After the list of losers they pawned off in the lead-up to the Internet bust, I nearly always distrust the pronouncements of venture capitalists about the future. Of course, why hold a grudge? Isn't that the price you pay in a hit-and-miss business? For every few Webvans, there's always a Google to convince the world that these guys really know how to read the tea leaves better than most folks. I suppose so.
So it was that I was especially curious when the Churchill Club earlier this week invited some of the A-List venture capitalists in Silicon Valley for a panel discussion on the top ten tech trends. (Eric Savitzkept good notes in his recap of the evening.) Most of what got offered up was unexceptional, but one comment in particular from Josh Kopelman may turn out to be one of the most prescient forecasts of the year. I'm actually hoping he's wrong because Kopelman's prediction scares the pants off me.
Kopelman presented a scenario for the rise of the "implicit" Internet. I'm simplifying, but he was referring to the vast web of personal data that until now has existed relatively undisturbed in different corners of the data world. For example, you may have made a reservation over the Internet one day, or bought a book from an online reseller on another. But that that data is going to get collected from heretofore separate "silos" as companies that figure out ways to break through the barriers and deliver information based on that implicit cyber data.
That shouldn't strike anybody as a pipe dream. It's already happening in small ways and it's an idea that VCs will be in a hurry to fund. Some, though perhaps not all. Roger McNamee, who also participated in the panel, pointed out the obvious elephant in the room. Not only might Facebook know what I'm doing, he said, "but the Chinese government also knows." True enough. And not just the Chinese. Any government.
Vinod Khosla, who also took part in the discussion, was less impressed by the obvious privacy objections. Sounding a lot like his former partner in arms at Sun Microsystems, Scott McNealy, he described this as a big opportunity, giving short shrift to nitpickers like me. "Privacy is a red herring," he said. "There are rules and laws and ways to address the privacy issue."
Maybe he'll be proved right, but that's still one helluva leap of faith. If the experience of the last several years teaches anything, it's that the best of intentions often get sacrificed to political expediency. I know what Khosla wants to sell, but isn't it better to take a hard second look at the price before committing? Of course, good luck trying to tell that to the herd once it picks up the scent.