Now that the holidays are over, my mind somewhat cleansed of the constant stream of technology news and blogs washing over me in 2006 by a week in the back woods, a few deposits have lingered, formed into rough crystals that can be admired, examined or discarded.
The largest deposit is the huge shadow that Google has cast in this second half of the first decade of the 21st century. For whatever reasons, including some applied computer science and good fortune, Google found the motherlode of Web search--explict user intent expressed as a text string, satisfied by fast, somewhat relevant search results, complemented by targeted textually rendered advertising. Along with email and text messaging, search is the biggest Web-related activity and by far the most monetizable--and Google dominates it. However, we are at the beginning of the cybersearch era and Google's dominance may be measured in years rather than decades. As Mitch Ratcliffe points out, Google will face increasing, but not insurmountable challenges over time as the quest for more meaningful and precise search results continues:
Om [Malik] suggests that Google is like heroin, that the more you use it the more you come to depend on it. That, unfortunately, is not an apt analogy, since it assumes a dependency that numbs one to novelty. In a competitive market, novelty constantly offers itself up and people frequently give it a try. In search, if a set of results about a particular topic are better than Google's, Google loses that kind of search in the future, a tiny change but one that adds up to the need to spend more to either improve Google results or coopt the competitor.
Perhaps managing Google's hypergrowth will become a liability, the company's culture become more about the free lunches, options prices and status, causing an innovation drought that allows smaller, more nimble competitors with breakthrough science to take search to the next level (ReadWriteWeb has a post about search companies lightly biting Google's ankles).
Secondly, not every piece of software is moving to the cloud as an on demand service, but a perfect storm is brewing to catalyze a major shift from offline to online applications. We are at the beginning of this trend, but the signs all point to an increasing rapid flight to the cloud, with real broadband speed and secure and reliable infrastructure utilities that radically bring down the cost of delivering business and end-user services.
Finally, all of the fuss around social networks, media, collective intelligence, Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 and other evolutionary fauna associated with the current Internet is just an expression of the human need for classification, for associating some order and sculpting to what is essentially part of chaotic process. Blogs, wikis, podcasting, SaaS, mashups, SOA, etc. are the Paleolithic tools of the cyberage applied to the human quest to survival and connection. One hopes that whatever bubble we are in continues so that enough innovation and experimentation can happen, and that something profound and civilizing emerges from all the effort.