It's time for a few predictions

The fat lady sang and the party is over. The web was once a free-for-all where practically anyone could create a business, but only those with real business intelligence will succeed.

It's a new year's tradition to resolve that I'll shed the tyre around my waist from eating my way through 25 pounds of fruitcake during the holidays. And it's practically an annual requirement that I make a prediction or two for the new year. So here goes.

1. The fat lady sang and the party is over. The web was once a free-for-all where practically anyone could create a business, but only those with real business intelligence will succeed. Efficiency - not rapid, unruly expansion - will drive the bottom line this year. Accurate, short-term forecasting will be key to long-term growth. Anyone building a five-year dot-com business and revenue model is a dart expert in disguise.

2. Hiding behind our monitors and using cryptic, meaningless user names will decline. Interactivity and authenticity will emerge as a meaningful exchange on the web. If your friends and co-workers won't shoot straight with you, someone on the web will. Don't ask your spouse if you're good-looking. Get yourself rated at www.amihotornot.com.

3. The quality of websites will continue to improve at glacier speed. Despite my ongoing advice to keep it clean and simple, most sites will continue to clutter the experience. Simplicity should drive all aspects of site design and include inviting, visual, intuitive navigation; well-structured information; and an overall impressive, enjoyable experience.

4. Website designers and developers will better understand the differences between customisation and personalisation and put these winning solutions to work. Customisation means "I want this here, and that there." Personalisation is either implicit or explicit. With implicit personalisation, I visit your site and, based on the information you gather about how I use it, you determine what I see. Explicit personalisation requires that I tell you I'm 177cm tall and weigh 70kg, and then you show me the exercise-related content I need to see. The best sites will make use of all three techniques.

5. Looking tech-chic is in, especially as we acquire more gadgets to hang on our bodies. The wireless boom is upon us and gadget diversification continues in 2001. The dilemma: being wired, but looking sharp. If you're serious about looking good while staying connected, be sure to check out the styling gear at www.roadwired.com.

6. Why be smart when you can be ultrasmart? Intelligent agents, which can find information and conduct transactions on your behalf, will make their way into our lives. If software designers are smart, they will continue to make inroads into developing intelligent agents.

7. Thanks to television programmes such as Law and Order, awareness of computer crime and fraud increases. Unfortunately, so do the acts themselves. Still, many crimes go unreported due to both the lack of knowledge of violation and the fear of repercussion after admitting that your site has been tampered with. Security remains a top concern for e-commerce sites and technology vendors, while consumer-driven solutions, such as e-cash, expand as credit card fraud increases. Private payments using a unique random number that resembles a credit card protect consumers. Check out the free program from American Express at www.americanexpress.com/privatepayments.

Wonnacott is vice president of Infoworld.com. Send email to Laura Wonnacott.

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