Debunking predictions

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Read/Write Web has a list of predictions for 2008 from their writers. Here’s a few of the sillier ones.

Twitter will be acquired

Why? What do they have that one of the big boys wants? Everyone was surprised when Google picked up Jaiku instead of Twitter. After all, Ev already had the contacts inside Google. Jaiku was acquired for their location-based and presence-based services. What’s Twitter got that’s of value? It ain’t the user-base, folks. Outside of the webtwenny echo chamber, Twitter’s simply not that popular.

For Twitter to get acquired, they’re going to have to start doing something more interesting than passing short messages around or increase their userbase beyond the core techie audience.

Most ad networks will start producing their own content to advertise against; and some content companies today will get acquired by ad networks.

Most ad networks are so busy trying to defend their core services (and revenue streams) that they can’t innovate. Every move they make (or consider making) is considered against the possibility it will detract from their core offerings or even compete against their publisher clients. There’s so little friction involved in the publisher’s use of an ad network, there’s almost no switching costs involved in making a change. Publishers can (and do) hop from their current ad network to one that they perceive offers more value. And if an ad network starts offering content and taking ad impressions from their publishers, publishers will jump ship.

Many ad networks can’t manage to sell the inventory they already have. An FM Publishing publisher tells me that FMPub is only selling about 30% of his available inventory. How is creating more inventory going to be a good idea?

It’s more likely that large content networks will start launching their own ad networks. One of the interesting problems for ad networks is that advertisers won’t sign on until there’s content to advertise on, and publishers won’t sign on until there’s lots of advertisers to ensure their impressions are filled. Large content publishers already have half that problem solved. They’ve got lots of ad inventory and can start signing up advertisers. With this base of advertisers, they can start bringing on outside publishers.

People will rebel against Google, at least a little bit. Maybe.

Way to go out on a limb there.

Facebook will release a browser

Just like Google was going to release a browser? Besides, convincing people to switch browsers is hard—much of Facebook’s audience doesn’t care or really even understand what a browser is.

Microsoft will become more aggresive and buy many popular companies at once (remember Ballmer’s quote). Candidates include SixApart, Technorati. (Emphasis mine)

Not a chance that Microsoft, the antithesis of open source, will buy a company that’s not only built upon Perl, but also releases so much open source code.

Closely related, Yahoo’s Hack strategy (see ReadWriteTalk’s podcast with Bradley Horowitz) will start to bear fruit and things will look much more optimistic in Sunnyvale this year.

For this to happen, Yahoo’s developer friendly stance needs to become part of the culture at Yahoo. Currently they’re clinging to the protal model. They’re a media publisher, looking to control everything they do. This is at odds with the hack-happy attitude that some at Yahoo are trying to convey. If this prediction is to come true, Yahoo must embrace developers across the company, across business units. Right now, a developer wanting to connect with Yahoo finds the company more likely to immediate reject the idea rather than consider it. (I’m speaking from experience here, in several instances over the last year.) The walled garden is part of the company culture.

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to change, however. AOL was the walliest of walled gardens. But the walls have come down. AOL’s employees are more accommodating and AOL management more willing to entertain new ideas. Of course, they have nothing to lose, and are at the point in the company that embracing change may be the only way to save the company. Yahoo’s not there, and therefore will be more reluctant to try new things and more defensive about things that might change their cash cow core business.

In the 1st Q 2008, the true "Google Killer" in search will be in Stealth Mode. In 2nd Q 2008 the first prototype will begin in closed Alpha mode. In 3rd Q 2008 it will be ready for the final closed Beta testing. In 4th Q 2008 it will launch and "Rock and Shock" the world!

People often point out that there were lots of successful search engines when Google came along, and that by offering a superior experience, they took the lead. That’s true, and is exactly the reason why it’s unlikely to happen again.

The key point is that there were lots of search engines. The market was fragmented. People tended to use more than one search engine and to try out new engines. A new player didn’t have to overcome one dominant search engine, it just had to take small amounts of market share away from the existing ones. And that wasn’t hard to do, since the search engines of the day didn’t always work. You often had to search using multiple sites to find what you were looking for.

Today search is a solved problem. The major search engines do a good job of helping people find what they’re looking for. There’s perhaps some room for improvement, but it will be incremental improvements, not revolutionary improvement. There’s simply not enough room for improvement for a revolution to occur.

If you want to disrupt Google, your best bet is to attack them in a fragmented market (like email, advertising, office apps, or some of their data services) than to go after a large consolidated market. There’s perhaps a search opportunity in a niche vertical or in other languages and countries.

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