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Technology Trends in 2009

Every year for the past six years, the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) have generated a list of emerging technologies and trends that are on the near, middle, and far horizons. The following Horizon Report list of emerging technologies for 2009 contains key topics for the digitally literate. How many of these are already a part of your life?


Apple iPhone

Mobile devices have become sophisticated computing platforms that do everything from finding a restaurant within a two-mile radius to presenting complex molecular structures that can be enlarged and spun with the swipe of a finger. These devices have not yet replaced laptop computers, but they are challenging them with high-level functioning that supports agile, portable access to information and media.

Cloud Computing

Laptop computer in the clouds

If you have ever created and shared a Google document, accessed your email from a Yahoo account, posted images to Flickr, or watched YouTube—then you have been computing “in the cloud.” Cloud computing refers to communication, collaboration, and other services that are externally hosted to store, manage, and manipulate your content. These services offer massive processing power, storage capacity, and simple low-cost software solutions that can be accessed and used from within a Web browser. Cloud computing raises questions about data ownership and data mining, and relies on trust between users and the providers of these services.



Knowing just two coordinates, it is possible to identify your location, and to locate devices and other people anywhere in the world. This category of technology has granted us the freedom to enrich our relationship with the physical world. Commonly available tools enable users to add data about specific locations to a map, to create games such as “geocaching” that connect virtual strangers via their participation in a treasure hunt, and to attach geodata to other media such as images and videos. It is also possible to automatically tag content with geolocation data. It has become increasingly easy to find others and to be found, with or without their permission or ours.

The Personal Web

My Yahoo

This trend addresses the overwhelming amount of information and the burgeoning number of services and tools available to us, and recognizes that individuals both process data and use applications in unique ways. We want to go beyond just viewing online content, to optimizing its usefulness by reorganizing it. The personal Web, with services such as iGoogle, enables us to customize how information is presented to us via modular-interface elements; it is also about presorting and filtering information so that we are presented with resources, data, and tools that have been predetermined to be of interest and use to us. The personal Web can be leveraged to support individual learning styles and social learning where its content is packaged and shared through the use of tools that enable self-publishing.

Semantic-Aware Applications

These technologies enable us to see relationships between seemingly unrelated concepts, objects, and individuals. Semantic-aware applications place new information in the context of existing information that is relevant to individual users. These applications can make suggestions, as Amazon does, suggesting books that customers might like in addition to the ones they have selected to purchase. The technologies associated with semantic awareness use natural-language processing and machine learning among other methods. These applications can help learners search content, and then go beyond their original search criteria, organizing and displaying anew information that may have been hidden or embedded among the raw data. Having tools that reveal these unexpected intellectual and social connections could have a significant impact on scholarly research.

Smart Objects

Smart object with tap interface

The ability to embed digital information in or access it through a diversity of objects has been referred to as “the Internet of things.” The technology that enables users to create “smart objects” is not yet commonly available, but its use is becoming increasingly widespread. Smart objects are ordinary objects that know something about themselves and their environment, which enables them to respond appropriately to communication or to connect with other objects or information. New forms of sensors and identifiers link the virtual and the real worlds and enable us digitally to manage physical objects or link to databases. When we use a “smart card” to manage accounts, or locate information about a “found” pet via the chip that has been embedded in his ear, we are taking advantage of smart objects.

2009 Summary

In 2009, we are on the move with mobile devices in hand. The focus this year is on organically growing infrastructure that supports production, storage, and shared access to information, by providing services and tools that no one need own or maintain, because they exist in the cloud, ready for common use.

We assume that data about ourselves—our preferences, our online behavior—is being collected to increase the personalization of the information we receive and to create an increasingly customized experience, no matter where we are. We also anticipate that objects will increasingly enable and encourage information-enhancing communication between human beings and machines.