“Nine Emerging Minitrends to Watch” by Dr. John H. Vanston, MINITRENDS Author & Chairman, TFI

December 28, 2010

Happy holidays to Minitrends blog readers! We appreciate your interest in our Minitrends posts and activities. As we start the new year, there will be many opportunities for those who are alert enough to recognize emerging trends, perceptive enough to realize their importance, and clever enough to take advantage of them. Here I suggest nine Minitrends—emerging trends that will become significantly important within 2-5 years, but are not yet generally recognized—that are well worth examining for possible action by those ambitious individuals who seek to start new ventures or keep existing businesses innovative and competitive.

Unlike megatrends, Minitrends are of a scope and importance to offer attractive opportunities to individual entrepreneurs, decision-makers in small and mid-size businesses, innovative thinkers in large companies, and adventuresome investors. In my new book, MINITRENDS: How Innovators & Entrepreneurs & Discover & Profit From Business & Technology Trends, I categorize the nine Minitrends below to those most applicable to different-sized groups. (In the book, I also discuss the background, current trends, and business opportunities of each of these Minitrends in more depth.)  I do the same categorization below, but in reality, all provide opportunities to perceptive individuals in all-sized businesses.

Minitrends Particularly Applicable to Individuals or Small Groups of Individuals:

1. Expanding Involvement in Virtual Worlds (Free Virtual Worlds book excerpt available):

Virtual worlds are computer-based platforms that allow participants to engage in a wide range of real-world type activities, e.g., buying and building virtual world property, furnishing virtual world homes and offices, producing and selling virtual world goods, traveling, taking part in virtual world social activities such as parties and fundraisers, and communicating with other participants. Increasingly, virtual worlds are being used for educational purposes, product advertisements, new product modeling and testing, identification of new markets, and uncovering unexpected problems with new marketing programs.

2. Support for People Working at Home:

Although an increasing number of people are now conducting all or part of their work at home, these people often find they miss interacting with others and miss the convenience of facilities, equipment, and administrative support. A number of solutions are emerging to better meet the needs and desires of people working at home, including small offices or meeting rooms that can be rented by the day or the hour; chat rooms where people can meet informally to discuss ideas; semiformal groups that meet regularly to establish person-to-person interactions; and temporary support staffs organized to provide administrative assistance as needed.

3. Expanding Capabilities of Advanced Websites:

Although the World Wide Web had proven to be extremely popular, many believed a more interactive platform that took advantage of the Web’s power to communicate would be desirable (Web 2.0). Programmers are now expanding the capabilities of the Web to substitute computer activities for human activities, particularly activities that are repetitive, burdensome, and uninteresting (Web 3.0). Many believe Web 3.0 will eventually lead to effective artificial intelligence that can interact with humans in natural language.

Minitrends Particularly Applicable to Small and Medium-Size Companies:

4. Increasing Interest in Privacy:

Recent advances in technology, together with an increasing willingness of many to make personal information more easily available are threatening traditional concepts of privacy in terms of messaging, personal profiles, and identity. Techniques for countering these invasions of privacy, such as personal caution, technology aids, and group action are now being developed.

5. New Approaches to Giving and Receiving Advice:

Individuals and organizations commonly seek expert advice when making important decisions. In providing such advice, large consulting firms with large, multidisciplinary staffs, well-structured processes and procedures, huge computer capabilities, and long-standing reputations have traditionally had a major advantage. However, the ever-increasing power and ubiquity of information gathering, processing, and communicating technologies, small and medium-size consulting groups are often able to give more focused, timely, and user-friendly advice than the larger firms.

6. Evolution of Meaningful Maturity:

The twin trends of increasing life spans and decreasing retirement ages have caused a steady increase in retirement years. Because of social, personal interest, and/or financial reasons, many older individuals are either staying in their jobs longer or returning to the workforce. Their ability to utilize their experience, skills, and dedication effectively will depend on their current capabilities, their desires, and open opportunities to those willing to assist them.

Minitrends Particularly Applicable to Large Companies:

7. Advances in Digital Manufacturing:

Advanced digital manufacturing (ADM) processes build complex, custom-made parts by the addition of successive layers of material rather than traditional machining processes that cut, bend, and machine a part from stock material. The processes allow quicker production of prototypes and small production runs at a much lower cost. Recent ADM advances, including improved yield rates, reduced time-to-market, increasing variety of materials, and advances in 3D modeling software, have made ADM processes increasingly attractive to many manufacturers.

8. Increasing Electricity Use in Manufacturing:

The characteristics of electric power, such as high power density, no heat transfer medium requirements, controlled energy distribution, reduced material waste, and less environmental impacts, provide a number of benefits to manufacturing processes. Its use, however, has been limited by its relatively high cost. A number of factors, including advances in control technologies, changing customer needs, global competition, and increasing concern about the environment, are driving an increasing growth in the use of electricity in industrial processes.

9. New Applications of Nanotechnology:

When many substances are reduced to nano-size (100 nanometers or less) they often exhibit very different physical, electrical, chemical, and optical properties from the same substance at macro-size. These new properties often provide very unique and useful characteristics to nano-materials that can be used in a wide range of practical applications, such as cancer treatment, very high strength materials, special electronic systems, and water purification. Improved production techniques, decreased costs, and growing experience and understanding are increasing the practical applications of nanotechnologies

Minitrend involvement can give you a way to separate yourself from your colleagues and contemporaries. It provides a means for materially improving your business situation, your financial standing, and your personal satisfaction. I hope the Minitrends listed above will assist you or inspire you to launch your own exciting, profitable Minitrend Adventure that allows you to utilize your imagination, your logic, your innovative nature, and your basic good sense in the coming year.

Copyright 2011. Please feel free to reprint this article in whole or part with due credit to: “by Dr. John H. Vanston, MINITRENDS Author and Chairman, Technology Futures, Inc.” Thanks!

FTC Advocates Do-Not-Track; Advertisers Upset

December 3, 2010

Screen capture from the Interactive Advertising Bureau's "AboutAds.info" opt-out page. To install the IAB's opt-out software, users must expose their browser to significant privacy risks by enabling cookies.

On December 1, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission presented a preliminary report (PDF) outlining a “framework for privacy” that endorses a “Do-Not-Track” option for Web browsers similar to the agency’s popular “Do-Not-Call” service for telephones.

Unlike the Do-Not-Call program, which creates one central place where individuals can easily add their phone numbers to the list, with reprisals for companies that violate their preferences, the Do-Not-Track mechanism (“DNT”) will be built into the Web-browsing software and other applications used to access the Internet from computers, tablets, and smartphones. Each piece of software or app would have to include a DNT feature. Currently, there are no proposed guidelines for consistently implementing that feature, nor any real authority to enforce it.

Forbes‘ new privacy blogger, Kashmir Hill, says, “At the end of the day, this report isn’t going to change anything.” Kevin Fogarty, the highly opinionated blogger for ITworld‘s “CoreIT” blog, is blunt in his assessment, calling the FTC report:

[…] a set of recommendations with roughly the same clarity, credibility and impact of a strongly worded letter from the U.N. to this year’s evil dictator asking him to please not kill and eat so many villagers.

At The Huffington Post, consumer rights activist Jamie Court threatens a privacy initiative in California: “If Congress doesn’t act, we will go to the ballot.”

While Internet giants, including Google and Microsoft, have learned to tame their public pronouncements and pay lip service to the FTC’s recommendations, they let the trade groups they fund do the barking for them. Mike Zaneis, senior vice president and general counsel of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), is quoted by The New York Times media reporters Edward Wyatt and Tanzina Vega as saying that the DNT mechanism will cause “significant economic harm” if it has “a high participation rate similar to that of do not call.”

The IAB is recommending voluntary measures where sites place prominent “opt-out” buttons that disable tracking, rather than a central registry or browser build-ins. The organization touts its AboutAds.info site, where you can opt out of being tracked by a very small group of sites that participate.

John and Carrie Vanston devote a major section of their new book, MINITRENDS, to business opportunities arising from increasing interest in privacy. They predict that the U.S. will strengthen its privacy laws, opening up profitable new business lines for entrepreneurs:

The federal government of the United States has adopted only limited formal legislation to protect privacy compared to Canada and most European countries.

Among the businesses that will profit from strengthening privacy laws are software developers, training firms, and the new field of online reputation management companies.

Certainly, someone needs to come up with a solution better than the IAB’s “opt-out” site. When this reporter visited the site to test the opt-out features, I was advised I would have to enable cookies in order to install the software (see screen capture, above). While enabling cookies would protect me from being tracked by few dozen sites participating in the IAB’s program, it would open me to tracking by the millions of sites that not only don’t participate, but sometimes use methods that are much more intrusive than those of IAB’s supporters — methods which remain, unfortunately, virtually unregulated.

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change” (PDF), Federal Trade Commission, 12/10
Source: “Brief Takeaways — and a Pretty Diagram — from the FTC’s Online Privacy Recommendations,” Forbes, 12/01/10
Source: “FTC becomes aware there is an Internet,” ITworld CoreIT Blog, 11/17/10
Source: “Will We Get a ‘Do Not Track Me’ List for Our Personal Information Online?” The Huffington Post, 12/01/10
Source: “F.T.C. Backs Plan to Honor Privacy of Online Users,” The New York Times, 12/01/10
Source: MINITRENDS How Innovators & Entrepreneurs Discover & Profit From Business & Technology Trends, p. 97.
Image from AboutAds.info, the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s “opt-out” site, screen capture recorded 12/02/10. Used under Fair Use: Commentary.

Is Microsoft’s Kinect the New Trend in Advertiser Black Ops?

November 16, 2010

KinectThe chief operating officer for Microsoft’s Xbox division ignited a firestorm of controversy last week when he told a room full of digital entertainment investors about the capabilities of the Xbox’s revolutionary new motion controller, Kinect, to target advertising based on what built-in cameras see.

Kinect launched November 4 as a hands-free device for playing video games. Unlike other video game consoles, such as Wii and PlayStation, Kinect allows users to play Xbox games without having to hold a motion-detecting controller. Kinect senses your motions using multiple cameras and infrared detectors.

Dan Gallagher, technology editor for The Wall Street Journal‘s MarketWatch subsidiary, reported on Dennis Durkin’s remarks on the Journal‘s Digits blog last Thursday. Gallagher quotes Durkin as saying that Microsoft “can cater which content we present to you based on who you are.” The Journal, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns Fox News among many other media assets, has become an unlikely privacy champion after the newspaper’s “What They Know” series last July blew the lid off privacy invasions by the Internet’s top websites.

Immediately after the unfavorable coverage in The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft issued a statement contradicting Durkin’s remarks. The statement, which strangely does not appear on Microsoft’s Xbox Press page, reads in part:

Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE do not use any information captured by Kinect for advertising targeting purposes.

However, other websites have published more of Dennis Durkin’s remarks, and it appears unlikely that his remarks at the BMO Capital Markets Digital Entertainment Conference were a simple slip of the tongue.

Bill Levine at TopTechNews quotes the Xbox CEO as stating the controller can tell “how many people are in a room when an advertisement is shown,” and that it can use “face recognition and voice recognition” to determine such things as the gender of players, whether or not they are standing, and how excited they are.

Molly McHugh at the Digital Trends blog quotes Durkin as stating flatly that data gathered by the Xbox’s cameras can be used to customize ads. Microsoft can “be more targeted about what content choices we present; what advertising we present….”

The capabilities of the Xbox Kinect to spy on users and then use that information to customize ads is part of a growing technology trend. The screens we watch at home and at work are now watching us — and using that information to customize the content and the ads we see.

In September, two of The Wall Street Journal‘s correspondents in Japan, Daisuke Wakabayashi and Juro Osawa, reported on a futuristic vending machine in a train station there that uses cameras to determine the gender and age of people using the vending machine. The machine then recommends selections based on that information.

The vending machine, manufactured by NEC, records such things as which people looked at which items, who bought what, and how “engaged” they were with the display. According to the Journal‘s reporters:

The company said its system can identify people’s gender correctly about 90% of the time and guess a person’s age within a 10-year range about 70% of the time.

The Journal notes that there are few, if any, laws governing the collection, storage, and use of images and information gathered by such devices. The technology is expected to show up in retailers’ window displays soon. Those displays will change the merchandise being shown depending on who is looking at them.

These kinds of invasions of privacy were anticipated in the new book, MINITRENDS, by John & Carrie Vanston. The authors suggest that privacy protection will be one of the booming technology trends in the coming two-to-five years, and devote a significant portion of the book to describing opportunities for entrepreneurs in this rapidly evolving segment of the economy.

What do you think about store displays that watch you and record your image and actions as you shop? Do you think they should be allowed? Do you think they can be stopped? Do you see any technologies coming in the next two to five years that could protect people from these devices? We’re anxious to hear your comments on these matters.

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “Is Your Xbox Console Watching You?The Wall Street Journal, 11/12/10
Source: “Big Brother Kinect Could Be Watching You at Home,” TopTechNews, 11/12/10
Source: “Kinect’s camera could record data for advertisers,” Digital Trends, 11/12/10
Source: “Billboards That Can See You,” The Wall Street Journal, 09/03/10
Image courtesy of quatro.sinko, used under its Creative Commons license.

Information Security Victim to IT Trends

November 9, 2010


Lured by the prospect of reduced costs, more companies are putting their information assets at risk by embracing technology trends such as cloud computing. A new survey finds that companies are failing to assess these risks and take defensive measures.

Consulting giant Ernst & Young released its 13th annual Global Information Security Survey last week, and the privacy picture that emerges is not good. The Vancouver Sun summarizes the findings this way:

Less than a third of global businesses have an IT risk management program capable of addressing the risks related to the use of new technologies… In spite of the rapid emergence of new technology, just one in ten companies consider examining new and emerging IT trends a very important activity for the information security function to perform.

What are the IT trends eroding information security at major corporations?

Mobile Computing, including smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers: “Devices that can contain information are increasingly prevalent; they are used for both work and home purposes, blurring the lines between the two, and results in ceding of control over the devices and the information to employees, service providers and others.”

Cloud Computing, including Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): “While organizations may have chosen in the past to avoid cloud technologies and the possible privacy and security challenges they bring about, in this economic climate, the cost reduction benefits that such solutions offer have brought many organizations to reassess whether these transformational technologies are right for them.”

Social Networking and other “Web 2.0″ technologies: “60% perceive increased risk from the use of social networking.”

In their new book, MINITRENDS, John and Carrie Vanston cite increased interest in privacy as one of the most promising areas for entrepreneurial activity in the coming two-to-five years:

In general, communications and computer technologies designed to gather personal information have progressed more rapidly and dramatically than those designed to protect this information. Serious efforts are being expended, however, to develop protection technologies.

The authors suggest some of the avenues for Minitrend development, including making it easier for employees to use privacy-protection software and teaching employees how to protect sensitive information. This insight is bolstered by the Ernst & Young report, in which a whopping 92% of respondents indicate that employee awareness of security issues is a problem.

Information security was a lot easier when it was a matter of protecting the perimeter around a company’s information assets. But in today’s economy, those information assets are widely distributed and stored in the hands of employees and outside vendors, making it much more difficult for organizations to protect them. Clearly, Ernst & Young’s shocking report shows tremendous opportunity for innovators and entrepreneurs who can develop technological solutions to modern privacy problems.

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “Ernst & Young Report Reveals Companies Unprepared to Address Risks Created by New Technology,” The Vancouver Sun, 11/04/10
Source: “Top privacy issues for 2010,” Ernst & Young, 02/10
Source: “Emerging Technology Trends Increase Risks of Protecting Corporate Information,” PR Newswire, 11/04/10
Source: MINITRENDS: How Innovators & Entrepreneurs Discover & Profit From Business & Technology Trends, Technology Futures, Inc., p. 95.
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt (Pink Sherbet Photography), used under its Creative Commons license.

The Death of Television?

November 3, 2010

TVThe Consumer Electronics Association recently released its annual Five Technology Trends to Watch report, and it appears we’ve stopped watching TV.

“TV is, in a way, kind of played out,” says Sean Murphy, a senior account executive at the CEA who writes for the trade association’s Digital Dialogue blog. Murphy is quoted by dealnews editorial director Beth Pinsker, who laments that the CEA’s “core areas of interest are now mostly about mobile technologies and the gizmos that make them work better, and no longer about TVs.”

This year’s five technology trends to watch, according to the CEA, are:

  • Technology and privacy
  • Video distribution and consumption
  • Mobile, 4G devices
  • Environmental issues
  • The apps business

Privacy, or the lack thereof, has been a compelling news story of late. In chapter five of the new book, MINITRENDS, John and Carrie Vanston identify “increased interest in privacy” as one of the trends most suited to entrepreneurial activity, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. Among the other business opportunities resulting from our loss of privacy, the Vanstons cite reputation management:

There will be considerable demand for processes that can remove information from the myriad of databases in which this information may be recorded. Related to this, those offering reputation management services, i.e., tracking an entity’s actions, other entities’ opinions of those actions, and helping the entity manage the results, will be in great demand.

MINITRENDS is a guide to business opportunities that have the promise of profitability in two-to-five years, written by the two of the leading futurists in America. That may seem like a very short time frame, but it’s amazing how things can change quickly. In the CEA report, Deepak Joseph, director of technology and standards at CEA, reflects back on the past five years in streaming video:

In 2006, a host of companies we now closely associate with new video distribution models were not yet founded. Here is a sampling of the current players, Hulu launched March 2007, Netflix streaming service launched January 2007, Apple-TV launched March 2007, Vudu Box launched August 2007, Amazon On-Demand launched July 2008, Yahoo! Connected-TV launched January 2009, YouTube LeanBack launched July 2010 and Google-TV is launching this fall… In 2006, it would have been farfetched to think that 10 million people would view streaming on-demand movies and TV shows, many in HD over their Internet connection on their TVs on a regular basis, yet that is exactly what consumers are doing today with Netflix streaming service.

The same wave of technological change that is making television sets obsolete can also make trade associations obsolete. In the summary essay of CEA’s report, the authors ask whether we are driving technological change, or technology is driving us. As an answer, one need only look at the Consumer Electronics Association itself. The trade organization has seen where its future lies, and is shifting its coverage to mobile devices and online content.

You can access a PDF of the complete report, Five Technology Trends to Watch, at this link.

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “Five Technology Trends to Watch,” Consumer Electronics Visions, 10/18/10
Source: “CEA’s Top 5 Technology Trends Dismiss TV,” dealnews, 10/20/10
Source: “MINITRENDS: How Innovators & Entrepreneurs Discover & Profit From Business and Technology Trends,” Technology Futures, Inc., p. 99.
Image by schmilblick, used under its Creative Commons license.