By anyone's measure, it's been an exhilarating year in the Internet Economy. Who, at the start of 1999, could have foreseen the rampant expansion of e-commerce or the market's blind love affair with dot-com stocks? And who would have guessed that the most-talked-about item for sale on the Net would be a human kidney?
To see what the year 2000 might have in store, Planet Web asked several global Internet insiders to do a bit of stargazing for the New Year. Here are their thoughts.
What do you think 2000 will mean for the Internet in your region and what will most influence the Internet's growth during the year?
Charles Cohen, founder, Beenz.com: 2000 will be a boom year in e-Europe. Two things are going to make a big difference: telecom deregulation will bring people and investment online, and the euro will make e-business in Europe too compelling to ignore. Paradoxically, the roadblocks are also in the hands of the regulators. Brussels could draw a digital iron curtain around Europe with well-meaning but misguided attempts to control e-commerce.
Esther Dyson, chairman, EDventure Holdings: In Europe, and especially Eastern Europe, the Net will ... have a greater impact [than in the US], since their economies are relatively inefficient and the Net will bring more consumer choice, more competitive pricing and other benefits we take for granted in the US. Wireless will expand rapidly in Europe and will be a major means of Net access - easier to use, cheaper [relatively] than PCs and more widely accessible.
Josh Grotstein, division executive, Citicorp Global E-Commerce Programs: 2000 or 2001 should be the first time that we see how the Internet fares in a recession, not in the bull market it's thrived in to date. In theory, the Internet should enable certain companies, such as demand aggregators, infomediaries and services companies, to thrive in a downturn, since it offers consumers the ability to find the lowest prices for necessary products and services.
Bruce Conradie, editor, Computers in Africa: E-commerce looks like it may take off in South Africa. I think very little is happening now [business-to-consumer] but there is an element of the South African population that adopts new technology at a remarkable rate. E-commerce could go the way of cellular in South Africa, an incredibly steep growth.
Steve Chiu, CEO, Zhaopin.com: 2000 is an extremely important year for the Internet in China. In early 2000 we should receive some Internet regulations from the Ministry of Information Industries. Major US Internet players will have to finally make a decision as to whether or not it is time to enter the market. The Chinese have a saying: "Kill the chicken to scare the monkey." Look for the closure or reprimanding of one major existing Internet player in China.
What do you consider the most overhyped aspect of the Internet?
Esther Dyson: That Europe will simply follow the US path 18 months later.
Charles Cohen: Definitely its cultural impact. Most of the things which people see as being culturally significant at the time don't turn out to be that big a deal in the long run. The Internet probably falls into this category.
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center: Delivery of video. Broadband access has to be widely available before online video will take off.
Ben Parker, Kenya-based Internet analyst: Telehealth. When people are dying of malaria in the millions, you don't need video conferencing with the big white medicine man.
Steve Chiu: The most overhyped aspect of the Internet in China is censorship. Too many foreign journalists talk about the government's control over the Internet and crackdowns on e-dissent. It's just not true. All Chinese know what a proxy is, and so can see whatever site they would like to see. Truthfully, though, most Chinese are not interested in surfing anti-China sites or pro-Tibet/Taiwan sites.
Are there any other major themes you think global readers should know about your area of the Internet?
Charles Cohen: Yes, it's bigger and more robust than people believe. The European Internet market has the potential to be bigger, more diverse and more dynamic than the US within a few years.
Esther Dyson: Sweden in particular is bubbling over with creativity and new Net businesses, and it will be a leader in understanding how to go global, since its home market is too small to support any business in scale. In Russia e-business will be a leader for business in general, illustrating the benefits of openness, competition, transparency and communications with customers.
Steve Chiu: It's moving extremely quickly right now. I don't know what it was like in Silicon Valley in the early days but I have a feeling that it is very similar. Beijing is in the midst of Internet fever. If your business hasn't thought about China yet, you are behind the curve.