The future from Texas

I returned last week from South by South West. It was my third showing and by far my best experience. SXSW can be overwhelming, it draws thousands of messianic and work obsessed technologists plucked from the front lines of the internet and buzzing with the fervor. Yes, the over-hype is distracting, but the few days of conversation with the innovators at the edges of the internet over world class BBQ makes it well worth it.

I first went in 2003, that was six years ago. The internet as a medium has changed dramatically since then, it's become much more useful and compelling. More exciting though are the underlying advancements under formulation for years that are just beginning to bear fruit. My trip to Texas got me as excited as ever about what the future will bring given what is now possible.

Compounding advancements in computing technology and the increasingly streamlined distribution channel available on the web for new businesses will yield plenty of surprises over the next five years. In the past five years there has been a flurry of innovation; blogging, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Flickr, virtually every staple of 'Web 2.0' was created or popularized in the past five years. Discerning which new applications will take hold over the next five is a $100BN question, but recent advances in platform technology available on the web give a glimpse of what will soon be possible:

  1. Cloud computing services (Amazon EC2, Google App Engine etc.) are driving the cost of web hosting and storage down dramatically for innovators, but more importantly, are providing a clear path for applications to reach internet scale. In just a few years access to these services have gone from theoretically possible, to technically possible, to now totally possible and even advisable.
  2. New application distribution channels (Facebook, iPhone) are making it vastly easier and cheaper to create and market innovative applications and bring them to scale.
  3. Data interchange standards (Oauth, OpenSocial, etc.) are finally starting to make possible the dream of seamless and costless data interchange between web applications. This will enable a host of new applications that can re-use existing data sets and content published on the web.
  4. Web frameworks (Drupal, Django, Ruby on Rails) are making it vastly cheaper and easier to develop custom applications. For application developers, building on a web app frameworks is quickly becoming the norm.

Back in 2003 these tools were either in their infancy or still untested ideas, this year at SXSW they were all common knowledge.