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Internet Tech Trends For 2022

Big ideas that could shape the Internet’s next decade.

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Every year at the start of the year, Benedict Evans produces a big presentation on trends in technology, internet, mobile, and so on. He used to live in the US and did this for Andreesen-Horowitz (a16z), but he has since returned to Britain (he’s English) and I think has his own consulting company. This year’s presentation is titled “Three Steps to the Future.”

The most exciting themes in technology today are transformative visions for 2025 or 2030: crypto, web3, VR, metaverse…and then everything else. Meanwhile, hundreds of start-ups take ideas from the last decade and deploy them over and over in one industry after another, and trying to keep up, the old economy faces waves of disruption from ideas we first talked about in the 1990s.

Here are the three steps:

  • Future: Tech visions for the future
  • Present: Startups deploy the ideas of the 2010s
  • Past: Old economy disrupted by ideas from the 2000s

Today’s post will cover the future and the present. Next week, the past.

The future

The two big ones are Web3 and the Metaverse, but there are more like low-earth-orbit satellites, plant-based meat, autonomous cars, and neural interfaces (it’s amazing how many of these Elon Musk is involved with).

Web3 and the Metaverse are basically rebranding. What used to be called cryptocurrencies or just crypto are now Web3. What used to be called VR/AR is now the Metaverse. Web3 is intended to be a new way to build software and internet businesses. The Metaverse is intended to be the next platform after mobile.

Web3

A blockchain, the heart of Web3, is intended to be an open distributed computing system with no centralized control. So Web1 (or just the web) was fairly dumb browsers accessing websites where any computation was done (such as shopping carts and payment, or email); Web 2.0 was the next phase. Two big changes were that there was interactivity in the browser, not just on the server. And users create a lot of the content (videos, blogs, photos). Centralized companies such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram made most of the money and exerted control over what could and could not be published. The basic idea of Web3 is that there is no centralized control, users control what is published and make money more directly.

If you think of open-source software as changing the way code is written, but still run centrally, then Web3 is intended to change where it runs. Open code, open and distributed execution, and some sort of integrated revenue and money (otherwise everything is still centralized through banks). This doesn’t necessarily mean Bitcoin. But some sort of distributed money is required to avoid centralization. I think it remains to be seen how well that works. Remember the idealism of the early web? Here is the opening paragraph from John Perry Barlow’s A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather. We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

How did that work out?

Here’s an example: Helium, which is a distributed network of low-power low-bandwidth IoT radio access points, with decentralized incentives, tracking, and payment. It is deploying in huge numbers (around the Bay Area at least).

Ben’s summary on Web3 is that it looks like early consumer internet (where nobody knew how it would work out)…but also like a lot of things that failed.

Metaverse

The vision is a universal screen for everything, replacing your TV, your computer screen, your phone, and everything else. Oculus (Facebook’s VR headset) sold 10M units in the last 12 months, but it has not really surged during the lockdown. This is not something that Ben talked about, but Ben Thompson of Stratechery thinks that the “killer app” for this sort of technology is going to be making Zoom meetings much more present, and so the eventual winner is more likely to be Microsoft than Facebook.

So far, the main use for VR has been games, but games are still relatively small.

The tech for both Web3 and Metaverse is pretty amazing…but that doesn’t guarantee that it will truly be part of our 2030 ecosystem.

Not directly from Ben’s presentation, but here’s a Designed with Cadence video: “Xvisio and Cadence Work Together to Build the World a Metaverse.”

The present

The present is all about deploying the great ideas from the last decade:

  • SaaS
  • Cloud
  • Machine learning
  • Image recognition
  • FinTech
  • Voice

“Digital transformation” sounds like management jargon, but describes a real transformation from mainframes…to client-server, PCs, Oracle, Microsoft…and now Cloud, SaaS, and Machine Learning. But this is very much incomplete, with only 10-15% of IT spending going to the cloud and the rest still on-prem.

Years ago, I went on a course about the mobile industry held at Oxford University by the wonderfully named Herschel Shosteck (who unfortunately passed just a few years later). He gave us all a wind-up brass alarm clock since there were no clocks in the student dorm rooms we were staying in, but mostly to point out that old technology last a lot longer than you expect. Ben Evans made a similar point with the graph below showing IBM mainframe installation: Cloud may be the hot new thing, but mainframes sure haven’t gone away (and nor have PCs, since I’m typing on a laptop right now).

But the hyperscalers are coming (Alphabet and Microsoft alone will spend $40B this year on cloud infrastructure).

The cloud means workflows, not applications.

Don’t put your spreadsheets on the web, find a better way to do the job.

Taking advantage of this is remaking companies. This is a Vodafone slide that Ben had dropped into his presentation. They had to deal with 2.6M invoices and 40K queries, which required over 1000 people to handle. As you can see, the target is for less than 100 next year.

See the whole presentation

You can see the whole presentation (which contains a lot more than I’ve included here) on Ben’s website.



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