Network: The future? You read about it here first

To be sure, the future is a really big deal here in Silicon Valley
"PREDICTION IS very difficult, especially about the future" is a saying attributed to Niels Bohr, the famous theorist who is called "the guiding spirit" of quantum theory by the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Niels was quite obviously a very smart guy. He improved upon work by another gifted fellow, name of Einstein.

So why is http://www. not among the top 20 Web sites?

To be sure the future, and predictions about the same, is a really big deal here in Silicon Valley. In a town where things change, I mean Seriously Change, over intervals as short as lunch, or coffee break or while tying your shoes, a little sure knowledge about the future is a big deal.

Because here in Silicon Valley, the real gold is information: information about the next hot startup, the next hot stock flotation, the Next Big Thing, the next chance to slip your business plan to a bucks-up venture capitalist lounging at the Cafe Verona or Buck's.

Even the products are information: the Netscape Browser is just ones and zeros arranged just so in a downloadable disk file. So is iMac's internal stuff, Windows 98, Java and all the flavours of Unix. Trillions of dollars, much of the net worth of the United States and a few other economies, comes down to patterns in a computer file, bugs and all.

It is pure information, and it is pure gold. No wonder the stock market can zoom up - and down - over press releases.

The only thing that could possibly be better than possessing the right info at the right time is having the same info ahead of everybody else.

Imagine knowing which anaemic startup is just about to be acquired for $300m, say, an hour before the market does, while its stock is still at $2.

Imagine introducing a Web browser program a few weeks ahead of Netscape, or cutting a deal with IBM to supply the operating system for an odd new kind of small computer a day ahead of some dropout college kid named Gates.

So, it seems to me, the way I can best serve my readers is to predict - accurately - the future of technology. Thus armed, it will be a trivial matter for you all to prosper, and, hopefully you will send large contributions my way - cheques and large blocks of negotiable securities gladly accepted (but we do not do e-commerce yet).

So here goes - and take the following to the bank:

To avoid any, ahem, difficulties of a regulatory nature, we will now switch to a language favoured by analysts, newsletters and stock tipsters. (Full disclosure: I have an even better business model: and this - attention, venture capitalists - is my latest startup. We will initially give the future away for free to build market share, and then charge for upgrades. Future 2.0 single-seat licenses will soon be available for $99.95 to readers of this column.

We will also offer competitive upgrades - just $49.95 to owners of Microsoft Future 1.x. The Web site is not up yet, but we are planning the flotation for Wednesday.)

1: The world is going to get more complex. Get used to it - as the global network grows, there are more ways to interact with more people, more nations, more cultures, more ideas, more pathways through life. There will be more ways to the same end, and more ends from ever-proliferating paths.

Executive summary: The world will not end in a bang, or a whimper - we will not be able to find the end, or the beginning, or the middle, for that matter. When God types "the end of the world" (as I just did) into a search engine, it will reply "23,756,020 pages match the term 'the end of the world' ". Even She will not have the patience to dig through them all, and we will be off the hook. You read it here, first.

2: The surest way to prosper: claim to have "the answer" and set up a consultancy. People see value in, and will pay well for, genuinely experienced and caring people to help them to avoid the dumbest mistakes and biggest pitfalls of technology adoption. Provided, of course, the cost thereof is some small fraction of the cost of making the mistakes oneself.

Executive summary: Consultants are either the purest form of genius, or the logical heirs to snake oil salesmen, carnival hucksters and purveyors of shares in South Sea Bubble Plc. This is a business for the nimble, modern, virtual corporation. That is to say, keep a cool-sounding e-mail address and be prepared for a long, quiet vacation if your clients' lawyers come looking for you. Always spot the lawyers before they spot you. Favour accounts in banks in the Cayman Islands and Brunei, even if the interest rates are not competitive.

3: Beware megalithic technocracies. Beware technology as an end unto itself. Foster relationships with focused individuals who concentrate on results, like profitability or other meaningful, easily measured goals.

Executive summary: This is heresy among a large, and growing, group of technocrats, aka "gurus", aka "high priests". Beware those offering free Techno-Kool-Aid, Systems That Solve All Your Problems, and low-cost opportunities to own bridges and other monumental properties, including large, possibly submerged tracts of land in Florida. Best to avoid associates who go by names like "DarK FoRcE" or "Guido".

4: Absolutely beware of people who say they can predict the future.

Executive summary: Bodes poorly for sites like