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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Midband Decade: Internet as social disease, Google, Skype, Facebook, YouTube and Nokia

El Reg's review of the decade got me thinking about how European consumers think of the past decade in IT: bear in mind for most it was their first decade as the Freeserve unmetered access model only emerged in 1998, and the bubble burst just as broadband was emerging.
The dominance of Windows computers running incumbents' DSL connections at under a Megabit/sec was the main experience. Incumbents own the wholesale broadband networks for 3 out of 4 European consumers. Any appearance of competition is basically in the local loop. Microsoft maintains its 90%+ market share in operating systems and is close to that in browsers (by installation even as usage stats slide below 70%), even as the European antitrust action appears settled after a decade. The appearance of WiFi helped users tether themselves to the house or cafe not the phone socket.
Apple's clout in the US was really a blip in Europe. The mobile Internet barely existed, in fact texting was the big mobile app. Many European users barely noticed the iPhone (and Blackberries still dominate), tied to one network at huge monthly subscriptions and slow 3G connections. So - in contrast to the predictions when 3G was auctioned in 2000 - it was not the mobile Internet decade at all. Nokia sold almost 500m in 2008 alone, with almost 10 billion sold in the decade.The majority were 2G simple call/text/WAP phones to the developing world.
The decade was occupied with viruses and spam, many attacking Microsoft's programmes - ILoveYou started the trend in May 2000. The biggest strain on the network was not dubious quality and copyright video on YouTube, but DOS attacks and Microsoft monthly security patches.
As for e-commerce, the book did not die but Amazon sold more than the high street, the holiday package did not die but consumers used the web for cheap flights and last-minute deals. Paperless billing for utilities, banking, and e-government services did not eliminate paper altogether - except on Ryanair which also tried to eliminate check-in staff, hold luggage and other annoyances. A £1 flight at 27.99 was perhaps the biggest change for the average punter. We still buy DVDs and CDs far more thanm we download legally or illegally. We don't buy as many inky newspapers any more, though....a fifty year trend that the Internet exacerbates but did not start and will not finish. Newspaper troubles in 2008-9 reflect the collapse of jobs and other classified revenues far more than circulation slumps.
Oh, and we still listen to the radio and watch TV - in fact, digital radio was a complete dud, and Internet radio  only really replaced the tranny with MeRadio - lastfm and the like. Digital TV was a success as were PVRs and flat screens, though HD and BluRay remain 'premium' services in the UK, which means most people don't use their digital TV set to its potential.
Personalisation and privacy made limited progress in the 2000s, with Google storing ever-more search, email, video and blog information (thanks for all of that, by the way!), and the first shots in the targetted advertising battles started with Phorm in the UK - this will be a huge issue going forwards.
The huge innovations in the 2000s were in video gaming and virtual worlds, and here the Far East led, as in consumer fibre and 3G. The 6th generation of consoles in 1999-2007 sold 200m, the 7th generation is already over 100m, with Wii making non-gamers into gamers. Handhelds have 250m accumulated sales in the decade. In fact, much of the interesting innovation in the past decade came from Seoul or Tokyo or Hong Kong. With 100MB Ethernet all over their major cities, its easy to see that the future is going to be in the Far East, too.
Meanwhile, the debates that will dominate will increasingly revolve around allowing open access to higher speed networks for content. With Facebook users in the 500millions and Skype accounts approaching a billion, net neutrality is becoming a vitally important issue. Consumers want more than same-old cable services, and governments are responding (slowly), though as the UK Digital Economy Bill 2009 shows, its often to knee-jerk protect incumbent business models. That's how the decade started too, remember and Napster?

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