John Battelle’s 2004 Predictions

Among the 2004 predictions by John Battelle, a few stand out:

The Web becomes a platform (again). Thanks to commerce and service APIs, RSS, and the ubiquitous interface of search, geeks around the world are again leveraging the web as a platform for cool new tools. 2004 will be the year these tools break out in something of a pre-cambrian explosion, reminiscent of the Mac in late 1980s, or CD-ROM in the early 90s. Only cooler. Examples: Grokker, Bloglines, Amazon API.

Along those lines (and no surprise to this readership, but still and all…), blog ecologies of like-minded folks will garner increasing cultural and social power. We’ve seen this happen first in the technology and media space, and recently politics has figured it out too. 2004 will see the rest of the world join in, especially in natural communities where power is projected: think professional verticals of finance, law, medicine, marketing. Folks who you never thought would ever blog will be coming online and claiming power. As a result, more blog ecologies will impose registration and/or subscription (the money kind, not the RSS kind…).

Second generation blog/RSS aggregation sites will come close to combining directory functions with LinkedIn- and recommendation-engine-like features – think Amazon+Yahoo for the blogosphere….

On Longhorn

Salon (Scott Rosenberg) has a view:

Microsoft is presenting Longhorn to the world as a series of nicknamed projects with bold promises: A new presentation layer named Avalon will feast on the unused processing power of today’s hypertrophied graphics cards to give Longhorn a jazzy look-and-feel and advanced media capabilities (like video in any window). A new file system named WinFS will transform the mountains of files stored on our hard drives into a smarter, more database-like store (think of the difference between organizing your music tracks by file name or sorting them, using their “tags,” through iTunes, MusicMatch or your favorite music software). A new communications system named Indigo will enable a new generation of easy-to-build, easy-to-connect, easy-to-use e-commerce. (Microsoft has been demonstrating a revamped store that does instant resorting of vast product categories.) All this, plus security and reliability (no reboots!).

There is no telling at this early date how many of these promises will be delivered on when Longhorn finally ships, and how many of them will be tossed overboard in an effort to keep the shipping date from receding toward an infinite horizon. But however Longhorn finally shapes up, it’s clear that Microsoft intends for it to be a big sea change in the Windows world la Windows 95. If it’s not, the company will have a multibillion-dollar egg on its face. As Microsoft’s “general manager of evangelism” Vic Gundotra put it earlier this month at a Longhorn pitch for Silicon Valley developers, “This is a bet-the-company strategy. It’s the biggest bet we’ve ever made, and there’s no guarantee of success.”

One of Microsoft’s great strengths in the past has been its ability to carry customers across “platform transitions” by religiously maintaining backwards compatibility. It promises more of the same with Longhorn: Microsoft’s demos show off a 20-year-old DOS version of the Visicalc spreadsheet running inside a Longhorn window.

But if Longhorn is too radical a break with the past there’s always a chance that Microsoft’s two key constituencies — “end users” like you and me and the “ISVs” (independent software vendors) who produce the programs that run on top of Windows — will balk. The years between now and Longhorn’s due date will provide Microsoft’s only remaining competitors, at Apple and in the Linux universe, with a real chance to seize the high ground and capture more customers.

Longhorn will come sometime in 2005-6. That still seems quite some way off. This is the opportunity for Linux to come in and build out the next-generation computing platform.

Google as All-Purpose Web Information Tool

Business Week writes on Google’s ambitions:

Taken to its logical extension of providing an interface for every popular service or sector on the Web, Google becomes the omnipresent middleman and a clear and present danger to just about any company that relies on the Internet for commerce. Which, increasingly, is every company in the developed world.

What’s becoming more and more clear, though, is advertising will be the primary revenue driver of the portals and aggregators. What Yahoo terms “marketing services” (read, advertising) accounts for nearly 75% of its most recent quarter’s revenues. Increasingly, advertising is hung around various forms of search. This explains why Microsoft is seeking to build its own Google-killer search engine and why Yahoo is expected to start using its own in-house software for Web searches — and to dump Google.

Google has decided that its customers should gather information through inputs of text search terms by using more or less the same simple interface to search for news, things to buy, or any other topic. That’s a small but important distinction. Google assumes that customers are smart enough to learn to search with words rather than with the graphical and pull-down menus used by most of its competitors. That’s an understandable bet. Google has gone from upstart to Internet star with a business plan based on that assumption.

Google Visualiser from Groxis

one of the next frontiers is going to be information visualisation – tools to help us see and explore the information better. reports on Groxis:

It will offer customers of its desktop search application the ability to download a free plug-in to search Google’s more than 3 billion documents.

The tool is designed to let Groxis customers organize Google search results into graphical maps, categorizing relevant data in relation to keyword queries–something Google itself does not do.

For example, a user who searched on the term “Wi-Fi” would see spheres of categories on the subject, with labeled topics such as “news,” “802.11” and “hot spots.” The user could then delve deeper into Web pages on the topic of specific interest by clicking on a sphere.

This could be one of the first steps in bringing information visualisation technologies to the mainstream mass market.

Google’s Challenges

Fortune takes a close, hard look at Google, ahead of its expected IPO:

[T]he worrisome news: Google has grown arrogant, making some of its executives as frustrating to deal with in negotiations as AOL’s cowboy salesmen during the bubble. It has grown so fast that employees and business partners are often confused about who does what. A rise of stock- and option-stoked greed is creating rifts within the company. Employees carp that Google is morphing in strange and nerve-racking ways. And talk swirls over the question of who’s really in charge: CEO Schmidt or co-founders Brin and Page?

There were probably similar questions being asked of Yahoo when it went public (or maybe not – those were the bubble days). I think Google has a very able leadership in Schmidt, Page and Brin – they want to show they can match up to the hoopla, and I am quite confident they will. The big challenges are yet to come. Everyone guns for the leader. Hopefully, Google’s management has learnt some of the lessons from history as it readies to do even greater battle with the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft.

Search Engine Marketing

Fortune writes: “The hottest vehicles driving sales leads online are search enginesand small businesses found them first.”

keyword bidding is evolving into part of an overall strategy using search engines as a lead generator. “Marketing on the Internet isn’t about finding one method that works; it’s an all-around process,” says Mark Fiala, director of Internet operations for California Breath Clinics in Los Angeles, maker of the TheraBreath line of oral-care products. The $3 million business researched better, cheaper keywords, routed leads to specific product pages rather than the home page, and set up a way to solicit e-mail addresses to turn lookers into buyers. It reduced its monthly marketing tab from $8,000 to $4,000 while increasing its return on investment to some 275%.

The tricks of the trade: better bidding and developing a diversified strategy.