The biggest technology trends of 2006 fit neatly into several buckets. I’d label those buckets as technology that was visible to all, technology only visible to the interested few and technology that drilled holes into buckets belonging to others. Technology visible to all refers to Internet applications. Those applications were either getting bigger, were getting smashed together or were getting squeezed onto smaller devices. Of course the big application that just keeps getting bigger was search and in particular, Google. I don’t have to write any more about Google because entire blogging careers are now being built around delving into Google’s every move. But in addition to search those applications built around social interaction using the Internet including video sharing, personal information sharing and, more recently, location sharing really came into their own in 2006. Internet applications based on meshing several applications into a final app (such as Zillow in real estate) have redefined the programming model as the process from idea to application has been compressed to Internet time. And finally the applications which used to work best on a full screen browser are being parsed and presented on a new range of mobile devices.
The technology only visible to the interested few may have been the most interesting of all. EnerNoc was one of my favorite companies to cover. They stand are an arbiter between utilities and data centers where they can manage power and pay the data center for small changes in heating and cooling adjustments with money provided by the utilities who need to conserve power during peak loads. While energy use has become a big topic in technology, most of the activity has been built around doing the same activities with more efficient systems rather than rethinking the relationship between the power provider and the power user. A second favorite has been the rise of companies built around quickly building networks to control physical products. Dust Networks with its smart sensor technology can instrument a fast food chain’s freezers to run more efficiently and bring dollars to the bottom line. If you weren’t interested in controlling your freezers, you probably weren’t aware of this new opportunity. And a third example of technology only slightly visible is the new display technology being developed for the $100 laptop project (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Home). While much of the commercial laptop news in 2006 was about battery problems with the major vendors, the new display for the $100 laptop may answer the battery issue by making laptop designs significantly more energy efficient while also improving readability.
I’ve thought about technology that drills holes into the buckets of others, while finding more and more uses for shared Google spreadsheets. When Google first introduced the spreadsheet (and later word processing) many writers, including this one, questioned whether users would suddenly start to abandon their Microsoft Office suites for online alternatives. The answer is clearly no, users won’t do a wholesale abandonment but will instead migrate to the application that is the easiest to use, offers security and provides easily sharable information to those folks you want to be part of the circle. As more users get used to using shared applications, I think of it as small holes being drilled into the big, old corporate suite bucket. It would be much easier for vendors such as Microsoft to do battle with Office alternatives if they could see a customer wavering in their commitment to Microsoft and then go in an offer deals and pressure to keep the customer. But users slowly eroding without a vendor’s (and other the internal IT department’s) knowledge if far more difficult to counter. The slow and quite endorsement of a technology happened originally in personal computers, then wireless network access points, then in customer resource management applications and now in office suites. The biggest changes are often the least visible and those slow drips coming from the large vendor buckets that started in 2006 are the harbingers of bigger changes in 2007.