Looking backward

PREDICTIONS Forecasting even short-term technology and business trends can be risky business. Remember Ethernet inventor and Internet pundit Bob Metcalfe's famously unfulfilled prophecy that the Internet would collapse under its own weight in 1996? (When the Internet didn't crash, Metcalfe literally ate his own words -- a copy of his column -- onstage at a conference.) Yet every December, gurus, consultants, researchers, authors and futurists all try to predict what will fly and what will die in the next 12 months.

Many 1998 prognostications came true in 1999. But then, a lot of those fell into the no-brainer category. For example, nobody went too far out on a limb by predicting that, in 1999, Internet stocks would soar and crash, soar again and crash again. Other predictions contradicted each other: Some pundits projected additional portal proliferation this year, while others insisted the trend had run its course.

A few key developments pretty much escaped everyone's crystal ball: A year ago, nobody really predicted the rapid rise of vertical, or special-interest, portal sites; nobody had yet invented the term click-and-mortar to describe companies combining their online and offline businesses.

As the year draws to a close, some 1998 predictions don't appear to be in the cards for 1999:

Digital Duds GartnerGroup Inc. of Stamford, Conn., included wearable computers in its list of 10 technologies to watch in 1999. How many belt-mounted computers or keyboard bracelets did you see this year?

Electronic Books GartnerGroup also advised watching for these paperback-size devices, which let users download books and other publications from the Web. E-books did begin popping up this fall, but they remain a novelty.

My Firewall The Web Informant, an e-mail newsletter, predicted that anybody with a permanent Internet connection -- even at home -- would start thinking about corporate-level security. But do-it-yourself firewall kits haven't exactly become household items.

Making Money New York-based PricewaterhouseCoopers said companies would start to see significant returns on their e-commerce investments by the end of 1999. But for most companies, serious e-commerce profits are still somewhere over the millennial rainbow.

This story, "Looking backward" was originally published by CIO.

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