New Digital Dawning

first_img Free Webinar | Sept 5: Tips and Tools for Making Progress Toward Important Goals Attend this free webinar and learn how you can maximize efficiency while getting the most critical things done right. 9 min read January 1, 2006 Think about this: Ten years ago, a group of technology experts sat down and envisioned the future of the internet. They imagined the ubiquity of e-mail, that the web would be home to a giant auction house, and that phones would be able to access tiny versions of the online world.Actually, nobody ever predicted what the internet has become today. We were all too busy learning basic HTML tags and trying to remember how to check our e-mail. But that won’t stop us from looking ahead now to the future of the web and what role entrepreneurs will have in it. An exciting world is developing, and growing businesses will be riding the waves as both users and innovators.Who’s in Charge?Sometimes the best way to understand the big picture is to take a look at the smaller brush strokes that make it what it is. Here’s a big trend: decentralization of control. It’s a move toward web users having more power to control their own online experiences. Here are some of the brush strokes: wikis, blogs, podcasts, RSS and mash-ups. You’ve probably heard of most of those, and if you haven’t, you’ll probably hear of them soon.Joe Kraus, co-founder with Graham Spencer of wiki startup JotSpot, has a strong sense of web history. He was one of the original founders of early search engine Excite and is an active angel investor involved with tech companies. His passion these days is wikis-collaborative websites that can be edited by multiple users. “Wikis felt like a useful tool [back in 1993], but for a limited crowd. They were trapped in the land of the nerd. [They’re] more powerful because [they] tap everybody’s knowledge instead of restricting it to a single individual,” says Kraus, 34. Palo Alto, California-based JotSpot, jumping on the larger trend toward decentralized control, has set out to bring wikis into the mainstream.That trend, in fact, has entrepreneurs blogging to their customers, sending out podcasts and gathering news through RSS feeds. These are all relatively new trends that will magnify as the web moves forward. Says Kraus, “I’m a huge believer that the most powerful revolutions in computing are do-it-yourself revolutions.”Web: The Next GenerationTrying to guess where Google is heading is like listening to the sounds of a circus setting up from outside the big-top tent: You know something exciting is going to happen; you just don’t know what. Blogs are burning with speculation, many connecting the dots to the concept of the web as a computing platform. All that guesswork underlines another fundamental shift in the web: the move away from static web pages to a more interactive, real-time environment. It’s the next generation. It’s the Web 2.0. And it’s already underway.Steven Minton, 47, co-founder of web intelligence and search company Fetch Technologies in El Segundo, California, is an entrepreneur working in the thick of the Web 2.0 evolution. “The web is not made for computers; it’s made for people,” says Minton. “The vision of Fetch Technologies is [to make] the web a more productive place for computers to collect information.” That’s also a strong underpinning of the Semantic Web–an intriguing project from web creator Tim Berners-Lee that is aligned with many of the concepts of Web 2.0.What this all means for entrepreneurs is that the way you use the web is shifting. Search engines will be one noticeable area of improvement. Minton looks ahead to what we can expect to see over the next five years: “[You’ll] be able to do a better job of searching because you’ll tell them the type of thing you’re interested in. There will be more automated assistants to help you shop, travel and so forth, and more sophisticated decision-making aids.”Another sign of the changing web environment is AJAX. No, not the cleanser. AJAX–Asynchronous JavaScript and XML–is a web development technique for building interactive web applications so they behave more like regular software that resides on your PC. Some examples of AJAX in use include Google Maps and photo-sharing site Flickr.Says Minton, “One of the most interesting things happening right now is that the leaders–Google, Yahoo! and a few others–are really breaking new ground in a hurry. It’s one of those rare times in history where some of the biggest companies are making the biggest inroads.” This story appears in the January 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe » The web isn’t much use without equipment to access it.Chances are you’re sitting near a PC. You have InternetExplorer or FireFox open. You have dozens of bookmarks, loads ofplug-ins and a dependent relationship with your preferred searchengine. David Rose, founder and chief creative officer ofCambridge, Massachusetts-based AmbientDevices, thinks all that can be overkill. He would just as soonglance over at a colorful glowing ball and tell you the weatherreport or if the stock market will tank. Welcome to the ThirdWave.The first wave was your standard HTML browser. The second wavewas mobile devices like phones and PDAs that can access onlinecontent. “The Third Wave will be literally thousands ofdifferent devices and designs that show information people careabout in forms that are embedded in things like watches or umbrellahandles, increasing the utility of everyday objects,” saysRose, 38.Ambient’s flagship product, the Ambient Orb, is a frostedglass ball that changes color to indicate changes in the stockmarket. It can also be set to meter customized information. Itconnects to the internet through a nationwide wireless network butdoesn’t require users to have a computer or their own internetconnection. Rose hopes that the simplified delivery will appeal tothose who feel overwhelmed by data. If Ambient Devices is anyindication, the web could very well be coming to an umbrella handlenear you soon.What’s in It for You?That’s a whole lot of innovation to try to keep up with. Rightnow, most entrepreneurs are spending their energy on keeping theirwebsites updated, improving search engine rankings andinvestigating online marketing opportunities. Richard Riley, vicepresident and general manager of Yahoo! SmallBusiness, is keeping an eye on the future of growing businessesand the web. “We’ll rapidly go from a world where lessthan 50 percent of small businesses have a website to it beingabsolutely business-critical. Their online presence will becomeincreasingly sophisticated [and] personalized to theircustomers,” says Riley. He also sees more businesses adoptingblogs as a way to communicate frequently with customers.It’s early days yet, but entrepreneurs are discoveringonline marketing as an affordable and effective way to reachcustomers. “You’ll see a real explosion in the number ofsmall businesses advertising online,” says Riley.More websites, blogging and online marketing may not be the mostglamorous technological advances, but they are the ones that willimpact your business directly over the next few years. No one canbe sure exactly what the web will look like in five or 10 years,but we have some good guesses. The trends of today will lay thepath for the web of tomorrow, and growing businesses will be in thethick of it all, blazing trails and taking new technologies to thelimit.Gaze Into Microsoft’s CrystalBall…Over at Microsoft, the company has taken its small-businesscustomer service quest to the web with the SmallBusiness Center. It’s part of the larger trend of movingbusiness functions of all kinds to the web. We asked Doug Leland,general manager of small business for Microsoft’s WorldwideSmall and Midmarket Solutions & Partner Group, and FredericDeWulf, Microsoft’s U.S. small business web director, toreflect on the future of the web.Mobile web technology, like online access through smartphones orPDAs, is an intriguing concept for growing businesses.”We’re still in the earlier adopter phase. [Users] arestarting to realize the productivity benefits,” says DeWulf.”It’s growing pretty rapidly in certain industries thathave a higher share of mobile workers.” Not all entrepreneurswill be rushing out to buy Treos for their employees, but as speedsincrease and the technology matures, it will give a leg up tobusinesses that crave mobile access.”Small businesses will leverage the web to move more andmore of their business functionality to the web. It’s startedwhere we are today with e-mail, web hosting and having an internetsite. Communications and marketing leverage of the web is going togrow,” says Leland. He also sees more commerce-oriented onlinebusinesses emerging over the next several years. Along with thatcomes a phenomenon he calls “global competition for localcustomers.” That means the web will become increasinglyimportant for growing businesses, no matter their industry orbrick-and-mortar presence. It’s a wide web world out there, andit’s only going to get bigger.Taking Stock With FlockWho better to offer their views on the future of the web than acouple of cutting-edge web entrepreneurs? Bart Decrem and GeoffreyArone, both in their thirties, are the co-founders of Flock, a new browserbuilt on open-source principles that has social networking and theWeb 2.0 at heart. “Flock is a social browser. The goal is totake the web browser and evolve it the same way the web hasevolved, to something a lot more interactive,” says Arone.Flock’s location in a Palo Alto, California, garage along withthe company’s all-night programming sessions and boundlessenthusiasm are reminiscent of the web boom’s early days.The success of Mozilla’s FireFox has helped loosen InternetExplorer’s grip on the browser market and left the landscapeopen to innovators. Decrem has some thoughts to share with the newcrop of technology entrepreneurs: “The big thing that’sgoing on is that control is shifting from the creators of contentand the publishers of content to the consumers,” he says.”The winning startups have embraced [this shift instead of]fighting and trying to control it.” The Third Wave Register Now »last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *