Emerging Tech Notes 7.24

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with a number of people to discuss what they think is happening and interesting in emerging technology. They have included analysts, entrepreneurs, writers, editors, venture capitalists, academics and bloggers.

Looking back over my notes from these meetings, there were three or four trends that kept coming up – the fact that technology as an industry is maturing, the rise of open source and its role in the enterprise and Web 2.0 and the issue of privacy. These are pretty big issues and I’ll do what I can to summarize what I’ve learned and come think of them as best I can.

Technology is Mature
According to one editor, “most of the questions about technology have been answered.” The result is that technology needs to be really interesting in order to matter. There’s plenty of interested stuff happening, but it needs to break through to an increasingly jaded audience.

Apple’s MacBook has proven to be interesting – not only because they broke with the past in designing the guts, but because people have become excited by the possibilities offered by Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop. The first time people see multiple desktops rotating by (using Parallels), they are amazed.

Sometimes, on the other hand, when a company really wants their technology to be interesting, it backfires. I’ve yet to meet anyone that is head-over-heels for Vista; most of the people who are using it that I’ve spoken to are decidedly under whelmed. They describe it as being more of the same; and more of the same just isn’t that interesting.

All of this has lead to the idea of technology acceptance. At this point, most people accept the basic technical claims made about a technology, product or service, as well as the presumed benefits; now people need to accept the fact that these things actually matter in some fundamental way.

People accept that their car’s oil filter works, people accept that they deliver an important benefit but for a whole lot of people their oil filter just doesn’t matter that much. As long as it’s there and doing whatever it is that it does, they are OK. That’s the direction that a lot of technology seems to be heading. But there’s plenty out there that is cool and new and interesting.

Web 2.0 is here, now what?
Web 2.0 is a great example. Almost everyone I spoke with brought this up – a few were sick of the hype and while most were excited by the possibilities. (I love it. The only thing I could do with out is the term “mashup”. It only conjures up memories of working at Steve’s Ice Cream in Coolidge Corner back in the eighties. People would come in and ask for mix-ins and I’d have to grind candy into their ice cream on this counter. Some of the combos sounded great but others were foul. And whether they were good or bad, I had to clean up the mess. Mashupsfeel the same; and as was the case back then, just because things can be mixeddoesn’t mean that they should. At least this time I don’t need to clean it up.)

Messy or not, it’s clear that this stuff works, is interesting and – more importantly – matters to people.

I don’t really know how to describe this idea but I know that it’s important. No one mentioned this explicitly, but almost everyone talked around it. On the enterprise side, technologies like SOA, software as a service and federated data are all examples of aggregating application components, information and – importantly – expertise, to succeed. The whole Web 2.0 thing is about aggregating communities, content and capabilities to create more relevant user experiences.

Whether aggregation is the right or lasting term for this,the idea of existing content, applications and communities being fragmented and reassembled in new ways is happening everywhere.

The biggest challenge in this process – now that much of the technology works and is in place – is helping people to understand the concept,its value and becoming comfortable with it. On the consumer side, this may be a generational thing – there are plenty of Web 2.0 applications that are never going to catch on with the over 30 crowd. On the enterprise side, it is going to be a business process and turf thing. There is more at stake in making the kinds of changes that aggregation requires for the enterprise.

Convenience and privacy are on a see-saw
Several people raised the fact that the price we pay for the convenience of online life is compromised privacy. The fact that google searches are liked with gmail accounts means that every search can be connected with a user. The ways that this data could be used are worrying. It doesn’t sound like there is going to be an overarching technical solution to this issue so user control of their own data may be the best alternative. Giving people the ability – either themselves or through a proxy – to expose information may be the most sensible approach to take with this.

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