Predictions for 2013

This New Year’s eve I thought I might blog some predictions for the coming year, (social purchasing, app stores, yada yada), but I decided that wasn’t stupid enough, so at risk of sounding like a deranged conspiracy theorist,  here’s my outlook for 2013 instead. Sweet dreams, and happy 2011 everyone!

Facebook in your pocket

I’ve half joked about this numerous times – The likelihood that Facebook will produce a physical device that carries your ID; a device that allows you to make payments, sign into other devices, etc.. A quick Google shows I may not be completely insane after all – Facebook flirts with RFID.

The images to the right are the product of my questionable Photoshop®­­ skills and paranoid imagination. But am I crazy?

We (the UK) are a country that said “no to ID” . If asked, most of us will probably say we dislike the concept of a Big Brother state, and yet we are more than happy to surrender our identity to Silicon Valley in exchange for some neat sharing tools. Facebook is aggressively collecting mobile phone numbers, and credit card numbers. They know your name, your location, your employer, your family and friend connections, and obviously what you look like. They already have the foundation of a virtual currency and [I’d imagine] have enough data on most of us to run a pretty decent credit check.

So, do we really object to the concept of carrying around identification? I’m willing to bet that if Facebook incentivises us to carry our ID around on a physical device, we’ll lap it up. Incentivising us to use features we didn’t know we needed is something that they’re rather good at.

I’m aware that this smacks of the various RFID conspiracies coming out of America, and whatever you do, don’t Google “Facebook CIA”. I’d better digress before the black vans come.

Death of the address bar

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the URI is on its way out as a way for normal people to interact with the web.

If you want an indication that there is a trend in this direction, take a look at the top search terms of 2010. “Facebook login” is up seven places on last year, from ninth to second-most searched term. What does this mean? It means people in general do not want to use the URI as a user interface. It also means most people don’t use bookmarks, even for something they use every day.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee defines the World Wide Web as an application that runs on the Internet. A useful distinction, but it seems it isn’t destined to remain an application that humans use as directly as they have in the past. Abstraction will continue to creep in. There has been [for some time] an application running on top of the web – it’s called Search, and it has won.

We can debate whether this user-friendliness is for our benefit, or whether it’s just the corporations dumbing us down, so we increasingly depend upon them. But I shan’t bother to argue that, because I feel it’s inevitable anyway – there’s no fighting progress.

So my prediction for 2013 is that the address bar will be at most an optional feature of the next generation of web browsers, a feature only used by developers and old fogeys, like me.

Consumer OS

When I first started using the Web (in the late ’90s) the distinction between being online, and being offline was very clear. Firstly, you had to sign into your ISP, and secondly you had to launch a web browser program (as we more-or-less still have to). It was also very clear when you were accessing data or applications on your local system, and when you were accessing data, or applications on the Internet.

This distinction is eroding. And we are at a pretty significant cross-roads.

Google, above all other consumer-facing technology firms, seem to be making the strongest moves to obliterate the distinction between browser and desktop. Chrome OS takes away the “headaches of [using] ordinary computers” (thank God).  Not only does this (along with Apple’s Mac App Store) move the proprietary app store trend along from being strictly ‘mobile’, but it points to some other pretty incredible paradigm shifts too. How about a persistent social layer for your browser? In fact, why bother signing in and out of Google at all? Why even be concerned with whether you’re ‘on Google‘, ‘on the Internet‘, or even ‘in a browser‘? – you’re just living your life. We all use multiple devices  nowadays, but even the iPhone seems archaic with its manual syncing rigmarole. How great if  “your stuff was just there”? (There Google, you can have that slogan for free).

This seems a natural progression of consumerised computing, which has been going on for decades. The word ‘Cloud’ is already being drummed into consumers’ heads, despite it being in its infancy even in the IT industry. Microsoft’s “To the Cloud” ad campaign has hit UK television screens, and the word ‘Cloud’ itself [with all its meaningful meaninglessness] continues to be an irritating marketing buzz word.

So my prediction for 2013 – Desktop machines (assuming we still want those) will ship with a choice of totally locked down operating systems from Microsoft, Apple, or Google (at least there’s choice). Installing software from their proprietary stores will make installing your own software (from a DVD, or dodgy download site), look seriously Cyberpunk! It seems unlikely that even Google will create a social network to rival Facebook, so I expect all these offerings will have persistent, transparent Facebook integration.