By Charles Zhang
Chairman and CEO of Sohu.com
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Sohu.com Inc was the official sponsor of Internet content services for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games – by the way, we were the 'youngest' sponsor in the history of the Olympics. On behalf of the Chinese Internet, Sohu.com presented the legend of China to the world by reporting the lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece, the torch relay, and the Games themselves, demonstrating, in passing, that the Internet has become the most powerful medium for spreading the Olympic message.
The multi-language, multi-media, intelligent, personalized, interactive and participatory information services offered by Sohu.com during the Olympics were accessed by worldwide Internet users more than a hundred million times every day, setting a new standard for Olympic Internet use.
Today's theme – Internet frontiers and future trends - reminds me of ten years ago when I first returned to China full of passion for the Internet; it also reminds me of the tough times at the beginning of my career in the IT industry. Now, after ten years, I feel gratified to see China's Internet heading towards mainstream maturity. This in itself should be recognized as a major trend in the development of the Internet.
It's really difficult to predict future trends for such a complex system as the Internet. It is as well to recall two famous predictions which look ridiculous today. One was "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers", made by IBM's Thomas S. Watson in 1943, and the other was "640k ought to be enough for anybody" made by Bill Gates in 1981. The two examples tell us that future trend prediction may be a high-risk business.
But the science of futurology provides us with a methodology and theoretical tools to compare and analyze recent trends using statistics. I have often said that the real science behind the Internet is statistics. We pay close attention to probabilities, especially the highest probabilities, because the "Next Big Thing" could emerge from statistics, analysis and research.
But to predict long-term trends, insight, sensitivity and judgment are needed. As well as the type of knowledge provided by western, rational science, one had better learn something about eastern philosophies. Then perhaps with over ten years of practical experience on the Internet, one might be able calmly organize one's ideas concerning the overall trend. My view, for what it is worth, is that the Internet will enter more and more into the daily lives of individuals and groups, and eventually become the mainstream life style, anywhere and everywhere.
Even though making predictions is a high risk business, I'd like to introduce some burgeoning Internet applications from the next generation of Internet technology: the integration of mobile technology and the Internet, online video, Web 3.0, the semantic net and artificial intelligence, cloud computing, SaaS to Saap, GeoWeb2.0, Location Aware Services, Virtual Reality and Extended Reality. These are all emerging technologies. They seem numerous and complicated, but their basic features and the sequence in which they are likely to be implemented are reasonably easy to understand.
I majored in physics, a subject that explores the nature of the world, so I have a comparatively clear view of technology and the forces that lie behind it. One English expression for the Chinese phrase "前沿" (Qianyan in pinyin, frontier in English) is "the cutting edge". Imagining a sharp blade, it's for cutting things and solving problems straightforwardly. If you take a look at the whole structure of the Sohu.com matrix, you will find that we have a very clear technological strategy – covering all the important cutting edges with corresponding technological reserves.
Early in 2005, I said in my blog that the Internet will experience three changes: from quiet to bustling, from general to personalization, and from fixed time and place to at all times and in all places. I would like to talk about some of the key technologies and applications that are realizing that vision.
From quiet to bustling: we have seen the Internet develop from a collection of text and pictures to a three-dimensional channel with the addition of video. The Internet's media-like attributes have become much more obvious. During the Beijing Olympic Games, usage of online video services shot up. Huge numbers of Internet users watched Olympic news on Internet videos, with the result that user familiarity with, and acceptance of, online video was boosted enormously. In the following period demand for videos grew rapidly. And as the number of broadband users rises and new Internet services emerge, the range of types and uses of Internet videos will broaden and deepen.