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Predictions for 2004

February 2004

It’s the time of year when we are forced to look back (tax returns) and forward (new diaries).  In cyberspace, it was a year of consolidation; next year will be, too.

Most of the changes have taken place under the bonnet.  You might have noticed that some of your best used sites are getting faster and more reliable;, for example.  That’s because of some major developments in the underlying technology, and big investments in equipment.  Organisations are finally realising that if they seek to provide a mass service through the Internet, it can’t be done on the cheap.  In the computer world, as in most other worlds, you do tend to get what you pay for.

Some big sites remain conspicuously under powered, however.  I think that and must be amongst the slowest sites on the planet, for example.

I was delighted to see that Tim Berners-Lee was knighted.  He is the British academic who more or less made the Internet possible by inventing hypertext links.  They allow us to call up documents from far and wide over the Internet.  As well as inventing them, he made them freely available to us all; some people (like Bill Gates) made their fortunes with them.

Berners-Lee, by contrast, has never sought to make money directly from his creation.  He hoped that the Internet would be developed in a decentralised way, and has always tried to ensure that “the fundamental technologies are available to all for broad use and innovation, and without having to pay licensing fees.”

Good for him, I say. I much prefer it when such an unselfish innovator is honoured, rather than the predictable raft of well paid civil servants and politicians that usually fills the List.  He has, quite properly, been awarded many honorary doctorates from universities around the world, including his alma mater (Oxford), and it was high time that his country recognised him as well.  His web site is

Now to the future.  Here are some predictions for 2004:

  • The new laws to deter Spam will have no effect at all.  The only prosecution, if there is one, will be against an easy target like a bank with faulty software that emails every one by mistake.  Porn merchants and drug peddlers will be unaffected.
  • Broadband access through telephone lines will become readily available (at a price) to almost all homes that are within a mile of their exchange, but will be taken up by less than ten percent of them.  Those of us in the deep countryside will still be using the Internet equivalent of semaphore next Christmas.
  • No one will invent a way of charging very small amounts – a few pence – to look at a web site.  Once someone cracks that problem, many sites will become potential goldmines (especially large databases and libraries).  It’s an Internet Holy Grail, but it’s not going to be found in 2004.
  • In the mean time, newspapers and magazines will start charging subscriptions for access to their online archive, and ISP’s will begin quietly to introduce a “premium” service for those who pay more.
  • The music industry will continue to whine that the Internet is costing them money as fans continue to pass copies of popular songs amongst each other.  As Broadband use grows, the DVD industry will notice that the same thing is happening to them, and they won’t know what to do about it either.
  • The most popular Internet search will be the name of some glamorous girl, as usual.  Some things will never change.