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What's the Market's Next Big Thing?

Nathan Alderman
July 14, 2010

The initial gains of the 1990s dot-com boom proved sadly short-lived. ( sock puppet, we hardly knew ye!) But 15 years after it hit the mainstream, the Internet has nonetheless transformed the face of the business world, creating new opportunities and new market leaders. It may be too late to capture the heady initial growth of the best dot-com names, but what if we could find the next great industry before it reached the stratosphere?

On The Motley Fool's Twitter feed, Foolish follower @m_recruiters asked us:

Every decade has its boom industry ... Is energy the next the next ".com"?

We asked a panel of forward-thinking Fools to pick the next industry to hit the big time, and suggest one stock within that industry that might benefit investors the most. As always, please consider their selections as ideas for further research, not ironclad recommendations. Let's see where these Foolish folks think the future will take us.

The inescapable Internet
Tim Beyers, Fool contributor and Rule Breakers analyst
For this tech writer, the coming decade's Next Big Thing is pervasive connectivity, and there are two main ways to play it.

First, you could bet on companies enabling connectivity through wireless infrastructure. Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR  ) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) are building their national WiMAX network. Carriers AT&T (NYSE: T  ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) are working on alternative "fourth-generation" networks based on a technology called LTE. Unfortunately for all four, success depends upon massive capital investment, which means taking on debt.

Debt-dependent stocks scare me, which is why I favor a second strategy: betting on cash-rich companies whose products benefit from a boost in connectivity. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) and Google top my list in this area. Google gets the nod only because, like Intel, it's already an investor in Clearwire and WiMAX. In addition, pervasive connectivity will expand the market for digital advertising, while allowing The Big G to sell more cloud-computing services.

"Old" is the new "new"
Alex Dumortier, CFA, Fool contributor
I'm convinced that energy is a "next big thing," given that we will inevitably come to terms with the finite supply of existing energy sources. (Perhaps more quickly than anticipated!) Necessity is the mother of invention, and once we focus our ingenuity on this problem, I expect powerful and unexpected technologies to emerge.

That said, there's no set timetable associated with this "boom." And I'm convinced that just like the dot-com boom, t