Ask the Experts: How will the Internet change in the next five years?

By Evan Hansen

The editor-in-chief of predicts what trends and technologies will revolutionize the Internet in the next five years.

Evan's top ten:

1. Data Is Supplanting Web Pages. The Web is less and less a “place” made of up “sites” that “surfers” find and explore; it is increasingly a collection of data that we can fetch whenever we want, in any format. Think RSS on steroids. Care to see the latest news headlines but linked to the locations where the events took place and superimposed on a map? No problem.  In this new environment, Web destinations become Web services, whether you’re thinking of news, entertainment, travel, shopping, politics, or anything at all.

2. Data Filtering. With the emergence of the Web as a data service, effective filtering becomes paramount. RSS readers are already buckling under the pressure of too much information. Three primary modes of filtering will dominate: 1. Peer recommendations that identify community preferences by aggregating activities from a large body of contributors (Google PageRank, Digg,; 2. Predictive tools that estimate preferences from the past behavior of individuals (Netflix, Amazon, Google Wiki); 3. Selected expert opinions that set recommendations unilaterally from a small group of authoritative sources (traditional media). Of these, peer recommendation is the one to watch.

Visit Americas Quarterly at for blogging, online polls, and to access content from the Winter 2009 issue—out February 5—on connectivity and the digital divide. Included in the issue:

  • Uruguay's President Tabaré Vázquez on his plans to make his country the most wired in the world.
  • Sharon Squassoni of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace covers the renewed interest in nuclear energy.
  • AQ Contributing Writer Tábata Peregrín writes about the growth of social networking en español.
  • In AQ's "Hard Talk Forum," José Antonio Ocampo and Alberto Bernal square about the policy steps governments should take to shield themselves from financial crisis.

3. Data Portability. Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace will continue to grow, but closed social destinations will give way to distributed social applications available anytime, anywhere. The so-called social graph—conceived as a map of everyone and their relationships to everyone else—will start to become defined and eventually made pervasive, establishing authenticated and persistent identity across the Web. For now, the major players here are Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect, with Facebook in the driver’s seat. The social graph will improve trust and insert greater social responsibility into online interactions and activities. It will also enable and extend social data filtering, improving and refining community-based peer recommendation engines. Plug-ins are already available that allow friends to share recommendations and reviews in real time, such as Glue, which surfaces your friends’ suggestions while browsing products on Amazon.

4. Microblogging. Peer recommendations are being driven by new tools for self-expression that provide simple ways for individuals to comment on anything that catches their fancy and share it with the world. Twitter (microblogging), (link sharing), and FriendFeed (personal feed aggregation) have created a massive expansion in user activity and notification that forms the basis for generating bottom-up rankings and comparisons.

5. Digital Assistants. The new mode of Web interaction implies not only finding information but acting on it. New services will emerge that take personalized filters to automate transactions, such as ticket purchases. For example, an entertainment service could scan the Web searching for local events, such as an appearance by a favorite band, and automatically book tickets before they are sold out. Or it might look for special deals on flights, send a notification at a specific trigger price (say $500), and then purchase the tickets.

6. Mobile Web. As Web sites evolve into Web services, they will become pervasive, available to the end-user anytime, anywhere. Improvements in wireless broadband and enhancements in handsets such as RFID and ubiquitous GPS will deliver a true mobile Web experience and create new location-based services. Mobile computing resources will continue to grow, turning the mobile devices into fully fledged computers. Demand for custom applications from Apple’s iPhone Apps store will explode.

7. Online Video. Media companies will continue to experiment with unfettered Internet video distribution, including HD (Hulu), moves that will eventually dissolve the distinction between TV and the Web and unleash new regulatory battles over the Internet’s underlying infrastructure. Like data and voice, video is poised to become just another application on the network. This will put new data strains on ISPs and heighten service conflicts with consumers. As costs and congestion increase, key regulatory battles loom over net neutrality, ISP traffic-shaping policies, bandwidth caps, and peer-to-peer distribution.

8. Broadband Competition. The U.S. needs to beef up its broadband infrastructure. The way to do that is create more competition. Cable broadband providers such as Comcast are rolling out higher-speed protocol known as Docsis 3.0, and Verizon is laying optical fiber to the home through its FIOS service, bringing 50Mbps residential service to markets that previously topped out at 8Mbps or less. In the end, however, the real future of broadband competition is wireless and will be fueled by newly opened “white spaces” and continued investment in WiMax.

9. IPv6. The Web is running out of IP addresses, and will require a new convention within the next two years. The transition will create a new opportunity to bolster Internet security, while sacrificing ease-of-use and a few widely used features that will no longer be supported when the old IPv4 protocol is ultimately retired. This is already starting to happen, and many new devices and software applications support the new protocol, known as IPv6.

10. Cloud Computing. Software is moving from the hard drive and onto the network, a trend that will accelerate for both consumer and business markets. Millions of consumers already use Web-based email like Yahoo Mail and online photo storage such as Flickr and SmugMug, among others. Now Google and start-ups like Zoho have taken a foothold with office applications such as word processing and spreadsheets. Infrastructure for hosting and running business-grade cloud computing is also gaining ground thanks to services like Amazon’s S3 hosted storage service and EC2 Web application environment, and the race is on to provide software development tools for producing business-grade cloud computing applications.

Evan Hansen is editor-in-chief of