Hot on the Web
Lost in Cyberspace
Online San Diego
Feature Articles
Book Reviews and Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotates
Contact Me

Hot on the Web

What's in store in 2005?

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on January 7, 2005
(Issue 2301, Computer Money Makers)

As we closed out 2004, we used this space to rehash what changes were wrought online in that year. As we enter a new year, it's fun to try to figure out where 2005 will take us. As ComputorEdge publisher Jack Dunning has pointed out in these pages more than once, making predictions sets you up to look like a fool. Then again, unlike Jack, your loyal correspondent has much experience with that!

Spam, spam and maybe less spam?

Increasingly powerful software and increasingly lucrative lawsuits may start bringing e-mail spam to heel. Just as it took a few years and a rash of lawsuits to stop junk faxes back in the 1990s, so we should start seeing fruit from various anti-spam strategies started over the past few years.

When you have longtime foes like Microsoft and AOL teaming up to try to stop the deluge of spam – well, while no one is perfect or omniscient, Microsoft and AOL didn't get to be as big as they are through incompetence. Yahoo is also part of this effort, because spam clogs up their e-mail servers. Google is now in the e-mail biz, too, though its Gmail service – so there's another very successful, very savvy operation taking aim at the spammers.

And despite their best efforts, the spammers can't really hide.

Think about it. They're trying to sell you something – at some point, they have to come up with a way for you to give them money, almost always by directing you to a site where you can buy something. (Although those somethings you can buy can get fairly, well, yucky.)

So with the new anti-spamming laws now on the books, and with large corporations with bored staff attorneys looking for something to do, 2005 is unlikely to be a good year to be a spammer.

Buying online

While 2005 is unlikely to be the year that there is more retail activity online than in the physical world, what will become clear this year is that such a moment will happen someday. Online sales continue to grow as the ease and convenience of online shopping begin to overcome the public's initial concerns about giving out credit card info over the Internet. Retail sales in the physical world continue to be flat, with even Wal*Mart having to revise downward their holiday revenue estimates after a disappointing Thanksgiving weekend.

Online gambling

One area that might change is that attempts by the U.S. government to crack down on offshore gambling houses that offer Web site casinos might begin to fizzle out. Several recent decisions by international trade organizations, courts and arbitrators seem to suggest that if these casinos are legal in their countries, the United States might be in violation of global trade treaties in trying to block American citizens from using credit and/or debit cards to set up accounts on them.

That argument seems a little iffy to your loyal correspondent, though. If international courts can impose sanctions on a nation for trying to impose anti-gambling legislation within its own borders, then how long before the child pornographers find some small nation with ridiculously low age of consent laws and start offering "legal" child pornography?

What seems more likely is that global trade treaties will end up being revisited and appended to lay out how online commerce is to be governed between nations.


With various instant messenging networks agreeing to support the other's standard, a new generation of IM clients should bring onling chatting into the mainstream the same way e-mail is now. The biggest hurdle to broad, popular acceptance of IM has been that if your friend is on AOL/Netscape, you needed to be on AOL/Netscape – that you couldn't chat with them from your MSN account. But if those barriers break down and we get to a point of semi-universality, then chat will become as big in middle America as e-mail now is.

And what's in it for the IM hosts?

Advertising. Look for more and more IM clients to sport in-panel ads that pop up while you're chatting.

(Quick 2006 prediction: Google unleashes Gchat, which tailors the ads you see to the topic of conversation in your chat panel. Privacy advocates go postal. Details at 11.)