.
Right now DSL and cable modems still suffer from glitches. Sites take too long to start downloading, and sharing of links to switches slows things down for everyone during busy hours. Those practical problems must be solved before the promise of Internet TV or radio can be fulfilled. That work will still take a few years to complete.
What do we do in the meantime? We work on fulfillment. We install real privacy safeguards. We further integrate the online and offline worlds (product and return databases still aren't integrated at most click-and-brick operations). We work on technologies like SET, on XML, and on truly integrating major business purchasing and marketing systems.
All this has to happen, of course, against the backdrop of a capital-short world (it got soaked up by our gas tanks) and growing anger over the excesses of the last few years. The job destruction inherent in the Internet's potential will create a real backlash when unemployment is rising instead of falling. It won't be hard for demagogic politicians to then copy China, Switzerland, and other Clueless nations that, by making too many online actions illegal, only make law enforcement random and respect for law rare.
The danger here is directly proportional to the depth of the coming downturn. Stagflation or a "garden-variety" downturn like that of 1991 can change Presidents. A full-fledged crash like 1929-1939 threatens the entire system. No crystal ball can accurately predict how bad things will be - that depends on the intelligence of economic policymakers. U.S. policymakers did some sensible things in reaction to the high debt loads of the late 1980s. Japanese policymakers hid their heads over the excessive savings of that time, and that nation has yet to recover. (The fact that its people have given up, and didn't show up for the last election, is a bad sign for that nation's stability.)
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I write daily for ClickZ, and weekly at Andover.News. I write monthly for NetMarketing, Boardwatch, and Intellectual Capital. I've been in Advertising Age and the Chicago Tribune .Once every other month I'm in CLEC Magazine. Twice each month I'm at OneChannel.Net and I'll be coming soon to ISPWorld. You can always buy my book . Subscription instructions are at the bottom of each issue.
Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
Takes on the News
Technologies and Trends For the Future
The implication of technologies in business is as important as the technologies
themselves. Here are some things to look for in the coming year:
Clued-in is Bob Geldof, not for NetAid or "Live Aid" . We're honoring him for asking the right questions regarding his start-ups Deckchair and WAPWorld .
Clueless is Microsoft.NET , which is still too Windows-centric to succeed in gaining share against Linux, Solaris, and the PalmOS. You win by supporting others well and offering something better, not by supporting others poorly and offering something proprietary.
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