Predictions for 1998 Revisited

by Jakob Nielsen on December 27, 1998

Sidebar to Jakob Nielsen 's column on predictions for the Web in 1999 .

In January 1998, I predicted three things that would happen in 1998 and three things that would not happen during the year. Only one of the things I thought would happen actually came true (though the other two are on track to happen later), but I scored 100% with respect to the three things I didn't think would happen.

International Web: Yes

  • Germany-based Bertelsmann paid $200 million for half of Barnes & Noble's website
  • opened branches in Germany and the U.K.
  • British Telecom paid $10M for half of Excite U.K.
  • In a three-continent deal, AOL ventured into Australia in a partnership with Bertelsmann
  • StarMedia's Latin American sites reached 70 million page views per month
  • The year's most innovative book about the future of technology was written by the head of British Telecom Labs
  • Microsoft's website localized 25 million words in 1998 and plans to localize 50 million words in 1999
  • I presented the keynote at a Web conference for Jordanian business people through live Internet link from Silicon Valley to Amman (as well as old-fashioned physical-presence keynotes at several European Web conferences)

Despite this list (and many other signs that the Web is becoming truly international), some new Web ventures remain focused on the domestic market for their initial launch. This approach will not be feasible in 1999.

Value-Added Web Services: Not Yet

I expected more sites to outsource parts of their functionality to other sites that specialized in targeted services. I know of a few projects to offer such services in 1999, but "we-do-everything-ourselves" remained the slogan for most sites in 1998.

Self-Optimizing Content and Ads: Not Yet

Considering the infatuation with traffic statistics on the Web, I had expected wide-spread use of self-optimization. For example, the editor of a site could experiment with three different headlines for a home page story and retain the one that gathered the most clickthroughs for the full article. The three headlines could be served up randomly, and sufficient statistics to settle on the best headline would be gathered in a matter of minutes on a large site. Similarly, a variety of advertising banners could be winnowed in real-time to focus on those banners that not only gathered click-throughs, but also resulted in buying customers.

Such automated optimization is still rare on the Web, but the site for the next Olympic Games plans to adjust the site structure to make frequently-used pages more prominent in real time. So it's happening.

Bandwidth Problem Solved - Didn't Happen (As Predicted)

Sad, but true: the Web is as slow as ever. One thing that did happen was a change to less bloated Web design. Many large sites underwent redesigns in 1998 and almost all these projects had slimmer designs and faster downloads as a main goal. In retrospect, 1998 may be remembered as the year when "cool design" finally died as a Web trend and useful design started to take over.

Micropayments - Didn't Happen (As Predicted)

I haven't seen much progress toward integrating micropayments as a standard element in the operating system. I remain convinced that the only way to get quality Web content and services is to have the users pay directly: those who pay are the customers, so as long as advertisers pay for the Web, the resulting services will be substantially less useful then they could be.

Micropayments are about to burst on the scene since it is becoming painfully obvious that advertising doesn't work on the Web:

  • clickthrough rates are dropping every month: I predict that average clickthrough will drop to 0.1% by 2001
  • most sites have endless unsold inventory
  • big-scale advertisers refuse to waste any substantial part of their budget on Web advertising: sure, ad spending continues to grow a little, but not enough to support the growth of the Web

Internet Explorer Becomes Only Browser - Didn't Happen (As Predicted)

Netscape still exists (though reduced to being AOL West), but more important, I was right that it was a non-event when Internet Explorer won the browser wars : Web designers still have to design for cross-platform acceptability and this will continue to be true as long as Netscape (or other browsers) retain more than a few percent market share.

It was rather uncanny that IE won in the exact month I had predicted. The only thing that didn't happen as predicted was the "gloating press release from Microsoft." The anti-trust suit must have put a damper on their inclination to proclaim their increasing market share.

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