Elon University

The 2014 Survey: Which tech companies will rule 2025?

Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, others?

Internet experts and highly engaged netizens participated in answering an eight-question survey fielded by Elon University and the Pew Internet Project from late November 2013 through early January 2014. One of the survey questions asked respondents to share their answer to the following query:

In 2025, which of the current colossus companies now wielding influence over how we use the Internet will be more important and powerful and which will be less important and less powerful (or even disappear)? Describe the most powerful Internet-leveraging and Internet-influencing corporations of 2025: Which will they be? What will they do? What kind of impact will they have on human connection, commerce, politics/civic life, education, and health care?

This page holds the content of the survey report, which is an analysis of responses from nearly 1,500 survey participants.

If you wish to read only the survey participants’ credited responses to the question, please click here.

If you wish to read only the anonymous survey participants’ responses to the question, please click here.


Since the dawn of the Web, powerful technology companies have helped shape the character of online life and the everyday experiences people have online. A canvassing of technology experts and Internet builders shows they believe that non-American firms are most likely to gain in clout and that major US firms will have a mixed record between now and 2025.

It is clear that these experts, most of whom are North American, believe that disruptive companies are on the horizon. Many said that lesser known firms both outside and inside the United States will rise in the coming years.

We call this a canvassing because it is not a representative, randomized survey. Its findings emerge from an “opt in” invitation to experts. Many are widely noted as technology builders, analysts, and those who have made insightful predictions to our previous queries about the future of the Internet. (For more details, please see the section “About this Canvassing.”)

Overall, 1,485 expert respondents weighed in on the following question and were prompted for explanatory, narrative answers:

Technology industry success – In 2025, which of the current colossus companies now wielding influence over how we use the Internet will be more important and powerful and which will be less important and less powerful (or even disappear)?

They were specifically asked about Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, selected due to their prominence (see details below in report) and also asked about ‘other US firms’ and ‘Non-US firms’ without using any specific company names.

They were then prompted with this text:

Please elaborate on your answer. (Begin with your name if you are willing to have your comments attributed to you.) Describe the most powerful Internet-leveraging and Internet-influencing corporations of 2025: Which will they be? What will they do? What kind of impact will they have on human connection, commerce, politics/civic life, education, and health care?

Several broad themes emerged in the answers, as well as specific predictions about the individual companies.

·       Non-US firms are the ones to watch. A strong majority said companies outside the United States hold several advantages heading into the next decade: They indicated that their growth will be fueled by the opportunities to reach untapped consumer bases in emerging markets. Additionally, they will see a rising generation of innovators ready to make their mark. These views are coupled with a view that some US firms will be hurt by privacy breaches and government surveillance.

·       Google and Amazon will become more importantThe majority of respondents believe these two US-based firms will advance in importance, arguing that their basic advantage stems from their ability to build on vast user ecosystems that facilitate more innovation in everything from devices to online products to cloud storage.

·       Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft will ebb. A notable share argues that Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft will become less important over the next 10 years. They said Apple’s “walled garden” model will make it less competitive over the long haul and that it will lose some status as a visionary company; some cited the passing of CEO Steve Jobs in 2011. Many said Facebook is already falling out of fashion and Microsoft’s influence is waning.

·       Some other US firms will rise up. In addition to predicting the rise of non-US firms, many respondents still have great expectations for the US as a center of technology and innovation. They said innovative new businesses will wield influence over the Internet by 2025, even if those firms are not necessarily prominent now. Some expressed confidence in the unique mix of factors in the US—saying its higher education system (which draws top international immigrants with innovative ideas), federal funding, and the entrepreneurial culture – are not replicated elsewhere. It should be noted, however, that a number of respondents denigrated the US K-12 education system and cited it as a reason the US will fall behind in some regards by 2025.

·       The respondents to this canvassing fully expect new titans of tech to emerge from today’s “garage phrase,” in the US and elsewhere.

In more detail, following are some of their predictions and elaborations.

Positive perceptions of non-US firms

The respondents agreed that countries like Brazil, India, and China—populous places with growing middle classes and a desire to come into their own on the world stage—will produce technology behemoths in the coming decade thanks to the spread of digital networks. They take note of the success of hardware companies like Taiwan’s HTC and Korean-based firm Samsung and platforms like China’s social network Baidu. They also expect there will be new products coming out of non-Western cultures.

Some of the people responding to this canvassing expressed concern about trends in the US that they believe are weakening its status as an incubator of tech, thus creating the opportunity for other global firms to fill in the gap. Many said US firms have been hurt by the revelations by Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency is collecting vast amounts of global information about emails and cell phone activities. The respondents see those problems taking their toll on the US in two ways: They said these developments may make homegrown innovation more difficult in the US and they said these revelations will discourage international business partnerships.

A selection of quotes from those making the case for the rise of non-US firms in the coming decade:

Dave Burstein, editor of Fast Net News, observed, “The US has only 15% of the world’s Internet users today and will be well under 10% by 2025. Inevitably, giants will appear elsewhere. We already see that on a national basis, with everything from Baidu to Mail.ru growing big in their domestic markets. Some will break through and be used internationally.”

David Bollier, a scholar and activist noted, “The proprietary, individual-focused, US-centric models of the firms named here will be highly vulnerable to foreign firms because: 1) the latter are likely to entertain more robust open-source alternatives and socially based models; 2) foreign regions have their own impressive corps of innovators who are not limited by the parochial, get-rich-quick, libertarian Silicon Valley mindset; and 3) foreigners have a legitimate concerns for escaping the cultural (and political) dominance of the US and the US Government, especially its intelligence agencies, which will always seek to have close ties to US tech firms, making those US firms far less trustworthy as partners. The NSA really blew it.”

Bill Woodcock, executive director of the Packet Clearing House, wrote, “The US has no monopoly on good ideas or bright people to execute them, and we’re already seeing the rise of Brazil in this area. Import substitution may not carry the day in ICT [Information and Communication Technologies], but plain old elbow grease certainly does, and Brazil is putting in a lot of hard work in the right directions. Likewise, there are a lot of very hungry, bright people in developing countries all over the world, and as they get connected to the Net, they’ll be able to market directly against their higher-overhead competitors in the US. So I see a lot of non-US firms growing in the future.”

On US firms that were not specifically named in the survey question

Our question in the canvassing asked specifically about the future power and influence of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. We then asked a separate and generic question about the likely impact of “other” US-based firms that were not on our list. Many respondents said they believe other US companies will rise in stature. Some of these experts argued that companies we did not include on our list are already powerful and will likely gain in influence by 2025. They spoke in their answers about the efforts of large telecommunications firms (e.g., Verizon and AT&T) and cable giants (e.g., Comcast and Time-Warner) to control access to the Web and therefore set the terms for what happens online. Other respondents were more focused on the rise of unexpected start-ups that might take the world by storm. They noted a cycle in which the start-ups of yesterday are the tech giants of today and the targets for the disruptive companies of tomorrow. They also saw significant potential for firms to gain influence by addressing problems in large but messy economic sectors, particularly healthcare and education.

Rebecca Lieb, an industry analyst for the Altimeter Group, shared a view held by many others in the survey, writing, “In looking at the sustainable ‘importance’ of the colossal Internet firms, it’s important to bear in mind the lessons of the past. The success and failure rates of these enterprises happen at dizzying speeds. Fifteen (or so) years ago, the supremacy of AOL was unrivaled and nearly unchallenged. Yahoo was important—now it’s not on your list. MySpace collapsed, Facebook wasn’t even public. Successes are meteoric, failures happen with equal alacrity. There will be another name on this list in 10 years that we don’t know now—or, if we do, just barely.”

Shane Greenstein, a professor at a major US business school, said, “No other country on the planet has as large and free-wheeling an entrepreneurial sector in Internet software as the US, and no other country supports the labor market with as much federal research and development subsidies for students in higher education, and no other country has as large a systematic program in such a wide range of frontier computer science. Unless those conditions change, the US firms will continue to enjoy the greatest power and influence.”

Andrew K. Przybylski, a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, commented, “The most important corporations will be those that extend human capacities in terms of health, education, and civic engagement. They will succeed and advance us insofar as they use technology to augment (not replace) our intelligence and critical faculties.”

Seth Finkelstein, a programmer and EFF Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award-winner, said, “In the next decade a corporation is likely to figure out how to do for data analysis what Google did for Web searching or Facebook did for social connections.”

David Burstein, CEO at Run for America and author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World, wrote, “Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple will be very important to our daily lives but we will hardly ever talk about them, they will be such utilities. Their sexiness will have faded but more people will use them more often to perform basic functions. Companies pioneering AI and machine learning will dominate the space that these companies do now.”

Expectations for the success of five of the major companies of today

People’s general perceptions of five major US-based tech companies were measured in this canvassing. Results can be seen in the chart below. People were asked whether their perception was that each would be “more important,” “less important” or “stays same” by 2025.

Pew Research Chart Breakdown of Tech Companies ImpactPerceptions of Google among those canvassed

Many of the respondents regard Google to be synonymous with innovation. Its large-scale and innovative efforts of recent years to go beyond search (e.g., Android, StreetView, and Drive) are now being fully embedded in many user’s daily experiences, shifting the ways people find businesses, work in teams, and navigate their travels. There is already anticipation among these experts for projects in the pipeline, including highly publicized work on a driverless car and forays into artificial intelligence led by Ray Kurzweil and others brought on board through Google’s 2013-2014 AI and robotics business acquisitions.

Jerry Michalski, founder of REX, the Relationship Economy eXpedition, said, “Google continues to innovate, with no fear of daunting projects like StreetView or the space elevator. Nobody will be able to touch it on search for a long time.”

Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, said, “Google’s monopoly over search will remain uncontested—at least in the US—and that power over information will continue to consolidate as new forms of information emerge.”

Patrick Stack, manager of the digital transformation group at Accenture, wrote, “Google will lead the way through its prescient steps into the physical-digital space—including purchasing Boston Dynamics, building Android into automobile operating systems, and other actions that will match up with the defining theme of ever-connected experiences.”

Mike Liebhold, senior researcher at the Institute for the Future, responded, “Google could achieve a near hegemony in many service areas by 2025.”

Some respondents were suspicious of Google’s growing power. They expressed concern about how much data Google has as it continues to expand its access to knowledge. Some said they hope Google will use its influence to champion consumer privacy and the open Internet, while also expressing concern over Google’s deep pockets, lobbying power, and competitive instinct.

Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), commented, “The dominant firm will be the firm that controls the world’s knowledge. And it will do everything it can to maintain its dominance. Already organizations and institutions that should be engaged in vigorous debate over the power of the Internet’s largest corporation have been rendered silent. That is why Google’s growing dominance of the information assets of the world is the greatest threat to the growth of an open, democratic Internet.”

Perceptions of Amazon among those canvassed

Amazon was also seen as most likely to be “more important” by 2025. Respondents to this canvassing say the firm’s investment in cloud computing, its diversification of services beyond entertainment products, and the expansion of its roster of devices creates a rich ecosystem for its users that is difficult to leave and relatively easy to expand. Respondents said Amazon’s traditional stronghold in e-commerce will increase its clout as more international sellers get online and use its platform. Like Google, Amazon was most often noted by these respondents for its innovation and extensible platform.

Alf Rehn, chair of management and organization at Abo Akademi University in Finland, said, “Amazon is smarter than people think.” And Micha Benoliel, CEO and co-founder of Open Garden, wrote, “Amazon has changed its business from renting cloud infrastructure and processing power into an AI cloud service that can pilot drones, robots, and driverless cars.”

Liza Potts, a senior researcher for writing in digital environments at Michigan State University, replied, “Amazon’s reach is remarkable given that it started with such a niche opportunity. Between Amazon Prime and Kindle it is poised to be a giant. Amazon’s end-to-end service design is unmatched by any of the companies on this list.”

Stewart Baker, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, a Washington law firm, said, “Amazon will rise in importance. We still need stuff, and it will come to dominate the cloud.”

Alex Halavais, an associate professor at Arizona State University, wrote, “The capital investments that were seen as essential in the past have been increasingly negated in software and systems, where innovation and know-how trumps start-up capital. Flexible manufacturing may bring the same kind of opportunities for innovating around hardware. That should worry companies that build closed platforms, and energize those who can provide leverage for innovators. So Amazon and Google, by creating global marketplaces for otherwise small sellers, and scalable cloud services, may find themselves hosting rather than competing against their small global competitors in the coming years.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Amazon and Google have only begun to scratch the surface of what they are capable of doing… Amazon has created a cyber marketplace that is convenient and less expensive than the traditional marketplace, and it gets stronger and more creative each year. Drone deliveries? Seems crazy, but what’s next?”

As they noted about Google, some who participated in this canvassing said they hope Amazon will act responsibly considering the leverage the firm gains as its knowledge of consumers and power grows. Mikey O’Connor, a representative on ICANN’s GNSO Council, wrote, “Amazon will be more important, by providing massive intelligence on the buying habits of billions to the highest bidder.” Tim Bray, an active participant in the Internet Engineering Task Force and tech industry veteran, commented, “Unfettered by the need to turn a profit, Amazon’s ubiquity continues to grow; it’s achieving an amazing and slightly-creepy scale. There’s lots more growth potential.”

Could the future possibly be Googlezon?

Many respondents paired Google and Amazon in their answers, complimenting both for their all-encompassing and daily-life-enhancing network business models and firmly establishing them as the only two firms of the five listed in this study to most likely have more influence in 2025.

Stowe Boyd, lead researcher for GigaOm Research, said, “Amazon and Google will be the first movers—along with some automotive companies—in autonomous vehicles and drones…[and] pull the Internet backbone away from telecommunications companies by building new fiber and/or acquisitions.”

Jamie LaRue, a writer, speaker, and consultant, noted, “Money is a huge driver, and Google and Amazon seem poised to continue to grow in both information and influence.”

Peter Janca of MCNC, the non-profit regional network operator for North Carolina, wrote, “Amazon and Google are still increasing their contributions to innovation.” Self-employed technology consultant Thomas Lenzo responded, “Amazon and Google have agnostic infrastructures in place; they will interact with anyone regarding anything.”

A few respondents made references to the early 2000s videos posted to YouTube titled EPIC 2014 and EPIC 2015. In these animated short films, a “history lesson” on recent and future technology shows Google and Amazon merging and becoming dominant and all-powerful. A CEO who remained anonymous wrote, “It could be Googlezon,” and an engineer ranked in the top 50 in a networking company that employs 75,000 responded, “Amazon and Google make major money and they will continue to grow in influence—see the video Googlezon.”

David Berkowitz, chief marketing officer for a large advertising agency, predicted a consolidation of sorts will be a possibility, writing, “By 2025 Amazon’s unofficial symbiosis with Google will resemble a merger, albeit with the two companies continuing along independently. They will have merged certain business units, such as cloud storage and Android-based app stores.”

Perceptions of Apple among those canvassed

The participants in this study were split on the future of Apple. Some 20% said it will be “more important” by 2025, 46% said it will be “less important,” and 33% said it will retain about the same level of importance. While some expressed confidence that Apple will grow its legion of loyal followers, others were skeptical of the firm’s ability to attract a similarly large share of the new users that will come online in the next decade. Outside of the United States right now, Samsung and other companies using the Android OS have more users. People on both sides—both optimistic and pessimistic regarding Apple’s likely future—noted that Apple has been a tech trend-setter able to marry innovation with simple consumer experiences and inspiring people to become dependent upon a tech ecosystem for many if not most of their daily functions. Some said they expect Apple to continue this success. Others complained about the limitations of Apple’s closed systems and/or worried that the passing of Steve Jobs will limit success in the future. Some said the global growing adoption of tools equipped with Google’s popular Android operating system, an open-source tool, will be an even larger threat to Apple in the coming years.

In the Apple camp, Stowe Boyd of GigaOm Research said, “Apple and Samsung will continue to dominate in devices,” and Joe Touch, director of the Information Science Institutes’ Postel Center at the University of Southern California replied, “I simply don’t see any of these companies other than Apple doing the kind of long-term investment and vision that is needed to last more than a generation.”

Many echoed the words of an anonymous respondent who said, “With the passing of Steve Jobs, more people are questioning Apple and its ability to be innovative. For people who are already sold on the Apple brand, they will continue to use it. However, Apple may face a larger problem with reaching those individuals who are not.”

Among those doubting Apple’s future was Daren C. Brabham, an associate professor at the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California. He wrote, “Apple will no longer be seen as a design frontrunner or trendsetter, and though it will retain a lot of loyal followers, it will likely slip to become just one of the major players in the space of many tools.”

Another anonymous respondent replied, “With Android heading toward 90+ percent market share in smartphones and tablets, Google is set to become the dominant computing vendor of the next decade. This will inevitably result in the decline of Apple and Microsoft, which will be reduced to niche markets.”

Most respondents who mentioned Apple’s “walled garden” saw it as a limitation. Among them, Laurel Papworth, a social media educator, who wrote, “Apple’s closed systems will once again remove it from the lead.” And Cathy Davidson of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Learning Project responded, “Apple’s walled devices will be less and less tolerable as other companies gain market share.”

But there were was at least one person who favored Apple because of its fierce control over hardware, software, and distribution. An anonymous respondent wrote, “Apple’s emphasis on owning the ecosystem means it may continue to maintain a rapt audience.”

Another anonymous respondent predicted success for Apple and a possible partnership with Amazon, writing, “Through development of Siri and compelling devices, Apple will become the dominant provider of personal devices and services. Apple and Amazon will ‘divvy up’ or combine their media services. One or the other will acquire Netflix. Google’s dominance in search engine will become a background function to other interfaces, such as Siri. Google won’t benefit from ads in such situations, though it might be able to sell ‘search’ as a function to companies like Apple.”

Perceptions of Microsoft among those canvassed

Most respondents said they expect that Microsoft will fall further into the shadows cast by other more successful tech companies over the next 10 years. Only 11% said their perception is that it will be “more important” by 2025. A common view was that Microsoft’s behemoth status has become burdensome, stifling its ability to innovate in the face of younger, more flexible companies. Its repeated lack of success in expensive and heavily promoted initiatives to produce popular hardware was noted as a negative for its image and its bottom line. Some respondents saluted the contributions Microsoft has made to modern computing, and some said they continue to see opportunity for Microsoft if new leadership can evolve it to be more responsive and innovative, but 63% of participants in this canvassing bluntly said they view it as highly likely to be “less important” by 2025.

John Markoff, senior writer for the Science section of the New York Times, commented, “I grew up with Microsoft and remember how they were well aware of the mistakes that IBM had made and was certain they wouldn’t make them. But then they did.” He went on to predict that he expects the dominant companies of 2025 will emerge from “the world of AI, robotics, and bioinformatics.”

Paul Jones, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said, “Microsoft’s role will diminish greatly, or, like AT&T, it will break up and regroup. The current dependence on operating systems and office programs that are PC-based and costly rather than mobile and free spells doom—or at least change.”

A number of people said Microsoft may not become a 2025 “colossus” but it still holds a strong position in software, thus it will not disappear but remain an important player if more behind the scenes rather than garnering the headlines for innovation often dominated by Google and Amazon.

Jim Hendler, a professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, wrote, “New technological giants will likely come along and create new niches, but just as Microsoft and IBM continue in the age of Google and Facebook I don’t see any of these current industries being put out of work.”

Mike Caprio, a software engineer for a consulting firm, noted, “Microsoft has managed to keep pace with the rest of these giants and yet still be dominant in the business world, and it has successfully managed to completely capture the living room with its Xbox consoles, so I suspect it will become more important in the future.”

An assistant professor at New Mexico State University wrote, “Microsoft is now, finally, in transition into a post-Steve Balmer era. It has the money and talent to do great things, if it can undergo a ‘cultural revolution’ and shake off the narrow-minded and rather mean-spirited ethos it has been imbued with.”

Perceptions of Facebook among those canvassed

In just a decade Facebook has grown to serve 1.2 billion users worldwide. But 78% of respondents in this canvassing expect that it will hold less power and influence in 2025 and 11% said they expect it will be “more important” by then. They say Facebook’s efforts to acquire new brands like Instagram (successful) and Snapchat (unsuccessful) have not been proven to be of great benefit, its business practices are annoying the public, and it does not seem to be capturing young people’s rapt attention as it once did.

Stowe Boyd, lead researcher for GigaOm, wrote, “Facebook will be something people used to do a decade ago, as AI-agents manage our online social interactions in increasingly personalized ways so there’s no longer a single app that people sign onto but instead a constellation of services that our ’bots interact with on our behalf. Facebook becomes the new AOL.”

Vint Cerf, Google vice president, predicted, “Facebook will wane in importance unless it changes its service model.” Celia Pearce, an associate professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said, “Facebook, from what I can tell, is flat-lining. It innovates incrementally but is not doing anything groundbreaking at this point.” Justin Reich of Harvard’s Berkman Center wrote, “Facebook will fall off as youth turn away—old people ruined Facebook.”

Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School wrote, “I see many competitors for Facebook and Twitter enabling more ways for people to connect and organize themselves.” And Jerry Michalski, founder of the Relationship Economy eXpedition, said, “Other services will turn Facebook into a Friendster, a dull corner of cyberspace.”

A few people in this canvassing see a positive future for Facebook. They point out the monetary value and power in a global social network as extensive as Facebook’s. Some said it could become a leader in new sectors such as online financials or education. A few people also commented that Facebook’s “stickiness” factor makes it a hard service to leave and this plays to its favor in the years ahead.

Steve Jones, a distinguished professor of communications at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said, “Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are doing a good job of laying the groundwork for their future.” An anonymous respondent said, “Facebook has the potential to become the world’s largest communication provider, displacing today’s carriers.” A business school professor commented, “Facebook will succeed because it has a culture of iteration, and by 2025 the generation that grew up on Facebook will be well entrenched in the workplace.”

An anonymous respondent sees Google and Facebook rising in influence: “Google and Facebook will be the most influential. They will also include financial interactions and both will be involved more with education.”

An overall prediction about what business online will look like in 2025:
‘Free customers’ rather than ‘captive customers’

Several respondents took this question as a starting point for broader observations about the role of major businesses and the Internet in the coming years. One of the most sweeping views came from Doc Searls, director of ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. He wrote:

Far more will come from start-ups than from already-ups such as the companies listed above. This was true 10 years ago, and 10 years before that. It will also be true every decade hence.

Amazon, Apple and Google are all good bets for persistence. But there is no way to know now how much any of them will be disrupted in the future. From the ’50s through most of the ’80s, IBM dominated the computing world. In the ’90s it was Microsoft. Nokia dominated mobile phones until the iPhone and Android came along. Apple is still riding high, but Steve Jobs has been dead since ’11 and his company has done nothing groundbreaking since.

Like people, companies die. And, like people, what matters is what they do when they are alive. Here are 10 benefits I expect to see business delivering by 2025, for individuals:

1) Default anonymity, with the ability to disclose identity and other high-value information selectively and in ways that generate and rely on trust.

2) The ability to manage administrative identifiers (ones provided by governments and companies), while solidifying each person’s own sovereign identity (the one they were born with).

3) Adherence of businesses and customers alike to frameworks for mutual respect such as the Respect Trust Framework, which will be self-reinforcing through peer-to-peer reputation systems, rather than centralized systems (such as LinkedIn’s current one).

4) The ability to assert terms, policies and preferences for engagement in the marketplace, and to easily come to agreements.

5) The ability to “intentcast” one’s product and service needs to the marketplace selectively, securely and anonymously.

6) The ability to send private encrypted messages without fear of exposure in transit.

7) The ability to safely store personal data in clouds of ones own, and to carry out programmatic activities on those clouds’ operating systems (which will be open source).

8) The ability of everything to have a cloud of its own as well, inside personal and organizational clouds.

9) The ability to program interactions between one’s self, one’s things and the rest of the world, without living inside any company’s walled garden.

10) Every product and service’s own cloud serving as the platform for relationships between customers and companies that make, sell or service the product.

The world we are building on the Net is decentralized by design and default. So is nature, despite all the hierarchies that thrive on it.

Meanwhile, here in the year 2014, much of our online lives are lived inside the walled gardens of Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon and other feudal oligarchs. Most companies still operate on the Industrial Age belief that captive customers are more valuable than free ones.

But the Net offers much more support to free customers than to captive ones. So, in the long run, free customers will prove more valuable—to themselves and to the marketplace —simply because they can do more on their own than inside their captors’ castles. Among other capacities, they can send much better economic signals than today’s marketing systems are capable of guessing, no matter how much “big data” they gain by surveillance.

It has always been better to know what customers want than to guess at it. By 2025, the ability of customers to inform, and to relate, in their own ways, and on their own terms, will be a big win for both the demand and the supply sides of the marketplace.

More Expert Responses

As of November 2013, the five specific companies we asked people to share their perspectives about Internet-dependent technology companies ranked high in Forbes’ Most Valuable Brands. Apple sat atop the list, Microsoft was second, Google was not far behind at number 5, and Amazon and Facebook were at 33 and 36, respectively. We solicited people’s views about their influence by 2025 because these companies clearly are enormously influential now.

Most respondents to this canvassing said Google and Amazon stand out as clear favorites for the future, saying they hold advantages because of their ability to innovate and take advantage of extensible user ecosystems. The said their products span a spectrum from hardware to software to services to platforms on which others are encouraged to build and innovate.

A notable share of respondents also said that Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft will become less important over the next 10 years. They suggested that Apple’s “walled garden” model would make it less competitive compared with other firms, especially after losing its visionary leader Steve Jobs. Many said Facebook is losing its influence over young people and criticized its business model, and many see Microsoft’s influence as waning.

Other themes also emerged. A great number of respondents said they expect that the powerful players of the future have not found prominence yet. A significant number of respondents expect that non-US firms will gain global importance in the coming decade; they said that while the West Coast of the US has been the dominant tech hub for the past two decades, other power centers are primed to emerge.

Some participants in this canvassing said the fast pace of change makes all aspects of this question about the likely success of tech companies by 2025 impossible to answer. Many commented that success will be the end result for the firms that can apply technology solutions to serious problems of key economic sectors such as health care and education. Some replied that the most powerful companies in 2025 will be those in control of access to connectivity, citing telecommunication giants like Comcast and Verizon. Some said these and other major firms such as IBM, Salesforce, GE, or Oracle should have been included on our list of the major firms today that may or may not shape online life in 2025.

The blooming promise of non-US companies

Three-quarters of these experts agreed that non-US firms will become more important over the next 10 years. Two themes emerged: First, they think non-US firms are best positioned to seize the opportunities affording by untapped consumer bases in emerging markets. Second, they think a generation of innovators is coming of age in developing economies. Notably, many experts named China as an emerging powerhouse along with a wider trend of innovation taking place in Asian markets. Here is a fuller sampling:

Randy Kluver, an associate professor at Texas A&M University, commented, “In general, I expect Asian corporations will have a much greater influence on the future Internet. In Taiwan, it will be HTC; in Korea, it is likely to be Samsung. Also, Chinese companies are likely to have an outsized influence in the future, both hardware (Huawei) and software (Baidu and Sina).”

Evan Michelson, a researcher exploring the societal and policy implications of emerging technologies, said, “The increase will come from non-US firms. The next Apple/Amazon/Google is going to come from India, China, and elsewhere, where companies will address needs for middle-income individuals that will increasingly become common in the United States.”

Mary Joyce, an Internet researcher and digital activism consultant, replied, “Chinese social media giants like Tencent that make money off their users rather than advertisers will leap ahead of ad-based US firms in profitability and will increase their global reach. Just as people around the world now use US social media, in 2025 people around the world will use Chinese social media.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “These emerging colossi are more likely to be non-US firms, companies from emerging economic leaders such as China, Brazil, or India who are willing and able to take great risks in order to gain a global presence.”

Another anonymous respondent said, “We will see a lot more innovation in these areas coming out of China. They recognize very clearly that they must move up the value chain and they are serious about doing so.”

An anonymous respondent contributed, “The US has squandered its role as the center of Internet and digital power. The rest of the world will see that this is not the case and Asia will begin to dominate, along with Asian norms controlling the infrastructure.”

Jillian C. York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, commented, “We’ll see an influx of new companies from Global South countries, particularly Brazil.”

Mike Cushman, an independent researcher, commented, “No firm that was dominant 10 years ago is so-privileged now (e.g., Microsoft, Dell). It seems likely that the churn is so rapid that today’s behemoths will be 2025’s bad memories. The question is whether 2025’s glamour firms will found in a garage in 2020 in SF, or London, or Shanghai, or Lagos, or Lima or…”

A director of entertainment marketing commented, “All of these companies are providing cutting-edge technology and they all ebb and flow with the general public regarding popularity. Samsung is another one to watch (non-US with heavy influence in US) and Sony also seems to be making a comeback in some key areas. Think of this as being similar to the car industry. The US carmakers led the pack for many years and they let their quality diminish. This allowed the foreign manufacturers take over, and although US companies are making a comeback they still have a long way to go to gain back consumer confidence. Right now companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft are doing well, however if they still expect to lead the way they can’t let up. especially since Samsung and others are right on their tails.”

Why other US firms might rise up

To date, US firms have greatly shaped and influenced online life globally. Most of the respondents to this canvassing live and work in North America. When looking ahead, many them said they are confident that a unique mix of circumstances in the US would aid its companies. They cited its higher education system, federal funding, and entrepreneurial culture as advantages, saying this combination of factors is not replicated elsewhere. But some respondents disagreed about how hospitable the US climate is for innovation.

In their responses, 46% said other US firms not specifically named in the question will be “more important” by 2025; 22% said other US firms will be “less important”; and 32% said other US firms will have about the same level of influence they currently have.

John Anderson, director of broadcast journalism at the Brooklyn College City University of New York, said, “Two things here: 1) I am surprised that telecommunications and Internet service providers are nowhere on this list. As those who control the Internet’s infrastructure, they have great sway on how the future Amazons, Apples, Facebooks, Googles, and Microsofts will evolve. Google’s making a play in this realm, so that’s why it will grow in importance; 2) Each of these companies, save Apple and Microsoft, are children of the Internet. There’s already been one sea change in Internet colossi since the Internet first came of age, and by 2025 I would expect there will probably be another.”

John Wooten, CEO and founder of ConsultED, replied, “By 2025 we will have seen a major influx of other US and non-US firms increasingly driving innovation over the current monoliths; innovation will happen so rapidly between now and 2025 that some organizations listed here will fail or lose influence simply because of pace and scale.”

Miguel Alcaine, International Telecommunication Union representative for Central America, responded, “No doubt there will be other US firms on the horizon that will become colossuses as the US still has the most nurturing environment for entrepreneurship. Also, there will be non-US firms… in an ever-increasingly connected world.”

A former US Defense Department employee wrote, “I hope sincerely that the new age ushers in an advance in mathematics, science and engineering. And I also hope that this results in new technology industries in the US. That is where Apple, Microsoft, and Google need to play an important role. If we are to have significant advances in commerce, politics, education, and health care it seems that these companies must work very hard to influence the education of our own young people in the US. I am constantly impressed with the abilities of the students in Japan, China, and India. We need to have the technology companies invest in our own young people by significantly increasing their presence in elementary and high school. We need to win the technology race, as we won the space race under President Kennedy. We need another visionary.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Perversely, the Internet’s decentralised nature has reinforced the importance of certain geographic centres of innovation. Nothing in the past 20 years has substantially disrupted the dominance of US technology companies globally. Other nations’ information technology industries tend to feed rather than threaten that dominance, as either outsourced service providers (e.g., India), or nimble and highly-trained centres of innovative development (Finland, Israel, Australia). I don’t expect the ‘perfect storm’ of freedom of speech, large consumer base, sophisticated venture capital and stock markets, culture of experimentation, high-calibre universities, and aggressive corporatisation that characterise the US tech industry will readily be replicated in other nations in the near future.”

Another anonymous respondent wrote, “US firms will continue to have impact simply because start-ups are easier in the US than elsewhere which explains why non-US firms will likely stay the same unless risk-taking is more rewarded than it is today.”

“US companies will do best because of the culture of innovation and investment. The Far East, ditto. Europe will be limited by a risk-averse culture and excessive regulation,” replied an anonymous respondent.

An anonymous respondent said, “The companies with the most impact in the future will be those that have more than one big play in the nexus of forces that define the digital age—connectivity, computing power, search, social interaction, and data analysis. Devices are cool but are likely less important to how much influence a future digital powerhouse can wield. For instance, what’s more important to Amazon’s future—the Kindle or the cloud?”

The US shortcomings

Among those who see US dominance waning, many were alarmed by the many revelations of privacy breaches and security oversights by the government and technology companies in 2013. They see this as a detriment to US innovation and they also argue that it discourages global engagement with US-produced hardware and software. Some also cited a weak technology infrastructure (mostly a lack of far-reaching high-speed Internet across the country) and a weak education system in regard to K-12 schooling in the US as flaws to be exploited.

Carol Wolinksy, a marketing research consultant, wrote, “Non-US companies will gain influence as the failure of the US to invest in education and infrastructure will slow economic growth, technological change, and technology prominence. Instead of seeing the best and brightest come to the US, we will see a brain drain as the best minds move to where the opportunities exist.”

Jeff Jarvis of the Tow-Knight Center at the City University of New York Graduate School said, “I fear the National Security Agency affair will begin a long downward slope in trust in American companies at the same time that I believe innovation and investment in other nations will inevitably grow, building competition for American industry.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “The Snowden revelations have created a permanent barrier to the global penetration of US Internet firms.”

An online university instructor said, “The Snowden leak already has cost the US IT and related industry billions (e.g., Boeing’s recent loss of a $4.5 billion contract with the Brazilian government), and, as evidence of collusion with the NSA continues to mount, it will cause permanent harm. Some of these firms (e.g., Amazon) are likely positioned in a way that they will be able to continue to grow or maintain their current market share—but the future of online growth and innovation, such as it is, will begin to shift overseas.”

An anonymous respondent said, “The first four companies on the list [Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google] will survive if they manage to disentangle themselves from the US government. These companies have already proposed legislation to curtail US government’s online surveillance and interference with the operation of Internet services.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The US political system will likely inhibit growth, as it does today, and non-US firms will continue to thrive.”

Inspirational foundational education was seen by some people as crucial to nurturing people’s capabilities for technological innovation.

“I think we’re going to see a lot less innovation from the US,” wrote an anonymous respondent. “Schooling has been poor and young developers have neither the perspective nor the familiarity with the deep workings of technology to revolutionize anything.”

A college professor wrote, “Non-US firms… will probably have smarter employees since the US education system has become rotted with a ‘no child left behind’ mentality.”

A long-time National Science Foundation employee and Internet pioneer wrote that non-US firms are likely to succeed, “especially in India and China, with huge populations and their investments in higher education—unless US immigration policy changes to take advantage of the brain drains from other countries US prominence will decline.”

Lillie Coney, a legislative director specializing in technology policy for a member of the US House of Representatives, said, “The winners and losers of the innovation curve will be determined by the capacity of the people of each nation to excel in the knowledge centers that form the core of the technologies—science, technology, engineering, and math.”

Telecom gatekeepers are seen as players by some

Some of the people responding said the five companies listed left out some obvious choices—telecom companies and media conglomerates. They said these companies are gatekeepers to the Internet and thus wield enormous influence, noting that these firms have the capacity to control access and the nature of online experiences.

Mike Caprio, a software engineer for a consulting firm, said, “It’s very important to note that consolidated media conglomerates wield a great deal of influence over the consumption of online content and the ways the Internet will be allowed to deliver it, and they will continue to do so for some time.”

Chris Donley, director of advanced networks and applications at CableLabs, replied, “The name of the game will be ‘cloud.’ Those that master it will grow in importance; those that neglect it will diminish. In addition to Google and Amazon, service providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable will increase in importance as proximity to the customer and low-latency connections increase in importance.”

A communications consultant noted, “You left out the providers of network infrastructure, which have the capacity to ruin everything.” Another anonymous respondent wrote, “I worry about the loss of Net Neutrality and what the ‘gatekeepers’ will do.”

Google and Amazon: Firms with ‘moonshots’ that are primed for growth

A significant share of answers among these respondents linked Google and Amazon as powers that will thrive in 2025, citing similarities in those firms that will give them a competitive edge and growing influence in the coming decade.

Ecosystems and embedded services

Google and Amazon were the darlings of people participating in this study because they have created ecosystems that include devices, services, and cloud storage. In their view, that allows both firms to be embedded as key parts of users’ lives that are difficult to give up. That makes them the icons of “stickiness.” One respondent argued the firms are “the equivalent of Internet ‘utilities’—services I cannot do without in personal or professional life.”

Sometimes Apple was included in the category of ecosystem builders, but not nearly as often as Google and Amazon were paired in this category.

A technology policy expert wrote, “The companies that will become ‘more important’ are those that see the current value in locking people into their ecosystems. Apple, Google, and Amazon are doing this in their own ways. Apple through gorgeous devices. Amazon through product choice and top-notch service. Google through free, ubiquitous software and platforms.”

Alex Halavais, an associate professor at Arizona State University, noted, “The capital investments that were seen as essential in the past have been increasingly negated in software and systems, where innovation and know-how trumps start-up capital. Flexible manufacturing may bring the same kind of opportunities for innovating around hardware. That should worry companies that build closed platforms, and energize those who can provide leverage for innovators. So Amazon and Google, by creating global marketplaces for otherwise small sellers, and scalable cloud services, may find themselves hosting rather than competing against their small global competitors in the coming years.”

Marcus Cake, network society content architect and strategist with WisdomNetworks.im, wrote, “The most powerful technology firms will be those that facilitate wisdom in the Internet of Everything as part of an open, global, person-to-person ecosystem that focuses on the wisdom of crowds. The mash-up of wisdom will include data, information, community, collaboration, knowledge, and wisdom.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Google will rule. By 2025 we would have realized what we gave up had Google’s mind-control capability not been so advanced. By then we will all love The Google, although some of us will be vaguely uneasy about this.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “The focus that Amazon and Google have placed on services and data will allow them to be considerable forces for many years to come. Companies that focus on software and equipment will become comparatively less important unless they broaden their product portfolio. Companies that own massive and critical infrastructure (telecom companies, data companies, power companies) will be important, but their influence will be secondary to the companies that provide critical and seamless services to consumers.”


Participants in this study emphasized that having a large and loyal following is just half the battle. They noted that tech companies that do not innovate quickly fade. Google gleans headlines for its “moonshot” programs like driverless cars and other projects being developed in the GoogleX labs. Amazon made a splash by announcing it is investigating the possibilities of drone delivery.

An editor, futurist, and consultant with Innovation Watch predicted, “Google is pioneering and investing strategically in many technologies that are destined to create entire new industries—robotics, artificial intelligence, Big Data—and is creating an unparalleled global knowledge base. A recent book quoted a Google engineer saying, ‘We are not digitizing books so people can read them. We’re digitizing books so machines can read them.’”

Lucas Gonze, a survey participant who did not share his workplace, wrote, “I anticipate Google growing in power because of its investments in ‘moonshots’ such as self-driving cars and robotics, and because of the potential to leverage the Android platform.”

Laurel Papworth, a social media educator, said, “Given Google’s move into ambient sound and light (reading the external environment) it shows itself to be ready for the Internet of Things.”

Celia Pearce, associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, commented, “Amazon, Apple, and Google are all companies with long-standing tradition of innovation. They will continue to innovate and make themselves relevant.”

John Wooten, CEO of ConsultED, said, “The largesse of innovation at Google drives it as an organization that will have continual and farther-reaching impact that those others with more singular focus—and closed architectures.”

The director of a Web-based journalism project responded, “Amazon and Google have only begun to scratch the surface of what they are capable of doing. Google Glass and the Google car are good examples of the kind of advances that keep that company ahead of its competitors. Amazon has created a cyber marketplace that is convenient and less expensive than the traditional marketplace, and it gets stronger and more creative each year. Drone deliveries? Seems crazy, but what’s next?”

Lobbying and government partnerships

Another important avenue of continued influence is the ability to form and maintain beneficial relationships with government agencies through lobbying programs. Many of respondents noted Google and Amazon’s skill in this regard, and they predicted the trend will continue.

Liam Pomfret, a doctoral candidate in online consumer privacy at the University of Queensland, commented, “I expect firms such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google will be especially prominent in government lobbying, more so than today.”

One anonymous respondent commented, “Google and Amazon seem destined to infiltrate every part of America’s life: shopping, driving, entertainment, finances, work, and leisure. If they succeed in doing so, they will have tremendous leverage to set policy in Washington—not the least because of their deep pockets. As status brands for Millennials they also have a big impact on the workforce and employee expectations of work.”

Lillie Coney, a legislative director specializing in technology policy for a member of the US House of Representatives, said, “Some of the companies want to reshape society to fit their view of what the world should be, while others are transitioning from owners who are no longer with them to business models that are not yet proven. Others have found a sound foundation in the government and the private sector, while others are consumer-driven.”

Concerns over privacy, a lack of data portability, and local economies

Many survey respondents expressed concerns over the power held by top technology firms. Privacy is a leading issue—Google, Amazon, and Facebook are a “big three” in this realm—as is “data portability,” or the cost to the public of leaving a “sticky” ecosystem such as Facebook or Google when it is no longer seen to be of value. Some mourn the loss of tech-lagging local businesses hastened by the Internet behemoths’ success.

Liza Potts, a senior researcher at Michigan State University, complained that another company could depose Facebook “if they focused on social augmentation rather than advertising and disruption of the negative kind with regard to the lack of privacy and security.” She added, “We will be relying on Google in regard to privacy and security. A very large ball is in its court.”

David Solomonoff, president of the New York Chapter of the Internet Society, wrote, “The business model of providing ‘free’ services by selling the users’ personal data will decline in the face of general paranoia and disgust as well as more customer-driven business models and the realization that centralized services like Google can just as easily by provided through more decentralized, privacy-friendly alternatives.”

Susan Caney-Peterson, a self-employed writer and editor said, “Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier predict that data exhaust—the byproduct of people’s actions—will be swept up like gold from every company that interface digitally with consumers, even if only information consumers. Our obsession with analyzing the world, recording and measuring each move, runs the risk of a dictatorship of data.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “My concern is that Google’s power and influence is based on a lower quality standard. But lower standards have become acceptable and this is disappointing. The quickest source is all that matters today and that approach will become more prevalent in 2025.”

The chief scientist for a major Internet-based business predicted that many problems will be solved by 2025, writing, “New forms of platform: intermediary, broker, and exchange will emerge, providing three things: A basis for trust; the facility to enable some form of interaction—discovery, conversation, engagement, fulfillment—across specific asset classes; a framework upon which new value-creating services can be built by the ecosystem: openness to competition, the freedom to move assets between platforms (assets help primarily in digital form as metadata); federation of identity; complete transparency of platform status and of the underlying financial mechanisms.”

A problem that will not be overcome by these solutions is the displacement of some local, small businesses that do not develop an online approach. Karen Riggs, a professor of media arts at Ohio University, wrote, “It is difficult to imagine that any corporation will outrank Amazon and Google in influencing and redefining consumerism and neutering local economies.” Jerry Michalski, founder of the Relationship Economy eXpedition, said, “Amazon will continue to kill retail… this will spell the demise of many stores.”

More on Amazon

Amazon received many laurels from these experts for building its firm across sectors and into new ones.

Bud Levin, a futurist and professor at Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, VA, said, “Amazon has growth potential, especially given the growth of driverless transportation. It may supplant grocery stores, may be the overwhelming partner with US Postal Service, and has nearly unlimited international growth potential. It’s the next phase of Walmart.”

An anonymous respondent agreed, saying, “Amazon will prosper and grow because it sells and delivers a great variety of things.” Another said, “Amazon will gain importance because of its role as an infrastructure provider.”

A network scientist for BBN Technologies wrote, “Amazon has a very good track record of figuring out how to apply new technology to its core mission of moving things around.”

A research fellow at the Global Cities Research Institute replied, “Amazon [provides] the equivalent of Internet ‘utilities’—services I cannot do without in personal and professional life.”

Carla Bates, an educational administrator, wrote, “Amazon is investing in major infrastructure pieces for the computing environment going forward and it will matter because infrastructure matters. The three major sectors having power—energy and transportation and communications—and it will greatly influence how life is structured on earth for the 8 billion human inhabitants and all the fowl in the air, fish in the sea, and all others roaming the earth.”

An anonymous respondent said, “The companies with the most impact in the future will be those that have more than one big play in the nexus of forces that define the digital age—connectivity, computing power, search, social interaction, and data analysis. Devices are cool but are likely less important to how much influence a future digital powerhouse can wield. For instance, what’s more important to Amazon’s future—the Kindle or the cloud?”

Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft seen as less likely to retain influence

A few people argued that the firms will remain influential because of a tradition of innovation. Others argued they are not likely to be more successful and quite likely will be less successful in the next decade. A rundown on some of the themes in the responses:When asked about the future of Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft, these respondents had generally less favorable opinions, but their responses struck varying notes.

More about Apple

Starting with the positives, these experts admired Apple for its product design, known for revolutionizing the industry many times over; a number of respondents said it “sets the standard.”

Thomas Lenzo, a self-employed technology consultant, wrote, “Apple will continue to be a company that develops the best user-friendly appliances.” But some of its admirers say they believe it has reached the top of the curve in terms of user experience and aesthetics, noting it is “at the top of its game today,” but could soon be toppled.

Kevin Jones, the founder and leader of a company creating information businesses in emerging markets, wrote, “Apple’s walled garden, absent transformative intuitive design, is already in decline.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Apple’s emphasis on owning the ecosystem means it may continue to maintain a rapt audience.” But that closed ecosystem was constantly cited as a negative for the company’s future. Bob Frankston, Internet pioneer and technology innovator, responded, “Apple is a test of the future. Will we be confined to the new monopolies as characterized by Apple (AKA the Roach Motel), or open, with many players contributing to an open ecology?” And Liza Potts, a senior researcher at Michigan State University, replied, “Apple’s products are showing signs of aging. With its newest OS eating up battery and its app store creating walled garden after walled garden, Apple’s lunch could be eaten by a more matured Google store or Android store with devices far cheaper.”

Many of the survey respondents who had negative views argued that Apple is losing its innovative edge, especially after the death of its visionary founder, Steve Jobs.

An anonymous respondent said, “Apple will likely not have the same innovative impact that it had under Steve Jobs.” And Jerry Michalski of REX said, “Apple… will eventually join the mediocre herd and lose its boutique edge (and margin).”

More about Facebook

Many respondents to the canvassing said Facebook is really a one-trick pony despite its recent experiments and acquisitions, a much smaller portion see it as primed for opportunity considering its vast global network and access to data about people across the world.

Daren C. Brabham, an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, commented, “Facebook’s singular focus on social networking tools will cause it to shrink in coming decades.”

Celia Pearce, Associate Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said, “Facebook, from what I can tell, is flatlining. They innovate incrementally, but are not doing anything groundbreaking at this point.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Facebook will remain popular for another five years or so, but eventually fade out of prominence as better ways of sharing more selectively evolve.”

Some, however, were more hopeful for Facebook, seeing opportunity for expansion into new sectors.

An anonymous respondent noted, “Google and Facebook will be the most influential. I believe that they will also include financial interactions. I also think both will be involved more with education.”

Another anonymous respondent said, “Facebook has the potential to become the world’s largest communication provider, displacing today’s carriers.”

A business school professor commented, “Facebook will succeed because it has a culture of iteration, and by 2025 the generation that grew up on Facebook will be well entrenched in the workplace.”

More about Microsoft

Mikey O’Connor, a volunteer participant at ICANN, wrote, “Microsoft is done. It will not be on this list in 2025.” An anonymous respondent summed it in an even-briefer form—“Microsoft is a has-been.”Perceptions of Microsoft while not completely negative were generally pessimistic. While it was once the globally dominant ruling company of tech, Microsoft is now viewed by the people who participated in this canvassing as outdated, a granddad in an industry of kids. Many of these experts felt no need to belabor the point—to them, Microsoft will not be influential in 10 years.

Jerry Michalski of REX said, “Microsoft is a dead company. The question is merely when it slips under the waves. It built its revenue streams through coercion around crappy code. That’s not a lasting proposition.”

Celia Pearce, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology said, “Microsoft is a company whose charge is to maintain the status quo, so it will continue to lag behind everyone else in terms of innovation.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Microsoft’s culture is too slow and traditional-thinking.” Another said, “Microsoft lost its way 10 years ago and no one serious wants to be its CEO.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Microsoft is not likely to have nearly the impact it had in the past having lost some key talent—mostly having lost Bill Gates.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “Microsoft is unable to succeed beyond superficial enterprise applications (word-processing, spreadsheets, email, simple file serving).”

Some people say Microsoft will continue to hold a niche position in providing software solutions. An anonymous respondent said, “Microsoft [will succeed] simply because of network effects with its OSes and business software.” Another wrote, “Enterprise service providers like Microsoft will maintain a growth if they increase use of the cloud.” Another wrote, “Microsoft will still be a major player but no longer a ‘technological monopoly.’” These arguments were countered by a sentiment among respondents that “Microsoft will contend with more and more spin-off programs that can outperform it.”

A few respondents see potential for Microsoft to reinvent itself, perhaps capitalizing on research into user interfaces and exploiting the lead it already has in home-based entertainment systems with the Xbox. An anonymous respondent wrote, “Microsoft, with its enormous research budget and its vision for natural user interfaces will a resurgence.” A network scientist for BBN Technologies said, “Microsoft has proven to be a survivor and has some room for growth if leaders can execute on it.”

Who knows what will happen? It is all conjecture, of course

Many of the canvassing participants said the list could not include future tech titans because they have not been invented yet. They noted the pace of tech development and often recalled the giants of 10 years ago that are no longer influential.

Joel Halpern, a distinguished engineer at Ericsson, commented, “The companies that will be wielding influence over how we use the Internet in 2025 will either be completely new companies or those companies that have succeeded in reinventing themselves to cope with the several generations of changes between now and then. This will require a combination of being lucky in guessing trends and being energetic in changing as the world does so. Thus, likely the biggest influencers will be new companies that have not even been imagined yet, but will happen to be in the right place at the right time. It is likely that these companies will emerge all over the world, and extend their influence without regard to national boundaries.”

An anonymous respondent remarked, “Company life cycles are getting shorter. I doubt the leading companies of 2025 are even a wink in their founders’ eyes yet. Amazon and Google may last longer than the others in the list, but they too will crumble within 10 years.”

Tom Folkes said succinctly, “They don’t exist yet. So, I have no idea who they will be.”

An anonymous respondent echoed the sentiment, saying, “This question can’t be answered with any modicum of truth. Twelve years is a lifetime in the technology space.”

Another anonymous respondent contributed, “The most powerful and innovative will be producing products that utilize technologies that only sci-fi writers dream about today. Nano and biotech will be the norm. Current goliaths will find a way to survive, but their relevancy and cache will diminish, sort of like stars burning through the red giant phase, only to end up white dwarfs. Technology ultimately will enable all of us to become goliaths, much like YouTube and Vimeo have enabled some folks to become media stars.”

“There will be new players that don’t yet exist who will be the disruptors,” wrote an anonymous respondent.

Where do the 2025 opportunities lie?

Other respondents thought we framed the question wrong – the focus should not be on individual companies, but sectors primed for (and in desperate need of) innovation.

Mike Roberts, the former CEO of ICANN, wrote, “Rather than pick individual winners, here are my favorite ‘good investment’ areas: Anything connected with biology and medicine; anything connected with reframing of economic structure to diminish inequality; anything connected tangibly with reducing human carbon footprint; (maybe) changes to enable obsolete nation state political structures to evolve to a more benign, transparent and globally fair state.”

Bright Simons, president of mPedigree, said, “The most successful companies will be those that specialise in the use of technologies to provide seamless, specialised, personalised, services such as talent-training, after-school education, waste management, power grid intermediation, water rationalisation, transport intermediation, and so forth.”

Frank Pasquale, a law professor, said the bottom line today is profits: “The behemoths of today will persist, as long as they charm Wall Street. They may vastly improve health care if they can manage to respect and deepen its core values of universal access and the unitary standard of care. But they are also likely to treat each of these other domains (human connection, commerce, politics/civic life, education) more as profit centers than as opportunities to serve humankind.”

Breanne Thomlison, founder and president of BTx2 Communications, wrote of the five companies listed, “Past trends predict these companies will not last or will be less important. Innovation is continuing and new companies, especially outside the US will take over—at least temporarily. The most influential companies will be health and education related—less shopping/consumer focused. They will involve Big Data measurement, DNA reading, and diagnostics for healthcare. Education will be transformed too and will be totally different, focused on individual learning needs and interests versus a government-controlled approach. Humans will be more connected than ever and living longer and happier.”

An associate professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign said, “Amazon, Google and other firms that focus on augmented reality, product services, data mining and learning analytics will all have an impact on our education system, consumerism and politics. I think that healthcare will change mostly in the area of robotics for surgery, telemedicine/health and commerce.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Some of the other potential technological companies that one could imagine arising by 2025 will depend on non-technological changes in the US economy and society. For example, there’s clearly room for a technologically mediated form of health care provision, but most of the current stakeholders will fight tooth and nail to prevent that from happening. Games and entertainment could change dramatically, but only if the social narrowness and cramped imagination of current developers opens up to allow a wider range of creative talent to enter into the process of creation and design.”

Other notable commentaries

Some respondents had insightful comments that didn’t easily fall into under specific themes and categories. A sampling is below:

Zizi Papacharissi, head of the department of communication at the University of Illinois-Chicago, wrote, “Most of these will stay the same, but they will take the form of a social backdrop/wallpaper that is so integrated into our everyday existence, we do not realize it is even there. So using these platforms will feel like entering a room and turning the light switch on, opening the fridge to see what’s available foodwise, turning the TV on to check news (which no one really does much, anymore), and checking Facebook to see what happened in the world, immediate and distant. We will have to get used to non-US firms colonizing the Internet, however. This will happen—and it will be good, because the mainstream platforms for utilizing the Internet are rather ethnocentric, and typically introduce/impose more of a Western experience/norms/reality.”

Celia Pearce, associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, commented, “There will be a whole generation of new companies, a la Twitter, that will also shift the dynamics. Also I would keep an eye on the banks. Chase has some of the most innovative customer-facing technology in business. It has really been on top of using tech in ways that are both innovative and useful to customers. It regularly wins awards for its mobile apps. I also think crowdfunding—things like Kickstarter and IndieGogo—is becoming the next killer app for the Internet. In my field, which is video games, they have already had enormous impact. It will become progressively easier to get projects funded through crowdsourcing, which is going to have a positive impact on innovation, since it will no longer be controlled entirely by mega-corporations and venture capitalists, who are often short-sighted because they are blinded by a short-term profit motive. Amazing things are going to happen as a result of opening up the opportunity for independently funded projects. Crowdfunding is in and of itself a game-changer. As far as overseas goes, I would look to India for innovation, as well as some Middle Eastern countries.”

Andrew Bridges, partner at Fenwick & West LLP, wrote, “Those companies that empower individuals in their interactions with others and in their demand for information; those that give individuals more convenience, speed, choice, and control; and those that extensively test consumer responses in their practices will succeed the most. Those that want to limit individual choice will suffer.”

Jesse Stay, Founder of Stay N’ Alive Productions, wrote, “The most impactful companies of 2025 will be the consumer-to-consumer companies such as Uber, AirBnB, Rentler, and others. These will be the ones with the infrastructure to provide human-to-human transactions. I also think Bitcoin, which has no company backing it, will play a much, much bigger role not just as a currency, but as a protocol. There is a strong likelihood of cryptocurrencies creating an entirely new peer-to-peer Internet within the next 10 years, where the users have full control of what gets stored about them, where their data is stored, and what companies and other users know about them. This new Internet will be completely designed around user privacy, and no company or central entity will control it (unlike the current Internet with ICANN, ISPs, and the like).”

Annette Liska, director of design at a design firm, wrote, “Tools that allow us to make things independently in an affordable and creative way and easily share that experience will profoundly impact our use of tools. Trustworthy use of tools in a local and community-based manner has the potential to change our global impact. The most obvious example may be additive manufacturing, where we will be able to share tools and resources in our geographic community (think of a library with laser cutters, 3D printers, looms, etc.). This fits philosophically with a trend toward better understanding ourselves and our immediate environment. From local self-sufficiency comes a strong foundation in which to share our different cultures globally in a less exploitative manner.”

Meg Houston Maker, a writer and editorial strategist, wrote, “The most powerful Internet-leveraging and influencing corporations of 2025 will be those that know best how to transform data into information, translate information into market insight, and give consumers what they need, not what they’re asking for. In other words, the dynamics of the marketplace won’t change. True, the tools for developing market-willing solutions and evaluating their success will change, but a company doesn’t exist if it doesn’t have a market, so those companies that can keep in touch with their market will continue to win.”

Anonymous respondents contributed the following predictions:

“The nation-state is all but dead. The global economy is rapidly becoming more important in the lives of people on an everyday basis. I would like to believe that as we shift away from national politics toward a more economics-driven international society that more will share, but I doubt it. I think the gulf between the haves and have-nots will merely increase. Although the year 2025 sounds distant, it is only 11 years away. When I think about the changes in the world over the past 11 years, I see more turbulence socially, ecologically, nationally, economically that reflects the policies and practices of transnational companies with little regard (other than projects for public relations) for the consequences for peripheral communities (not merely nations). I am actually glad to have just retired. I don’t know what my children are facing as they move into middle adulthood.”

“The dominant robotics and machine intelligence companies have not even begun to penetrate the awareness of the general public, even though their products are being introduced into an ever increasing number of applications. One of these companies will likely establish itself well enough to permit independent growth into a ‘colossus.’”

“Find the companies that build the engines that will autonomously collect, analyze, and deliver insight from information and those that automate the tasks of information workers. All other companies will be chasing after the value created by these companies.”

“With a still-pervasive mentality of bigger-is-better, and despite the obvious pitfalls of ‘too big to fail’ the US will allow a series of mergers and acquisitions to produce a very tiny number of mega-corporations that will eventually eclipse the government itself in power.”

“Companies that know how to get users to give them personal information without incurring any costs will be the winners in the long run. Facebook, and other social media sites, will continue to rise and fall, while those who intercept the traffic along the way through searches and providing the underlying cloud and application services, will continue to grow in power and influence (assuming there is no backlash against the privacy invading tactics of these companies, or the moral issues involved in using information to modify individual behavior doesn’t become a huge issue). The gateway is where the power is, not the destination, at this point.”

“The most successful tech firms in the next 10 years will be those who figure out how to leverage technology to change how the real world works, rather than pure tech plays. Think Uber or Airbnb, rather than Intel or Asus. US companies have been leading the way in these sorts of business models, but the rest of the world is rapidly catching up. The developing world in particular has had a talent for blending tech and reality (e.g., with the evolution of mobile payments in Africa), so I expect that as technology capacity develops in those nations, their impact will grow.”

“The most powerful Internet companies in 2025 will be masters of using data to get the right information to the right people at the right time. They will essentially be real-time data marketplaces.”

“Anything robiticizing compassion and care will be successful.”

“There will be a rise of super-empowered individuals with a neo-feudal approach of vassals who ‘friend’ or surround them, with vassals that then surround them. The nation-state model declines. Google, IBM, and others ask for diplomatic immunity. Corporations start being treated with some of the ‘rights’ previously only given to nation-states.”

“I’m not sure that people will still be calling it ‘the Internet’ the way we do now. It will be a utility like power and water. It will be a necessity. Companies that foster human connection, or the illusion of it, will get bigger, those that don’t will shrink. Commerce, politics, education, and health care are all part of that human connection.”

About this Canvassing

The expert predictions reported here about the impact of the Internet over the next 10 years came in response to one of eight questions asked by the Pew Research Center Internet Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center in an online canvassing conducted between November 25, 2013, and January 13, 2014. This is the sixth Internet study the two organizations have conducted together since 2004. For this project, we invited more than 12,000 experts and members of the interested public to share their opinions on the likely future of the Internet and 2,551 responded to at least one of the questions we asked. Nearly 1,500 responded to this question about access and sharing online in 2025.

The Web-based instrument was fielded to three audiences. The first was a list of targeted experts identified and accumulated by Pew Research and Elon University during the five previous rounds of this study, as well as those identified across 12 years of studying the Internet realm during its formative years. The second wave of solicitation was targeted to prominent listservs of Internet analysts, including lists titled: Association of Internet Researchers, Internet Rights and Principles, Liberation Technology, American Political Science Association, Cybertelecom, and the Communication and Information Technologies section of the American Sociological Association. The third audience was the mailing list of the Pew Research Center Internet Project, which includes those who closely follow technology trends, data, and themselves are often builders of parts of the online world. While most people who responded live in North America, people from across the world were invited to participate.

Respondents gave their answers to the following prompts:

Technology industry success – In 2025, which of the current colossus companies now wielding influence over how we use the Internet will be more important and powerful and which will be less important and less powerful (or even disappear)? [They were asked to rate the likely future importance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and ‘other US firms’ and ‘non-US firms’ as “more important,” “less important,” or “stays same.”]

Please elaborate on your answer. (Begin with your name if you are willing to have your comments attributed to you.) Describe the most powerful Internet-leveraging and Internet-influencing corporations of 2025: Which will they be? What will they do? What kind of impact will they have on human connection, commerce, politics/civic life, education, and health care?

Since the data are based on a non-random sample, the results are not projectable to any population other than the individuals expressing their points of view in this sample. The respondents’ remarks reflect their personal positions and are not the positions of their employers; the descriptions of their leadership roles help identify their background and the locus of their expertise. About 84% of respondents identified themselves as being based in North America; the others hail from all corners of the world. When asked about their “primary area of Internet interest,” 19% identified themselves as research scientists; 9% said they were entrepreneurs or business leaders; 10% as authors, editors or journalists; 8% as technology developers or administrators; 8% as advocates or activist users; 7% said they were futurists or consultants; 2% as legislators, politicians or lawyers; 2% as pioneers or originators; and 33% specified their primary area of interest as “other.”

On this particular survey question a majority of the respondents elected to remain anonymous. In the case of this question, a share of the anonymous respondents indicated they work with—or may wish to work with—the companies on our list and preferred not to have their names attached to their answers. Because people’s level of expertise is an important element of their participation in the conversation, anonymous respondents were given the opportunity to share a description of their Internet expertise or background.

Here are some of the key respondents in this report:

Miguel Alcaine, International Telecommunication Union area representative for Central America; Francois-Dominique Armingaud, formerly a computer engineer for IBM now teaching security; danah boyd, a social scientist for Microsoft; Stowe Boyd, lead at GigaOM Research; Bob Briscoe, chief researcher for British Telecom; Robert Cannon, Internet law and policy expert; Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google; David Clark, senior scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Glenn Edens, research scientist at PARC and IETF area chair; Jeremy Epstein, a senior computer scientist at SRI International; Susan Etlinger, a technology industry analyst with the Altimeter Group; Bob Frankston, Internet pioneer and technology innovator; Seth Finkelstein, a programmer, consultant and EFF Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award winner; Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher for Microsoft; Joel Halpern a distinguished engineer at Ericsson; Jim Hendler, Semantic Web scientist and professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center at the City University of New York; John Markoff, senior writer for the Science section of the New York Times; Jerry Michalski, founder of REX, the Relationship Economy eXpedition; Raymond Plzak, former CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, now a member of the board of ICANN; Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of MIT Technology Review; Mike Roberts, Internet Hall of Famer and longtime leader with ICANN; Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center; Paul Saffo, managing director of Discern Analytics and consulting associate professor at Stanford; Doc Searls, director of ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center; Hal Varian, chief economist for Google; and David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center.

Here is a selection of other institutions at which respondents work or have affiliations:

Yahoo; Intel; IBM; Hewlett-Packard; Nokia; Amazon; Netflix; Verizon; PayPal; BBN; Comcast; US Congress; EFF; W3C; The Web Foundation; PIRG: NASA; Association of Internet Researchers; Bloomberg News; World Future Society; ACM; the Aspen Institute; Magid; GigaOm; the Markle Foundation; The Altimeter Group; FactCheck.org; key offices of US and European Union governments; the Internet Engineering Task Force; the Internet Hall of Fame; ARIN; Nominet; Oxford Internet Institute; Princeton, Yale, Brown, Georgetown, Carnegie-Mellon, Duke, Purdue, Florida State and Columbia universities; the universities of Pennsylvania, California-Berkeley, Southern California, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Kentucky, Maryland, Kansas, Texas-Austin, Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Boston College.

To read anonymous responses to this survey question, please click here

To read credited responses to the report, please click here