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Five fearless tech predictions for 2010

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The end of the year -- and the decade -- is just around the corner. So it seemed like a good time to pull out the old crystal ball and look ahead to the year and decade to come.

Predicting technology is a fool's errand, but you're in luck: I'm something of a fool. To keep things somewhat plausible, I'm sticking to short-term predictions. These are the things I expect to happen, or at least start, in the next year to eighteen months at the outside. I'll save the really wacky, pie-in-the-sky stuff for a follow up. So without further ado, here are five predictions for technology and social media in 2010.

The Next Big Thing is born: Twitter and Facebook, the current leaders in social media, are getting on in years. Twitter is three and Facebook is almost five. That's ancient in the accelerated world of the Internet. It always seems like as soon as the masses "get" a new technology, the Nerderati move on to the next thing -- which means that in 2010, the next innovation in social media will emerge. Most of us won't know about it for a year or two, but it will be out there, exciting first adapters. As for what it will look like or do, I have no idea. If I did, I would stop blogging and go invent it and become a multimillionaire.

Everything goes real-time: This is a no-brainer, because it's already happening. Google and Bing are signing deals right and left to add real-time search to their engines, you can get anything updated via text message or push mail , etc. Next year, it'll reach critical mass -- where if you don't do real-time, you are obsolete. This will be awesome and also very, very annoying -- and may represent the end of civilization as we know it when no one can get any work done because they're too busy getting updates on everything, everywhere, as soon as it happens.

Living in a cloud: As more and more people own more and more computers and digital access devices (Kindle, iPhone, eToaster, whatever), cloud computing will become the standard. That's the practice of keeping all your data -- and more and more frequently, the applications that work on that data -- in a central location (usually the Internet) and accessing it remotely. Think webmail, GoogleDocs, Picasa, etc. Synching data between a dozen devices is a nightmare, otherwise. Personally, I'd like to see a cheap, software-based home cloud solution, so I don't have to have several copies of my enormous digital media libraries. I don't need another piece of hardware (I already have six computers), just an easy way to get to my stuff from anywhere in the house.

Cheap smartphones: Pretty much every nerd on the planet already has an iPhone, a Blackberry or some other smartphone -- so if those companies want to expand their business, they're going to have to get cheap. In truth, the phones are actually pretty affordable; it's the data plans that are outrageous. But just as cell phones started the race to the bottom ten years ago, smartphones will, too. And pretty soon, obsessively checking e-mail, tweeting and Googling on your phone will be for everyone, not just hipster douchebags and the pocket-protector set. For me personally, that means a $20 a month unlimited data plan -- probably a few years off, but getting closer every day. And I think the first big price drops will come late next year.

The final death of the paywall: As newspapers are dying off right and left, a few of them are panicking and trying to go back to the future of 1998 with the paywall. You know, where they hide everything behind a members-only wall and refuse to let Google see it. That isn't going to work: There are just too many alternatives and people have repeatedly shown that the free alternatives are good enough for them. I predict that it will hasten the death of any organization that fully commits to it (note to Rupert Murdoch: I encourage you to follow through on your plans to go this route -- pretty please?) and hurt those that experiment with it by bleeding off market share they will take years to recover.

On the up side, I'll throw in this bonus prediction: Someone will figure out a workable, sustainable model for journalism revenue that saves the news and, most likely, all but finishes killing off the old newspaper model.

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