John C. Abell

Five backward-compatible forecasts for 2011

Dec 27, 2010 14:18 UTC

Innovation doesn’t know what day it is. It’s also true that we never seem to predict the most interesting things which actually do happen. Oh sure — years of speculation preceded Apple’s iPad announcement last January. But did anyone actually figure on the iPad?

With trepidation, then, I’ve committed to a forecast at years’ end, a moment of no moment for either tech or media. Sadly, there is no fiscal year option in the pontification game that could postpone this to a more sensible time in Q2.

So, in the spirit of tradition, I offer my First Annual Backward Compatible Tech Forecast.

1) The social net works (really!)
2010 was a franchise year for Facebook. It grew to a staggering 500 million members. Privacy-indifferent CEO Mark Zuckerberg beat out even badder-boy Julian Assange of WikiLeaks to be named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.” But 2010 was also the year of the niche social network. These small services hew to a more traditional definition of “community” by introducing strangers who share a common interest, like GetGlue and Foodspotting. Or, like Path, they harken to a quaint definition of “friend” by limiting one’s circle to 50. Yelp and Goodreads and Gowalla have been with us for a while, but the mass medium that are apps makes signing up and sticking with narrow networks effortless. And they are a lot easier to manage.

2) Can you see me now?
Skype had some big problems at the end of the year, but this Internet telephony pioneer is poised to deliver, on a wide scale, the most tasty combination since the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: mobile video conferencing on “everywhere” data networks. This is part hope and part belief in a process which, while hampered by carriers in 2010, seems increasingly inevitable — perhaps more so now with the new FCC net neutrality rules. Video phones have been rejected by every human with bad hair since AT&T showcased one at the 1964-65 New York City World’s Fair. But video calling is a hit in the age of the webcam. And since the smartphone set always has one handy, the only real impediment are carrier bandwidth caps.

An open letter to CEOs: Why so Twitter averse?

Dec 20, 2010 10:53 UTC

Screen shot 2010-12-15 at 3.39.19 PM

Dear CEO of [Your Name Here]: Why aren’t you on Twitter?

In retrospect, I have come to understand your relative lack of interest in blogging, when blogging was the thing to do. It’s time consuming. It’s easy to overthink (and underthink). A blog requires readers to find you, and return — embarrassing if they don’t. You always have to feed the beast (darn you, pesky time stamps).

All this changed with the advent of Twitter, a haiku melting pot where you don’t have to be more pithy or verbose than you might be when making polite conversation at a cocktail party that nobody minds you crashed, and the right name or title or station virtually guarantees a large following (even if nobody is actually paying attention to anything you say).

But you don’t seem to be participating in micro-blogging any more than you participated in blogging. Oh sure, lots of companies hire social media marketing experts — you probably signed off on that without even realizing it.

WikiPiques: Let’s all just calm down

Dec 10, 2010 13:54 UTC

John Abell is New York bureau chief for Wired.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

The pariah du jour to the United States and the countries who do business with it is one Julian Assange, a soft-spoken Australian whose motives may be obscure but whose life work is pretty clear. The founder of WikiLeaks, Assange is the whistleblower’s whistleblower, enabling the disclosure of anything in digital form — which, in the age of the Internet, is everything.

The drama to marginalize/silence/demonize Assange is playing out like a (bad) Hollywood script, but the stakes — to commerce, to free speech, to the freedom of the Internet — are quite real. It’s a good time to take a deep breath.