2011 digital forecasting

Richie polishes his digital crystal ball

Predicting the future, especially in the fast moving digital world, is always a perilous activity, but a rather fun one all the same. Will the next start-up fresh out of Silicon Valley, Sweden or Swindon be a Betamax or a VHS? A Sinclair C5 or one of those aluminium ‘micro scooters’?

All of this innovation is the product of an exciting mix of Moore’s law (more processing power) Nielsen’s law (more bandwidth, especially mobile) and a huge, huge dollop of creativity.

So, digital neck on the line time - here are my predictions for 2011.

The march of the mass market (useable) smartphone
I love my iPhone – 80% of our team have one. But, by the end of the year it will no longer be all about Apple Smartphones. Serious iPhone competitors are available already, and it’s not just Android powering them. Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 OS is a heavyweight response to Apple’s OS4 – it really is quick, powerful and usable.

So the competition will hot up. Apple’s current hold on the ‘usable smartphone’ marketplace means that huge swathes of the mobile consumer market just cannot (or choose not to) afford the expense of running an iPhone. Greedy monthly tariffs and protracted contracts are keeping many from adopting these wonderful devices.

So the opening-up of the marketplace as more competition comes on board with equally good (or in some cases, better) products but with a competitive tariff, has to be a good thing.

Both Google and Microsoft know that they cannot afford to let Apple dominate this market so, whilst 2011 might not be the year they finally win their battle for a decent market share, alternatives to the iPhone will establish themselves in the psyche, and pockets, of the consumer market.

Location-based check-ins add value
‘Trevor has just checked in at Tesco, Newport’. Er, well done Trevor, that’s thrilling.

But, what if Trevor checked in at Tesco, Newport and then was given a free bottle of wine by Tesco for checking in?

That changes things a bit.

I think 2011 will be the year of the value-added check in, where brands can show off how grateful they are when you shout about what you’re up to and what you like.

So, the check in won’t just be a method of demonstrating how committed you are to your local football team/Zara/Starbucks/motorway services; it’s set to become a sophisticated (and monetised) advertising space.

Apps will need to start paying for themselves
Brand apps have had mixed success to date. There are many more languishing in the depths of the App Stores with poor reviews and small download numbers than there are on people’s home screens.

And they’re not cheap - spending close to, or over, six figures without generating reasonable awareness or ROI means questions have been asked over the past 12 months.

So this year, app development will continue apace, but there will be cries of: “Do we really need an app?”

The answer will still frequently be: “Yes. But make sure it pays for itself.”

Bing’s year?
That Microsoft consciously chose to miss the search boat is now an unofficial hallmark of their brand.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO admitted this year that Microsoft is “just like a start-up” in search. He identified that, because they aren’t the market leader, they don’t have to stay locked into the same user interface - hence the arrival of Bing.

Getting over the cost of entry must have been painful but they are making subtle gains - November 2010 saw the best usage levels in Microsoft’s entire search engine history. So the curve is good.

The UK launch of the search engine wasn’t the best received, especially as the index was heavily polluted with a US-centric take on everything, but it’s destined to improve in 2011.

And with the Yahoo/Bing search tie-up, market share should swing yet further their way in 2011, which is good news for search marketing of course.

The rise of personal Social Media Policies
A lot of things have happened very quickly in the social media world. For some it’s been a bit too quick.

Traditional (offline) social protocols were initially sacrificed, simply because they could be. So in the same way email had to establish a set of protocols (like SHOUTING IN CAPS ISN’T VERY POLITE), personal codes of conduct for social media are slowly being formed.

In just the past year Twitter has matured in its usage hugely, as this article explains. The same seems to be happening on Facebook, with unspoken rules existing between groups of friends about certain photos not making it on to the site.

And with Facebook’s privacy policy being under increased scrutiny, especially with the announcement of Facebook Mail, my prediction is 2011 could be the year people actually develop their own social media polices. OK, so they won’t publish them, but the blurred lines between personal and business will become more defined.

The stakes are high after all: several American law firms are now rumoured to have teams of snooping data specialists spying on social networks to collate dirt on plaintiffs for weak family law cases. Like anything on the web (and as AOL’s excellent ad campaign a few years back proclaimed) there are both positives and negatives.

Social Media attribution
I’m half predicting/ half hoping with this point – but good tracking would deliver insights which, in turn, would transform social into a truly accountable channel that would release its full potential, finally.

I think 2011 will deliver a breakthrough – real, usable data that will give social the underlying figures it requires.

Currently, most of the social media measurement tools available are akin to the sophistication of search in the late nineties - i.e. poor. Worse still, they are expensive, as trawling manually through data which is too unintelligible for the algorithms that currently exist is untenable, especially when it comes to gauging sentiment. No one has yet managed to teach a US-designed tracking tool the subtle nuances of British humour (it’s hard enough in person).

So we need an algorithm with the power of Google but the social intelligence of Steven Fry, or possibly Keith Lemon. 2011 is the year. Hopefully.