Well, it is the New Year, and it is traditional to do some prognosticating. Here is a prediction: 2004 will be the year that “Tech is Back”. No, I’m not expecting NASDAQ 5000, but I do think we will begin the next, roughly ten year, technology cycle this year. There was a lot of debate in 2003 about the strategic value of IT – doubters, of course, come out of the woodwork during a downturn – but I don’t think anyone really doubts the overall value technology contributes to economic growth, and its ability to create real business opportunities for those who are prepared. So it is time for everyone to begin paying attention again!

I suspect it will become more real for more people when we have a watershed event. The watershed event of the last technology cycle was the IPO of Netscape, which suddenly crystallized for many the potential value of the technology driver of the last cycle, the World Wide Web (developed four years earlier, on the back of the Internet, developed over 15 years earlier).

The odds-on favorite for the first watershed event of the next cycle is the IPO of Google. Search technologies got a lot of press in 2003 – and Google in particular got much of the coverage as the poster child of the search space (plus, they actually make money – man bites dog). Here is my take on Google – I think Google is a terrific company, but I think the appropriate analogy is: search is to this technology cycle as the browser was to the last technology cycle. That is, search is a ubiquitous requirement, just as having a browser was and is, but it is fundamentally a relatively simple technology, fairly easily copied, and has very little customer switching costs. So how does this kind of story play out? Can you say “Microsoft”? Google will have learned from the Netscape experience, but still . . .

Anyway, the more important story, the one that won’t get generally discussed until later in this tech cycle (except on ManyWorlds.com, of course!) is that it’s not search, it’s recommendations, that people really want. People want trusted, high quality, targeted, personalized information. And furthermore, people want personalized recommendations that learn to get better and better. They want signal, not noise. Search engines are a 10% solution.

Most of the readers of this piece will have used Amazon. If so, you know Amazon has a type of recommendation capability. Your recommendations are basically based on the purchasing patterns of products other people have ordered from Amazon. You can tune the recommendations a bit, but there isn’t exactly a lot of adaptation over time. It’s maybe a 15% solution, but you can see where it is going . . .

What would be a lot better is if the recommendation capability wasn’t just embedded in a particular site like Amazon, but was more general purpose. And was effective not only on e-commerce sites, but on any content-rich site. And if it truly learned to get better and better over time. That would be indispensable. These next generation recommendation capabilities will surely be the killer app of this technology cycle.

And guess what? Those capabilities are available today. (Here comes the plug from our commercial sponsor!) Check out the recommendation engine on ManyWorlds.com (is Synxi tech now). It tracks detailed usage behaviors of you and everyone else using the site (all within the EU privacy guidelines, if you’re wondering). Applying advanced algorithms to these usage patterns in real-time enables the recommendations to adapt to your preferences in real-time.

The best news is that the ManyWorlds recommendation engine is available for application on any Internet or Intranet site (drop us a line if you’d like to apply it in your business). Frankly, we think it will be absolutely silly from now on for any serious Web-based application to not have an adaptive recommendations feature. And within a few years, recommendations will easily eclipse search in importance.

You heard it here first!