2010 predictions: just where is digital going?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

2010 predictions: I was challenged by some of my colleagues to think about digital and social media in 2010. At first all I could think of was the Roy Schneider film 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

I couldn’t nail things down to a 12-month period and as the Koran says ‘the man who predicts the future is a liar, even if he tells truth’. However, here is some trends that I think are going to become increasingly important.

Social media wouldn’t be social media without people and I see 2010 as a time when more people start thinking about how we deal with the trust-based issues that social media throws up. Social media allows people to be more connected, but also affects the fabric of society as we relate to each other in different ways.

We need to think about the implications for etiquette, ethics and what will be the new social norms that we have to deal with. I already get asked about what should you do if your boss sends you a friend request for Facebook or suddenly starts following you on Twitter? Its been eight years since Heather Armstrong, author Dooce.com was fired because of her blog, yet as a society we still haven’t got to grips with what social media means.

I personally live from a worldview similar to that articulated by Singaporean blogger Pat Law “As long as the information is online, even if you’ve placed it on private mode, your privacy is automatically placed on a pedestal for potential abuse. So never publish anything you don’t want people to know online.”

Social media has great power and an ability to mobilise people, from flash mobs to meet-ups with like-minded strangers: the ability to bring people together for good is well documented. However the ‘wisdom’ of mobs is something that is starting to raise its ugly head, from parties on Facebook that get crashed, to the vilification of Jan Moir following her Stephen Gately article. Repugnant though Ms Moir’s views are there is something sinister about the chattering classes online version of Orwellian ‘two-minute hate’.

A crucial part of the relationship between members of society is the role of the government is key. From a government perspective all this self-organising power can be dangerous: people getting together and standing up to authority – we’ve seen it before:

  • Climate–change protestors
  • Poll tax riots
  • Illegal raves

Each time, the government has brought resources and legislation to bear against them. I expect this to be at least considered in the next year. We are already seeing the genesis of thoughts in this area with the three strikes internet connection ban against potential file-sharers.

If you look at countries like South Korea and China the real ID concept is likely to take hold. Where consumers access to web services will be directly tied to their real-world identity. Being the UK, this data is also likely to be sold to commercial enterprises resulting in better online targeting and mapping for marketers. I wouldn’t be surprised with the real ID was floated at a concept for public consumption next year.

A good reminder that government also doesn’t get things right is the current Digital Britain report, which is astounding in its lack of vision and imagination and would have been more appropriately named as a Digital Cripple report. As my pod neighbour Nick Osborne repeatedly points out to me: the Australian’s have set higher speed goals for getting broadband into the outback than the UK has. Finland has made 1MB speed bandwidth a legal right already. I don’t see anything changing in this area anytime soon. The bar being set so low provides a temporary benefit to telecoms companies. These same telecoms companies would like to move to a pay-per-bit model where you pay for each unit of data that you use rather like the way voice calls used to be.

Whilst I can’t see that happening in 2010, I could see it being openly discussed by the likes of BT. If bundles are used, it would only be to confuse and obstificate price comparisons by consumers.

The UK will still have analogue intellectual property laws for an increasingly digital world, I don’t see a dramatic change to correct this coming anytime soon.

From a marketing perspective, I think that marketing budgets are undergoing a long-term disruption. Social media will no longer be special but part of the normal mix.

Changes in marketing spend will come partly at the expense of search advertising. There is an argument to be made that Google Adwords as a platform has matured. With some noticeable exceptions such as some parts of insurance services key word prices are now optimally priced. Two factors have come along to affect search advertising.
Firstly, search is moving into the real-time web slowly, yet much of the interesting content is happening there. Real-time web advertising allows the media buyer to think about location and time slots on a much more granular level. I have already seen promotional deals offered on foursquare for local restaurants when I am at work.

Secondly, Facebook behavioural adverts are still relatively cheaply priced versus their competition, combine this that the trust has engendered after a number of false starts and their ad platform is looking increasingly viable for many of the intent-based campaigns that would have previously run on a search engine.

The good news for the search engines is that consumers are much more open to a curated web via friends and authorative individuals, many of the concepts of social search will be ready for an early majority audience in 2010. All they need to do is work out how to monetise social search effectively.

Continued pressure on spending within business is likely to affect social media in a number of different ways.

I expect there to be an increase in social media rightshoring. In the past, I have used a Philippines’-based moderation company for a large community project, but only the other week a senior international business-to-business marketer was asking me to recommend someone they could recruit to be their global head of social media, to be based out of India.

Given the myriad cultural differences that separate us, I am inclined to think that many of these rightshoring projects will fail miserably. Its hard enough speaking to my bank based out of a Bangalore call centre, what happens we ask these organisations to engage in conversations that are much more culturally sensitive.

Social media will be looked at to provide solutions to problems that businesses continue to wrestle with: from knowledge management to customer relationships and workflow. As with previous iterations of solutions, I expect the results to be variable in quality due to organisation factors, culture and a lack of management expertise.

One of the break out trends for 2009 was ‘the web of no web’ where a mix of QR codes and augmented reality allow consumers to interact with the real world with online information. This has a huge potential, but there are two key challenges, the most dangerous one being that someone comes up with a creative execution so bad that consumers reject the ‘web of no web’ concept.

The second challenge is much more mundane and not likely to be solved in the next year: power consumption. Power technology has not improved as fast as display technology or electronic components with modern devices we devices and applications that can flatten a smart phone battery in a few hours. I already struggle to get a day out of my iPhone battery and powerful applications are only likely to exasperate the situation.

There you go, that’s my predictions for 2010, what are yours?