free html hit counter Predictions 2013 | John Battelle's Search Blog

Predictions 2013

By - January 07, 2013

Mssr. Nostradamus

One week into the new year, it’s again time for me take a crack at predicting what might come of this next spin around the sun, at least as it relates to the Internet ecosystem. Last year’s predictions came out pretty well, all things considered, but I took an unusual tack – I wrote long posts on each of the first six, and then shot from the hip for the last one. Those last shots were pretty hit or miss, as you might expect.

This year I’m going to try something new. Instead of trying to get everything right – which often means being practical and reining in some of my more obvious biases – I’m going to make predictions based on what I wish would happen. In other words, below are things that I hope occur this year, even if the chances of them happening may be arguably slim. In the past I’ve edited out a fair amount of this impulse, as I was aiming game the odds in my favor. But for whatever reason – perhaps because this post marks my 10th year of predictions – I feel like airing it out and seeing what happens. So here goes.

2013 will be the year that….

- We figure out what the hell “Big Data” really is, and realize it’s bigger than we thought (despite its poor name). Asked in 1995 whether the Internet was overhyped, John Doerr famously said “It’s entirely possible that the Internet is underhyped.” He was right, by a long margin. This past year, no secular trend has been more hyped than “Big Data.” But very few of us even know what the hell it is. This was also true of “the Internet” in 1995. But I’ll say it here, for the record: The role of data in our personal, social, and commercial lives is far larger than the current hype. It’s bigger than the Internet – it’s as big as big can be defined, because data, in the end, is our way of defining every single entity that matters to us, and then making that liquid to to world. This is really, really big – Matrix narrative big, big in every nuance and meaning of the word. And 2013 will be the year we look back on as the moment most of us came to that realization. Related to this, we as consumers will begin to make more and more choices based on how companies treat data, in particular, on whether those companies allow consumers to control data. Smart companies will begin to market on this distinction.And yes, this is very much at the heart of my work this year.

- Adtech does not capitulate, in fact, it has its best year ever, thanks to … data. Ever since Terry published his Lumascapes on ad tech, we’ve all been waiting for the capitulation amongst those VC-backed companies. The reasoning goes something like this: There are way too many similar companies chasing the same opportunties, and far too few intelligent buyers or markets for samesaid companies. But what if the capitulation came, and no one noticed? That’s what’s going to happen in 2013. Plenty of companies will be sold, either for profits, pushes, or parts, but far more will launch and/or lean merrily forward, serving their niches well and building out their businesses, figuring out how to better leverage my first prediction. There will not be a systemic collapse in adtech, because adtech is one of the most important and edifying developments in marketing since search – the namesake of this site. In fact, given that I’m trending toward hyperbole, let me say it straight up: Besides the Internet itself, the ecosystem we are creating through adtech may well prove to be the single most important digital artifact we’ve ever created – more important than search, because it subsumes it, more important than the financial system, because it’s far more open and accessible. If we get adtech right, we may well be creating the prototype for how we manage all that “Big Data” in our lives, across all aspects of human endeavor – transportation, energy, finance, healthcare, education – pretty much anything that has a marble building in Washington DC. Of course, by the time this happens, no one will call it “adtech” anymore, but trust me – adtech is an artifact of a future we’ll all be living in soon.

Google trumps Apple in mobile. Sure, Android has already gotten larger market share than iOS, and lots of tech pundits (myself included) are making loud noises about how the Nexus 4 is a winner. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. Apple still beats all comers when it comes to revenue, margin, and perception. But in 2013, what I wish for is that Google takes Apple’s crown. And here’s how it could happen: First, Google comes out with a device (maybe it’s with a partner like LG for the Nexus 4, but more likely, it’s a real Google phone, from Motorola) that is just inarguably better than Apple’s, and, it’s available at scale. The Nexus 4 is close, but it’s a half step toward what Google really needs – they need the Next Big Thing. You know, what the Razr was back in the late 1990s. What the iPhone has been for five years. And I think they’ll do it. Next, they need to recommit to their focus on interoperability and openness in operating systems. Google needs to actively promote a vision that is 180 degrees from that of Apple: Open, interoperable, accessible, ungated. This allows for real innovation in UI, services, and apps. Google will win by highlighting things that only Android-based devices running Jellybean or later can do: you (consumers and developers) can interact with digital services and content in a web-like fashion. On Apple’s bespoke devices, you get whatever Apple thinks you deserve. Lastly, Google will openly license the hardware platform of its world-beating phone free to all of its partners. Yes, that’s crazy, but it also gives Google the ability to win the PR war with Samsung, in particular, and continue its long record of taking what used to be costly, and making it free (it also won’t hurt Google in its endless antitrust battles around the world). Google shouldn’t fall into the rabbit hole of thinking it’s a hardware sales company. That’s Apple and Samsung’s (and HP’s and and and…) cross to bear. Google is software and services company, period end of sentence. (And yes, media is software and services).

The Internet enables frictionless (but accountable) payments, enabling all manner of business models that previously have been unnaturally retarded. Closest to my heart is payment for content, of course, but beyond media, 2013 will be seen as the year a number of forces converged to push paid services to its rightful place next to advertising as a core driver of the Internet economy. I know PayPal et al are already massive businesses, but frictionless they are not. Nor do we have a solution that crosses platforms and devices in a manner that doesn’t give pause (or headache – for example, there’s no way to track what you’ve paid for across the Internet, if you happen to use more than one service). But as I said, many forces are converging to enable such a dream: First, consumers are now accustomed to paying for services and even content online. We have Paypal, Amazon, Netflix, Xbox, various media paywall experiments, mobile devices and their app stores to thank for that. Second, one word: Square (and the companies it is disrupting or pushing to new innovations, including card companies like American Express). Third, major consumer-facing online platforms based on “free” – Google and Facebook chief among them, though Twitter is a potential player here as well – will begin to press their customers for real dollars in exchange for premium services. Facebook is already doing this with its promoted posts, Google with paid services around its Apps for Business. I expect both will either try to buy Box, or forward their own Box-like services in 2013. (Don’t get me started with Apple’s iCloud.) The short of this one is simple: For 15+ years, we thought mostly otherwise, but paying for services online makes sense for both customers and businesses. You all know I believe in advertising, but I don’t want to live in a world where marketers are footing the bill for everything we do digitally. That’s not good for anyone, including marketers.In 2013, the flywheel of paid will start to spin in earnest, driving down costs, but increasing overall revenues.

Twitter comes of age and recommits itself as an open platform. Twitter has confounded critics and naysayers for years, and nowhere more directly than in its developer base, who were given plenty of reasons to complain last year. Several key proponents of the service have publicly left the service, even going so far as to start competing paid services that feel more “pure.” I applaud these services, but I think Twitter is playing a longer term game, and 2013 will be the year it becomes apparent. Twitter knows a couple of things to be true: First, it cannot execute all the goodness possible in its ecosystem on its own, it needs great developers. And second, its competitive advantage, compared to Facebook or Apple (and even Google, at least as it relates to G+) will be its relative openness. So the company will clarify its sometimes confusing rules of the road for its developers this year, and some breakout new services will emerge (key to this is defining what the unit of value is for the Twitter ecosystem – IE, how does one build a business that relies on Twitter if you don’t know whether that business is in a fair value exchange with Twitter?). I’ll even go so far as to predict that Twitter will once again hold a conference for its developers (something it did once, a few years ago, then abandoned). Also, Twitter will reconfirm its commitment to being “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” and get itself into some good old fashioned tempests with Big Overbearing Governments and Corporations, much to the delight of folks who used to cheer Google for doing similar things in the past. And as I referred to in my previous prediction, I think it’s entirely possible that Twitter begins to test or even roll out paid services across its network this year. This makes sense for any number of reasons, one of which has to do with diversifying revenues in advance of an IPO, but the other is simply part of the secular trend I note above. Twitter is a technology-driven media company, and strong media companies have both subscription and advertising businesses. And let’s be frank: when advertising is not 100% of your revenues, you can afford to be more open and transparent in your business dealings.

- Facebook embraces the “rest of the web.” Even as Facebook continues to be, for the most part, a world apart from the principles and ideals of the open web, I believe 2013 will be the year it realizes it’s OK to share – bilaterally – with The World That Isn’t Facebook. That means making it really easy to export your identity and data, for example – competing on service, not lock in. And creating a kickass web-based advertising network/exchange. And  learning how to play nice with the hundreds of thousands of publishers out there, pro, semi pro and amateur, who create the value that drives so much engagement on its core platform.

- By the end of the year, Amazon will have an advertising business on a run rate comparable to Microsoft. Amazon doesn’t like to talk about its advertising business, but it’s already large, and 2013 will be the year it breaks out. It will be smart, programmatic, data-driven, and rapacious.

- The world will learn what “synthetic biology” is, because of a major breakthrough in the field. When I met last year with Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, he was emphatic about a field where he felt extraordinary breakthroughs might occur: Microfluidics. Given his enthusiasm, I’ve spent a fair amount of time learning from folks active in the space, and reading up on what the larger implications might be. Without going too deep into it, microfluidics are an important enabler to the synthetic biology movement, about which you may learn far more by reading George Church and Ed Regis’ Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves. I’ll be writing a lot more about this field later in the year, it’s filled with wonderful, talented people who, as a group, remind me of the folks who built the digital revolution in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The analogy is more than poetic, it’s quite literal as well. This year, it will become apparent as to why.

Well, I’ve gone on for more than 2000 words now. And yes, I’m avoiding making predictions about Yahoo, or Tumblr, or any number of others, though I certainly have opinions on them. But I think that’s enough for one year. If I could summarize my wish list for the Internet through these predictions, it’s this: More open, more real breakthroughs, and more deep understanding of the true importance of the industry in which we all participate.

Remember, these are predictions that I wish will come true. Happy New Year. Now go make all this happen, willya?

Related:

Predictions 2012

2012: How I Did

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

16 thoughts on “Predictions 2013

  1. Thanks, John, for yet another great list. Always learn something from you. I hope you’ll find out that this year people will begin to use their phones as powerful safety devices. We have so much information on the web and a device with our location. We should be able to get help faster and use “Big Data” to determine if we or others around us are really safe. Now I’m going to go look more into Microfluidics.

    • johnbattelle says:

      Agree with the issue of safety Gerry. The key is to make our data liquid in all nuances of the word, so that we can leverage it – including to keep us informed and safe.

  2. idm says:

    Lot of interesting predictions. I have few questions for you –

    1. AdTech: We are seeing two major trends programmatic buying and native ads. And I guess you’ve briefly touched on programmatic buying in your predictions. What do you think the future of existing display ads? Is native ads that are sold programmatically going to be future of adtech?

    2. Facebook and open web: Do you seriously think FB is going to relinquish it’s IP? Their IP is network effects and that’s why they wan’t keep you locked in to their platform.

    • johnbattelle says:

      On #1, yes, I do think a lot of inventory will be sold programmatically. I wrote about this here:
      On Native and Programmatic
      and here
      What Should the Ads Be Like?

      On #2, no I don’t. I don’t think it’s IP however, is our personal data. *It’s what they do with it*

  3. Jake Lee says:

    Hey there. Might want to change “retarded” to a different word, some may find it offensive.

    Great article as always.

    • johnbattelle says:

      Thanks. I did think hard about that word. I really think the original meaning of it needs to be recaptured. But if my readers are offended I’ll change it.

  4. Michael Brill says:

    Do you really think there needs to be material innovation on hardware for Google to dominate mobile? It feels like the battle is moving on to software – especially the backend where there is basically no contest. G+ vs. ?, Google Apps vs. ?, Google Now vs. Passbook, AdWords vs. iAd. With Apple fighting a hardware battle with Samsung et al, this seems like Apple-Microsoft all over again.

    • johnbattelle says:

      You bring up a good point, but yes, I do think Google needs to have full control over the next big device, if only to show the way. That’s what the Nexus 4 does, but it’s not what Google could do if they fully integrate. Funny, just saw an ad touting Apple’s iPhone 5 *earphones* – wow. Innovation at work.

  5. Tom Crowl says:

    RE: The Internet enables frictionless (but accountable) payments.

    I’d suggest a connection to the similar need for a simple, viable micro-transaction.

    On Tools for Citizenship: the Neglected Essential
    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2012/09/on-tools-for-citizenship-neglected.html

    The same simple method that enables the essential ‘political micro-transaction’ (essential for meaningful citizen lobbying and the inevitable response to the logic of Citizens United) via this simple Internet wallet formulation also enables other transactions as well.

    Its not a question of complex technology… its a question of design.

  6. george says:

    Really great forward looking aspirations!

    Google: I agree with your assessments, perhaps they more than anyone else have a real chance to dethrone Apple. However, I do believe Google struggles with its own business roadmap – at times, they go through some strange metamorphosis, trying to become Apple. I think 2013 is “the pivotal” year for Google, which needs to be software focused…

    Appreciate your thoughtful insights and you need to get in front of the camera more in 2013 – great contribution on Bloomberg West!

  7. Jason Hanley says:

    Great piece, John, thanks. How do you feel about 3D printing over 2013? Becoming more mainstream/consumer/affordable? Its impact is going to be wider than just the straight tech – it’s going to have a big impact on things like copyright

    • johnbattelle says:

      It’s a very important field, and not just for consumer items. Rapid prototyping, DNA synthesis, etc…stay tuned. Big deal and not just the consumer facing replicators…

  8. Outstanding predictions and I think you’ll be spot on on almost every one of these.. except of course Twitter and Facebook. The way they’re going right now and the way they appear to be quite confidently moving ahead despite the hue and cry, I think they’re headed straight to walled gardens.

    Thanks to you and also to the bunch of commentators here for noting how Google needs to botch up its hardware division. I think they’ve done remarkable work in driverless cars and may be Google Glass too but if they spend a lot more time in mobile hardware, they’ve got a serious chance of taking Apple head on in its own game.

  9. Brilliant blog. Definitely given me something to think about.Some
    interesting thoughts on the subject. Looking forward to see what else
    you post in the future.

  10. joshua logan says:

    at the end of this year, think of Tizen as something of a surprise, as iOS 7 also have gotten mixed reviews…Never the less great predictions.