More Forrester Bullshit

Posted on March 4, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |

I’m skeptical about and I’m skeptical about data portability. The two came together when Forrester Research’s Charlene Li took the stage to speak at the Graphing Social Patterns West conference. As reported by GigaOm, Charlene “laid out what social networks would look like 10 years from now.”

Amongst her predictions:

Li still thinks that we will see some major changes this year, though she cautioned that we won’t see the ubiquitous social network that centers around your email as the constant of your social graph. That, she said, will most likely play out on a large portal site, but not for another five or so.

I don’t think there’s any reason to even discuss Li’s vision (making Facebook’s social graph open); I find it much more interesting that anybody would be so presumptive as to predict what social networks are going to look like 10 years from now.

Obviously, firms like Forrester Research and analysts like Li are in the business of prediction. I suspect, however, that if you went back and looked at all the long-term projections firms like Forrester have published over the years related to the Internet, most of them would not have been very good. That’s not surprising given that predicting the future is difficult, especially when you’re dealing with nascent industries, many of which have not even been proven to be commercially viable.

The problem with predicting the future of social networks in particular is that there are still questions about the long-term staying power of the social networking trend. The history of social networking is one of user migrations and shifts in popularity (from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, etc.). And recent data seems to indicate that growth may be leveling out across the board while users are . Coupled with the fact that social networks have not been able to prove themselves effective vehicles for monetization and I think it’s quite difficult to make any predictions about what “social networks” will look like even two years from now.

In the case of Facebook, I find it amusing that so much attention is being paid to the future of a company that has been given an exorbitant $15 billion valuation despite the fact that look like they could be the business world’s equivalent of the Hindenburg. In other words, a financial disaster waiting to happen.

In my opinion, discussing the long-term future of Facebook and the social network itself may be about as productive as it would have been to discuss the long-term future of Geocities in 1998. Even if today’s popular social networks don’t become obsolete like Geocities, given how fast markets change and new fads can rise, some of the discussions that occur at these conferences border on the absurd.

When it comes to thinking about the future, I’m reminded of a talk I heard several years ago by Ray Kurzweil. He is a proponent of the theory that technological change occurs exponentially, not linearly. I definitely believe that there is, at a minimum, some truth to this notion and I hope that Kurzweil’s theory is correct for the sake of humanity. After all, if we are still talking about social networks and Facebook five years from now, it won’t say a whole lot about our capacity to innovate.

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5 Responses to “More Forrester Bullshit”

  1. Mike Rundle on March 4th, 2008 1:56 am

    “In my opinion, discussing the long-term future of Facebook and the social network itself may be about as productive as it would have been to discuss the long-term future of Geocities in 1998″

    That’s exactly what I was thinking when I read the quote about the 10-year prediction. My first thoughts were “damn what was I doing 10 years ago” and I realized I was on AOL dial-up writing little scripts to boot people offline. Flash forward to now where I write scripts to manage users signing up for websites, and it’s a total mind fuck. I need a new profession. I wonder what Forrester’s 10-year outlook on that is…

  2. robojiannis on March 4th, 2008 4:42 am

    If there were a prediction to be made for the next years, I would say it would definetely not be social networks.
    The semantic web is on the way and the web of data is one more distant vision.
    If we could make a prediction - and I agree, I think we can’t - it would be that the web 2.0 bubble is about to burst.

  3. Chris on March 4th, 2008 11:02 am

    If you look at what universities and research labs are developing today it’s going to be a very different future in 10 years, especially if you take into consideration Kurzweil’s predictions.

    You might find this interesting, it’s a link to BT’s futurology department

  4. Carla Thompson on March 4th, 2008 12:41 pm

    @robojiannis you beat me to the punch. I was just thinking as I read this: Social networks in ten years? Who will care? All the really interesting conversations happening right now are about AI and semantics and a smarter Web in general. Facebook will be following *us* around in 10 years.

  5. Commoncents on March 5th, 2008 1:37 pm

    I would hope that in ten years we will be using the collective knowledge and wisdom of the crowd to do more than poke someone.

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