Last year around this time, we asked a few members of our executive team to fire up their crystal balls and tell us what they saw in the mists of 2018’s tech future.
Now it’s time to take a look back and see how right (or wrong) they were, which things came out of the blue, and what tech trends to keep an eye on in the new year.
AI: A False Start?
Many of our execs were excited to see how Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning were going to disrupt the market last year. But so far, we haven’t been blown away by the robots.
Namecheap CEO Richard Kirkendall predicted that “hardware powered by [AI] software is where the most exciting advancements will be taking place. With the focus on independent machines…” But COO Hillan Klein said recently: “we have yet to see AI really start to move the needle in improving customer experience and helping small business owners to become more effective at building their business online.”
For example, we predicted a shakeup in domain transfer and ownership with low-value leases allowing individual domain owners opportunities with the help of machine learning. Domainers could ostensibly buy domains for the base registration price, then, with some automated assistance, lease them on an open-ended basis for that price plus their desired markup.
Having a year to think it over, however, the general consensus among the group is that it’s likely that this kind of customer benefit won’t happen until automation has developed a little further.
But because we know tech is nothing if not dynamic, Klein still firmly believes that AI and machine learning are inevitable market disruptors, be it in 2019 or beyond.
Wal-Mart & Amazon: Clash of the E-commerce Titans
As we closed out 2017, many of us focused on Amazon’s increasingly dominant position in the marketplace and its likely expansion into new regions. Wal-Mart also came out as a strong competitor that year, though, showing the potential to seriously compete with Amazon through its own advancements in the tech space ecosystem.
As we move into a new year, it looks like the competition will only get more intense. Namecheap R&D lab’s Phil McKegney notes that “Wal-Mart has had a very strong year and has no signs of slowing down. Their focus on e-commerce and expansion of their marketplace make them a direct threat to Amazon. I think this is a battle that is just starting and will be very interesting to watch over the coming years.”
Not to be outdone, however, “Amazon continues to grow in its chosen verticals, and has fared particularly well in the cloud space over the last year.” he says. “From the outside, and as we kick-off 2019, Amazon continues to innovate across numerous industries, often disrupting the status quo.”
GDPR: Worse Before it Gets Better
At the beginning of 2018, the world was preparing for one of the biggest regulatory shifts the Internet had ever seen—the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. This data privacy law (which became enforceable at the end of May) now requires companies to provide rigorous customer privacy protections and to be more transparent about the data they collect.
Last January, McKegney warned of legal and regulatory vulnerabilities that might accompany GDPR, predicting that they “will likely change publication of domain ownership records (Whois) as we know it,” and cautioning against adverse side effects of the regulation such as “unintended facilitation of online abuses like fraud and spam, especially in the near- to mid-term while new control solutions are developed.”
So what’s the verdict? Unfortunately, McKegney isn’t happy to be right about this one, today stating that “one of the GDPR’s biggest impacts and risks in many ways is the confusion that has been caused by the regulations which may create opportunities for bad actors to exploit new undiscovered vulnerabilities.”
Looks like we’ll have to wait until the dust settles to determine the true effects of the GDPR in the new year. Stay tuned (and stay safe).
Facebook: The Beginning of the End?
Speaking of staying tuned, grab the popcorn because it looks like the drama swirling around Facebook is getting more intense than we may have anticipated.
Last year at this time, we were cautiously curious about the social media giant’s allegedly questionable practices around user data: “I think traditional social media like Facebook usage might change in 2018 as mistrust around its usage grows,” said McKegney. “I expect (and hope) to see that people will share less and be more critical of what is shared with them.”
How times have changed: “It certainly feels like 2018 was a bad year for Facebook,” he reports. “Writing this mid-November, 2018—a day after the New York Times’ article on Facebook’s strategy of “Delay, Deny and Deflect’–I think it’s too early to really understand what is happening because we’re really in the middle of it. However, I expect that there will be a fair amount of research into understanding Facebook’s usage patterns over the coming months along with a seemingly endless amount of news coverage.”
Trends to Track in 2019
While learning from the past is important, it’s always essential in tech to keep an eye on the future, scanning for trends that could define our industry, and the world, in the years to come.
One trend we noticed in 2018 was the emergence of tech companies focused on financing and lending to small business owners. “While any business owner needs to consider their options and only source financing where their business model can support it,” Klein notes, “for those that can benefit from increased access to capital, this is exciting as it can help entrepreneurs to get the extra support they need to expand their business, and keep growing through 2019.”
He’s also following the noteworthy trend that’s transforming the gig economy: “Talented individuals with specific skills are finding work through online platforms,” he says, “allowing them to dictate their own hours, work flexibly from home or a co-working space, and build their personal brand within their industry.” As the gig job market moves beyond car share drivers and delivery services, this trend could play a major part in the evolution of the modern employment landscape.
The Most Reliable Trend
In the end, people continue to innovate in the tech realm. Last year, for example, we witnessed “personal security and responsibility tools at the customer level becoming more commonplace, with anti-virus companies offering browser plugins that alert to potentially hazardous websites.”
We saw this move toward accountability and community protection as a desire for users to come together to make the online experience better, safer, and more reliable for everyone. We’re happy to say this is one trend that seems to be moving in a positive direction.