9 digital trends to watch in 2010
1. Facebook replaces personal email
Question: Google has it; Hoover has it (in the U.K. anyway); TiVo had it, lost it, and has somewhat got it back. Xerox had it, but nobody really cares anymore. So what is it?
It's when a brand name becomes the verb associated with its use. So rather than searching for something online, you Google it. Or you TiVo, rather than digitally recording a television show. Arguably, an even more powerful phenomenon is when a brand becomes a noun, such as using the word Polaroid to represent all instantly developed photography (although that didn't end so well).
The newest one would seem to Facebook, although it has two meanings: "I Facebooked you" could mean that the person has added you as a Facebook friend, or that they sent you a private message though Facebook. The latter would seem to be of more interest, as no one has really owned this type of communication before. No brand ever became synonymous with email. To Hotmail or to Gmail someone just never happened.
So the interesting and overlooked disruption of Facebook is its displacement of personal email as a communication tool. Completely permission based, no spam (yet), and no address book required -- your friends are already there.
2. Open source software starts making proper money, thanks to the cloud
There's something starting to happen within the open source software world. Projects that were typically for the purview of programmers, or at least technophiles, are now available to the masses.
An example is Beanstalk a fully hosted, version-controlled code repository that uses the Subversion open source project. The big deal is that to set up and maintain a Subversion repository can be a pain -- plus you need a server if you want to give access to anyone. Beanstalk has created a subscription-based service that, for a small fee, removes the hassle. Services like this can only really exist with cloud computing infrastructure -- so companies such as Beanstalk don't have the huge upfront capital outlay for servers; they only pay for what their customers use. With the right skills any open source project can be commercialized in this manner.
3. Mobile commerce -- The promise that has never delivered, yet
As annoyingly tantalizing yet esoteric as the word "convergence" has been over the last 10 years, mobile commerce has promised much but hasn't delivered. However, mobile phones have delivered real benefits to societies worldwide, and in developing nations they are used commonly as devices for the transfer of money.
Yet, it's only recently that the nations that invented and first adopted mobile technologies have extended the use of these precious devices to pay for goods and services. With the advanced browsers of iPhone and the Android platforms, one could pay for goods through full ecommerce sites, but who really wants to fiddle around with a phone in one hand and a credit card in another?
The game changer is the iPhone/iTunes platform. In-app purchases on the iPhone can tempt users to buy small items, upgrades, updates, etc., while iTunes holds their precious credit card information. All, of course, is done in seamless fashion -- easily and reliably enough to promote impulse purchases. It would seem like an easy task for this to be extended to other platforms with PayPal or Google Checkout. (Though we have been here before, haven't we?)
4. Fewer registrations -- one sign-in fits all
I use a great application on the Mac platform that securely holds my login details for upwards of 50 different sites. It means that I don't have to use the same password for each site and that I don't have to search around for Post-it notes (my 1998 method) to log into a site I joined a week ago.
However, I'm starting to resent having to register for anything ever again. I don't see why, if I want to leave a particularly pithy comment on a blog or news site, I have to register all over again. I'm sure I'm not the only one, and that's why services like Facebook Connect and OpenID are particularly useful and will continue to be adopted at great speed through 2010. Who knows where these might go? Perhaps next year I'll be able to pay for something using my Facebook login.
5. Disruption vs. continuity -- alternatives to the "big idea"
As the significance of social networks continues to grow, businesses are investing more in community building as a marketing driver. According to the recent "Tribalization of Business" study released by Deloitte, 94 percent of businesses will continue or increase their investment in online communities and social media and, for the majority of these companies, their marketing function will drive this investment. At the same time, as evidenced by Google's recent release of "free floating" social tools, such as Google Wave and Sidewiki, there is an increasing shift toward online identity and social activity being an integrated part of the network as a whole, rather than concentrated within discrete platforms such as Facebook.
With the increasing emphasis on marketing and advertising through social networks and the increasing pervasiveness of social tools, marketing objectives come into conflict with advertising techniques. While advertising has often sought to distinguish itself and stop consumers in their tracks with a disruptive "big idea," the emphasis is shifting toward persuasion through fitting organically into the consumer's social sphere. It will always be the objective of marketing to provide creativity and novelty, but the way in will increasingly be through persistence and continuity.
6. The continuing evolution of web-driven, open source DIY culture
Much has been said about the power and potential of collective intelligence. From solving complex problems through crowd-sourcing, to reconfiguring industries to be leaner and more innovative by harnessing the expertise of a network of independent suppliers, many of the breakthrough solutions of tomorrow appear to lie in more effectively pooling the resources and intelligence of our increasingly networked world.
On the other side of the equation, the power of pooled intelligence and networked resources has empowered individuals to tackle more complex undertakings themselves. From drawing on the collective intelligence of blogs and university open courseware to educate themselves, to services like Ponoko, Spoonflower, and CafePress that facilitate small-scale production, to offline resource pooling like pop-up retail and collective office spaces, individuals are discovering that it has never been easier to try doing it themselves.
While we find new ways to thrive in a still struggling economy, expect to see lasting changes coming from empowering individuals to work together to become more ever more self-sufficient.
Where we once had pop-psychologists and pop-philosophers, we now appear to have pop-statisticians and pop-economists. The growing wealth of data and the access to rich and diverse data sources that are significant byproducts of information networks have made the art of data analysis a defining skill of our time.
By the same token, the skill of elegantly visualizing those data has become a defining art of our time. The art of the infographic is becoming increasingly pervasive as people look more and more to the growing amount of data at our disposal for insight, and more refined as the interactions of those data becomes more complex.
With an ever-increasing need for real-time analysis of a growing torrent of raw data, expect to see greater innovation spurred by more elegant ways of capturing and visualizing information by a growing number of info-artists.
Across many industries and organizations, crowdsourcing will become a growing tool as part of "elance" outsourcing strategies. Organizations will mobilize the passionate special interest groups to not only carry a message but, even more importantly perhaps, to lead and take part in activities on their behalf.
Predictions for 2010 are not as rosy as we all hoped, and budgets for just about everything continue to be cut, encouraging creative thinking regarding getting things done and done well.
From political canvassing to software development, from people journalism to environmental activism, we will see huge growth in crowdsourcing models provoked and led, largely, by digital social media strategies.
9. More Flash, not less
Outside of the obvious brand sites, microsites, and media sites (video, games, etc.), Flash has often been looked down upon, if not completely discounted by techies and search engine optimizers alike. It seemed to face an uncertain future as a viable tool for serious websites and applications such as ecommerce tools and corporate websites. As it is, Adobe's rich media tool has enjoyed the grit and determination of its advocates and external development community. Several tricks, authoring tools, and server-side scripting workarounds have meant that Flash-built websites no longer serve up a single, impenetrable page. They offer deep, searchable, indexable sites that will allow acute, detailed traffic and behavioral analytics and search engine optimization.
As websites continue to increase in their importance as a company's storefront, the demand for rich, brand-extending experiences will also increase. Further proliferation of (lightning speed) broadband will reduce download issues, while the adoption of Flash on mobile devices will dramatically increase and fuel reach and the desire for highly usable, brand transporting, conversion-oriented experiences.
Nuri Djavit is founding partner and creative director at Last Exit. Paul Newnes, partner and commercial director, and Adam Phillip, director of strategy and media at Last Exit, also contributed to this article.
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