Present and Future themes – 2011 Predictions

It’s about now people give their predictions for 2011, including me,  and there are future looking stories being told by Fred Wilson and John Battelle this weekend foretelling where the future of the Web is going to be for the next 2-3 years.  Might as well join them (even though both will surely release their 2011 predictions more formally in the next week or two).

In my life now I have been able to have the luxury of  some of the types of conversations that Battelle and Wilson often have and it’s my first prediction that I’ll have a lot more of those conversations in 2011, partly be design (with my book on Social Media Analytics coming out next spring or summer) and partly due to the way companies are coming to me to ask me what I think about the present and future opportunities in the Social Media Space, particularly with Listening Systems, extending past that to better ways of accomplishing effective information processing of online textual information and transforming it into intelligence.

In his  Signal, Curation, Discovery post yesterday John Battelle predicted the future will look bright for Tumblr and why Google, Facebook and Twitter succeeded though present success does not equate with future success and that is a theme both Wilson and Battelle shared.

First, John Battelle said the web has pivoted from a site- and content-specific axis to a people-specific axis with profound implications for the future.New startups have sprung up, each providing new approaches to curate signal from the ever-increasing noise. They are, in order of founding, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr focusing around “discovery as a problem that will always need to be solved.”

Since its inception, the web has presented us with a discovery problem. How do we find something we wish to pay attention to (or connect with)? In the beginning this problem applied to just web sites – “How do I find a site worth my time?” But as the web has evolved, the problem keeps emerging again – first with discrete pieces of content – “How do I find the answer to a question about….” – and then with people: “How do I find a particular person on the web?” And now we’ve started to combine all of these categories of discovery: “How do I find someone to follow who has smart things to say about my industry?” In short, over time, the problem has not gotten better, it’s gotten far more complicated. If all search had to do was categorize web content, I’d wager it’d be close to solved by now.

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Battelle goes on to say that following companies had success as leaders of the Web because they were pivotal at one particular thing at a moment society needed it.  I adapted parts of John Battelle’s post because it’s so long, apologize for it in advance.

- Google became successful because it solved the problem society needed at the specific moment of time (1998-2006) that  web content began to mushroom as there were too many sites to catalog (what Yahoo was trying to do with Yahoo! Directories). Instead of using the site as the discrete unit of discovery, Google used the page – a specific unit of content. Google proved  if you find a strong signal (the link), and curate it at scale (the search engine), you can become the most important company in the Internet economy. With both, of course, the true currency was human attention.

- Facebook became successful as the axis for the web’s pivot moved to focus on  people and the Social Graph.  Once again, a company embarked on the process of dominating the web by finding a strong signal (the social graph), curated it at scale (the Facebook platform) becoming the most important company in the Internet economy in 2006- 2010 but Facebook is becoming too noisy and might not scale, according to Battelle.

- Twitter became successful because it delivers a signal of “what’s happening” better than anyone else. Facebook quickly followed suit, but Twitter remains the strongest signal, in the main because of its asymmetrical approach to following, as opposed to symmetric friending.

- Tumblr is becoming successful because it combines the best of self expression (Facebook and blogging platforms) with the best of curation (Twitter and RSS), and seems to have stumbled into a second-order social interest graph to boot.

John Battelle thinks the future will be very interesting and it is not yet decided Google will be the dominant player it has been, there is room for a new player or two to dominate, perhaps the one’s above, perhaps a new player that is just emerging that we don’t know much about yet.
Fred Wilson says something that hits much closer to home  in a post on the Present and Future (continued) saying “It is often the case that on the surface companies can appear to be in great shape. If you just focus on the financial results, you can miss the underlying symptoms of future problems. I’ve made that mistake many times, hopefully enough times that I will make it less in the future.”  Wilson goes on to say:

What you need to do is peer into the future and try to figure out what is going to happen next. In RIM’s case, I sense that a “platform collapse”, as the author of the blog post calls it, is a real possibility in the next year or two.

RIM’s stock is trading at a PE of just under 12, almost identical to Microsoft’s. It seems like the market is well aware that the growth era is over and is counting on a long period of flat growth but strong profits for years to come. A platform collapse is not baked into the market’s multiple.

The big platforms out there, Apple, Android, RIM, Facebook, Twitter, etc are powerful but fragile. They need to keep innovating and providing users AND developers real value. As myspace has shown, when platforms stagnate they can easily fall apart and the decline can be fast and devastating.

That got me to think about what innovation really means.  It’s not more “products” and “services”, or more things you can create to sell to audiences.  It is, instead, better ways of doing something that saves people time and ultimately, money while creating economies beyond the product.

Now I want to deal with 2011, and I may think of more predictions in the days ahead, just want to get a few out now.

  • Vendors I spoke to in Europe during my last trip seem to think a shakeout in Social Monitoring platforms is coming.   In fact, it’s already happening.   In 2011 most of the platforms that came into existence in 2006-2008 time frame will have been acquired by larger corporations that solve different problems, but need the capabilities Alterian, Sysomos, Scout Labs, Attensity, etc, etc, offered.
  • The monitoring space is crowded with players who are selling a commodity (monitoring) to an audience that is confused about the business case and correct costs of technology and services – with a mixture of products that are sold to do the same thing but differ in price by  a factor of 10.  2011 will begin the process of sorting out the players that offer real value from Snake Oil.   The Snake Oil sellers of technology will start to experience problems by next summer as buyers begin to connect the dots.
  • There is a tendency for everyone to build their own platforms but that’s ill advised right now as the space is shifting so quickly that technology investments made now may be too late until the next round of changes plays out and we can figure out what platforms and approaches to build on.  In general, the market of buyers and sellers are so fragmented now it’s possible to pass of snake oil products and lists but in the future the market will tighten and become much more selective.  I see myself playing a role here with the book.
  • Geolocation, Geolocation, Geolocation
  • Working smarter not longer hours – time to harness the power of the web, tools like NeedleBase will help.
  • Advertising, PR firms and marketing firms  offering services need to sort out their business models – too often they are about selling products, services, lists and not benefits – that will and must change.
  • 2011 is the year of the Data Analyst.   We have been pushed to the back but the truth is that what intelligence is being provided is actually coming from informed Analysts, not business development or business services.  It’s time to recognize where real value lies.

That’s it for now – there were a bunch of great posts that came out lately but between writing my book and processing life – it’s been harder to blog every day.  I hope to get back to that soon.

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5 thoughts on “Present and Future themes – 2011 Predictions”

  1. 2010 was great year for us here at Sysomos and I think 2011 is going to be even better.
    I also think you’re right in saying that data analysis and data analyzers are going to play a huge roll in 2011. We already see them starting to come to the front in marketing and PR, but I think we’ll see even more of that next year.
    I guess that’s good news for you, Marshall.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

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