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The Next Big Thing

Written By: Brian Wang 14 July 2010 Other Posts By: Brian Wang

Update: Google just made a significant move toward the future of the semantic web.  We’re going to see an all-out war between Google and Facebook soon.

Technology moves at a sometimes dizzying speed; Moore’s Law demands it.  The pace of tech innovation is such that people often speculate on what The Next Big Thing will be.  While the serious predictions are probably best left to the futurists, I have a few thoughts on the matter:

Whatever TNBT is, I believe it will be some combination of mobile internet, Big Data, the cloud, and the semantic web.  These growing trends are resulting in an ecosystem that will deliver huge value for consumers.  Add in the growing focus on intuitive, well-designed user interfaces & user experience and we get a future not too dissimilar to the one found in Minority Report.  Of course, I would prefer the absence of the Big Brother element, but I won’t be discussing the issue of privacy at length here.

The current explosion of mobile devices, particularly smartphones, is well known.  Just take a look at the adoption growth rates and it is clear that as time goes on, traditional computing devices are going to take a backseat to mobile. We are entering a world where the internet is being brought along with us wherever we go.  I predict this won’t be limited to the phone in one’s pocket for very long either – soon there will be gateways to the web almost anywhere we go, phone or not.   It’s hard to believe that up until recently, access to the Internet was some sort of arcane magic that involved sitting at a portal through which we entered a mysterious, digital world.  Today, it is our world.  The concept of being “online” vs. “offline” is quickly dissolving.

Access to the Web has become a commodity, resulting in super scale user bases.   People are also spending increasingly greater amounts of time on the Web.  As a result, huge amounts of user data are being generated every day.  Now, Big Data isn’t a new concept but it is enabling huge innovation because it is A) Now accessible to almost any startup thanks to cloud computing and B) Exploding with consumer data at different layers.  The advents of geo-location, the social graph, the taste graph, and real-time, all sifted through machine learning, have big implications for data-centric products and services.  Personalized recommendations, advanced ad-targeting technologies, online dating, marketing analytics, you name it – Big Data will matter.

Tying this all together is the semantic web. By attaching metadata to objects across the internet, we set the stage for machines to gain a much more nuanced understanding of the world, particularly around the relationships between these objects.  What’s most compelling for the consumer is that porting our identities (thanks to FB Open Graph, Twitter Sign-In, OAuth, OpenID, etc) with us across the Web means everything we interact with can become context-aware.  Anything electronic that we encounter will not only know who we are but also intelligently contextualize the experience.  Make no mistake – this new standard is full of privacy land mines.  But if these issues can be solved, there are huge value opportunities for both businesses and consumers.

It’s tempting to say there’s a company that’s clearly poised to be The Next Big Thing.  My gut reaction is to give that title to Hunch as their explicit mission is focused on the hard problems around Big Data, the taste graph, and semantic technologies.   Then again, I’m tempted to say Facebook will be the top dog here given their scale and the Open Graph initiative.  Hunch just happens to have more cool points in my book.  However, I think above all else, TNBT might not be a single company but the new ecosystem itself.

Note: I haven’t discussed it much, but I think user experience and design will play a huge role in this new reality.  There’s no better example of the importance of UI/UX than Apple and their leadership in this field.  No other company has made tech seem as “cool” and that equals mainstream appeal.  Say what you will about Apple’s walled garden or Steve Jobs’s reality distortion field, but they’ve really shown the rest of the world how much better technology can be when there’s a focus on design.  As technology continues to permeate people’s every day lives, these things will really really matter.

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