When Norman Mailer was promoting his biography of Picasso, a talk show host asked him why, with so many books already written about the great artist, people should buy his. "Because I already read all the others," Mailer shot back, "so they only have to read mine." If that thinking is good enough for Mailer, it's good enough for me. So instead of offering predictions for 2007 after so many others have offered theirs, let's pick through some of the more interesting and provocative forecasts and handicap their chances of coming true in the next 12 months: Steve Ballmer, Microsoft (MSFT) CEO: "In 2007, I believe that phone numbers and email addresses will begin to give way to a single identity, and the desktop phone will merge with the PC and mobile phone. Messages will be routed to you on a device that will be smart enough to know whether you can be interrupted based on what you are doing and who the message is from." Chances: 10%. Tech and media execs have been going on about this kind of integration for years, without it ever happening. It's nice to see Ballmer, who was quoted in the Los Angeles Times, holding up the tradition. But unless Microsoft has some secret plans for next year, which I doubt, this won't happen right away. Yes, the PC is dying, and yes, mobile devices and applications will make big strides forward. But the integration of identities, let alone communications devices, is still years away.
Kevin Werbach, professor, Wharton School of Business: "I expect that in the next year, at least one file-sharing -- or "peer-to-peer" -- television service will hit the exponential growth curve of Napster ( NAPS), Skype and MySpace." Chances: 70%. Werbach, also quoted in the LA Times' roundup of predictions, says P2P video makes for speedier downloading of larger programs, resulting in a way around a major bottleneck preventing online video from becoming a big seller. The pieces are in place for such a leader to emerge. Werbach names four strong candidates: BitTorrent, which is partnering with media giants; The Venice Project, brought to you by the creators of Kazaa and Skype; and Chinese P2P successes Xunlei and PPLive. The race is on. Pete Cashmore, author of social-network blog Mashable: "Social networks
will fail to expand internationally due to local competition." Chances: 85%. As the Web develops, it gets harder to transplant successfully to another culture. Yahoo! ( YHOO) saw this early on when it backed away from pushing its brand in China, opting instead for a 40% stake in Alibaba. eBay ( EBAY) made a similar move by rolling its Chinese site into a joint venture run by a partner. Social networks, a hot area of growth in the U.S. in 2006, are likely to face an even harder time. People are very finicky about which social network they'll join, and cultural barriers will be a big factor. Plus, as Cashmore says, local sites such as Japan's Mixi are already dominating local markets.
Fred Wilson, venture capitalist and blogger: "It's time for user-generated devices. ... Users are going to take control of their devices and I think 2007 is the year we will start to see it happen." Chances: 25%. What's a "user-generated device?" It's a way for the average consumer to take control over manufactured gadgets the way they've taken control of media through blogs, home videos and the like. Wilson is on to a great idea here: Instead of waiting for a big manufacturer to mass-produce some device that may be in demand by a small group of consumers, let the consumers create those devices themselves, by hacking an existing device or creating it from the ground up. This could happen on a small scale, but there are serious barriers involved. Bloggers can publish automatically using programs such as Moveable Type, but do-it-yourself hardware is much more complex. Then there are the copyright issues in selling a modified device made by another company. Read/WriteWeb:" Amazon's ( AMZN) Web services were a surprise hit in 2006 ... expect more big things from Amazon next year." Chances: 66%. While margins are low for Amazon's online retailing, it's quietly expanded into a promising new area -- renting out services, from scalable storage on its servers to its software code -- that have led some investors to give it a second look. The company is discreet about any longer-term strategy in this area, but it's close to Bezos' heart, and Amazon is not likely to stop its work here. Neither are other companies, like Google and eBay, who may try to horn in on Amazon's act here.