Last year in technology had plenty of highlights. It also had its share of surprises -- and disappointments. What are some things in the tech world to look forward to in 2011? Briefly, here are a few things in my crystal ball worth keeping an eye on in the tech sector:
1. More Enterprise Technology Consolidation. Last year marked frenzied buying by big enterprise software and hardware companies like Salesforce.com (CRM), Oracle (ORCL), IBM (IBM) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ). The logic? Their coffers are quite full, and they need new growth businesses to supercharge revenues and to grab more market share going into the inevitable technology spending upswing after the Great Recession.
Pundits have been saying the buyout spree hit a highwater mark with the bidding war between HP and Dell (DELL) for storage company 3Par. They're flat out wrong. Tech companies still have lots of cash and won't be shy about spending to buy growth. Key areas where more acquisitions will likely occur include information security, storage, cloud computing and software-as-a-service.
2. A Shakeout in Mobile Check-In. Location-based services for mobile devices have been huge for the past two years. Some of the hottest startups around, including Foursquare (CEO Dennis Crowley pictured) and Gowalla, among others, have built businesses around social-game dynamics and lighthearted check-in competition. Now that everyone from Facebook to Yelp to Loopt is pushing its own check-in feature and the novelty of checking in has worn off, these companies are going to need to come up with a stronger value proposition for customers.
A commerce angle is already being added as Foursquare, Gowalla and others add self-service merchant-deal distribution features. This monetization play has a fairly low barrier to entry, however, and one that does little to really create user loyalty. In short, location-based services will need more of a reason to exist than merely checking in, and 2011 is the year that reality starts to seriously bite.
3. Crowd-Sourcing Takes Flight. It's already a fast-growing sector with applications that allow companies to outsource -- to people who work for cheap -- mundane tasks like tagging photos or checking URLs. Between these two extremes there was little action, though crowd-sourced tasks that require short bursts of intelligence and expertise might be where the real value lies.
But in 2011, we'll see a new wave of crowd-sourcing as startups begin to offer services that make it more useful for general business purposes. LawPivot, for example, makes it very easy for anyone to ask and receive quick answers to legal questions. Some (including myself) are calling this trend micro-consulting. Whatever the case, look for novel ways to tap distributed human intelligence in 2011.
Three Tech Trends to Watch in 2011