Ah, the tech world.
Here in Silicon Valley, things change so fast that any predictions about industry trends are outdated within six months. Maybe that’s why the Churchill Club holds its annual Top Ten Tech Trends debate in May instead of January–these mid-year predictions have a better chance of staying relevant through the end of 2010.
Last night’s Churchill Club panel included Ron Conway, Esther Dyson, Kevin Efrusy, Steve Jurvetson and David Weiden, and was moderated by AlwaysOn’s Tony Perkins.
FORA.tv live streamed the discussion, which you can view here for a mere $19.95. (Maybe they didn’t get the memo that information wants to be free.)
Here–at no extra charge–is each panelist’s take on the trends shaping technology:
1) The Web is Truly Social.
Consumers are more willing than ever to share their intents and desires online, and tools like Twitter and Facebook empower us to broadcast to the masses. “Behavioral engineering will replace algorithmic engineering,” said Conway. He believes that the big opportunity here is in search, giving people a better way to find information across different social media platforms.
Esther Dyson’s comment on this prediction: “It’s old.” She has a point. Facebook and Twitter are now the platforms, and it’s more interesting to look at how other companies are innovating on top of those platforms.
2) The Real-Time Web.
Conway defines the real-time Web as any data entered onto the Web. He believes that Twitter offers a better monetization opportunity than Google Adwords, in terms of reaching people when they are most engaged. “This is the check-in generation of Foursquare and Gowalla.”
Kevin Efrusy had a different perspective on this trend, suggesting that most people use real-time applications asynchronously. “You don’t use Foursquare to meet in a bar NOW, you use it to see what’s cool. In retrospect.”
1) Homebrew Health: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Healthcare.
Dyson is passionate about the power of personal technology to help people live healthier lives, and her first trend reflects her belief that new devices and sensors can help us become more aware of the personal health choices we make everyday. She believes that people will increasingly buy tools to manage our own health, and to share health information with friends. As an example, she showed a tiny clip-on device that monitors how many steps she takes each day.
Kevin Efrusy flatly disagreed: “My dad’s a doctor, I’m from the Midwest and I’ve spent a lot of time in the Southeast. I can tell you, people aren’t getting any healthier.”
2) Long-term Accountability Is the New Transparency.
Dyson’s second prediction addressed corporate governance and personal reputation. The huge amounts of data, and the unprecedented ability to save and sort through this data, means that people can’t hide anymore. Shareholders will hold companies more accountable, and it will be easier than ever to find out if a corporation is doing what it should. “People are starting to track more data out there, and this will change people’s behavior.”
1) The Social Web as Substrate for New Category Killers
Efrusy opened with a brief history of new media, beginning with the age of television. We’ve gone from the Web portal, to the search engine era, and now the social Web. He predicts that the social Web will give rise to a whole new class of businesses, and pointed to social shopping startups like GroupOn and Playfish as examples.
Jurvetson added that every new medium starts out doing things the old way–early television shows felt like radio programs in the beginning. “Then someone figures out how to really use it.”
2) The Rise of the New Software Stack
In the past, says Efrusy, software was designed around business transactions–buying and selling. Now, software development centers around Web application data. The sheer volume and changing nature of this data makes it impossible to store in the old stack–think Facebook, Yahoo, Google. Efrusy sees cloud computing as a powerful standard, and called out Hadoop and Cloudera as examples of where we’re headed.
1) It’s a Wonderful Time to Start a Company.
Behold the optimist. Jurvetson shared the stat that 63% of companies listed on the Dow were formed in a recession. They started in tough times, and succeeded because they were frugal, focused on customers, and had less competition than they would have faced otherwise. After studying market changes in the last 100 years, and evaluating the cycles between venture capital, private equity and recession, Jurvetson argues that now is the ideal time to start a new venture, particularly in hot markets like energy and cleantech.
2) Code Comes Alive.
Advances in DNA synthesis mean that humans will create an artificial life form, ushering in what Jurvetson calls a new era of BioTech 2.0. “We’ll be able to run millions of experiments, and the pace of progress will be daunting.”
Jurvetson’s prediction seemed like something out of science fiction–unrealistic as a near-term trend. And yet, he was right. Less than 12 hours after the Churchill Club event, this morning genome pioneer J Craig Venter announced that his team has created a synthetic cell. The New York Times has the story here.
1) The Next 100B Connected Devices
Weldon opened with commentary on the proliferation of mobile devices, including 5 billion Internet-enabled phones. Instead of predicting that these devices will give rise to creative new ways to use these devices, Weldon went old school: “Hardware is the new software,” he said. “Hardware differentiated by software and services will produce great margins.”
Jurvetson took the opposite view: “Consumer hardware is a horrible place for new entrants.”
2) Healthcare Technology
‘The Internet gets a new patient,” said Weldon. “Healthcare.” The raft of regulatory changes in the healthcare industry will create new markets. Unlike Dyson, who predicted that the real healthcare opportunity is on the consumer side, Weiden seemed to focus on the area of medical records and data.
So, Now What?
If this wasn’t Silicon Valley, trends like real-time, cloud computing, and social media might seem brand new. But here in technology’s epicenter, we’ve all been talking about this stuff for more than a year now. With the exception of Jurvetson’s synthetic cell prediction, none of the trends seemed surprising.
Which begs the question: is the purpose of the Churchill Club Top Ten Trends event to make safe bets, so that five years from now we can look back and reassure ourselves that we saw what was coming? Last night’s “Trend Idol” theme certainly suggests that this is the case, with the audience voting for who they thought was most likely to be right. (Kevin Efrusy took home the title, along with a crystal ball trophy.)
Or should the Top Ten Trends panelists go out on a limb–take a risk and make unexpected predictions about what might be next for the tech world? This is Silicon Valley, after all. This place runs on free thinking and the appetite for exploring uncharted territory.
Maybe next year, along with the VCs, the Churchill Club should invite someone like Robert Scoble or Sean Parker or Jack Dorsey to join the panel. These guys are the true Trend Idols