Twelve years of making predictions doesn’t make writing them any easier, regardless of my relatively good showing in 2015. In fact, I briefly considered taking the year off – who am I to make predictions anyway? And so much has changed in the past few years – for me personally, and certainly for the industries to which I pay the most attention. But the rigor of thinking about the year ahead is addictive – it provides a framework for my writing, and a snapshot of what I find fascinating and noteworthy. And given that more than 125,000 of you read my post summarizing how I did in 2015 (thanks Medium and LinkedIn!), it was really you who’ve encouraged me to have at it again for 2016. I hope you’ll find these thought provoking, at the very least, and worthy of comment or debate, should you be so inclined.
So let’s get to it.
1. 2016 will be the year that “business on a mission” goes mainstream. It started in the hippie era and gained ground with well meaning but outlying companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia; but it took the technology startup era to prove its merits, and the climate crisis to push it to the fore. Businesses driven by more than profit are businesses that attract the best talent, create the most value, and ultimately provide the most benefit to society. Extractive, profit-first businesses are already on the way out, but 2016 will be seen as the year their dominance peaks. This trend will evince itself in many forms: We’ll see massive older companies shift their marketing focus to purpose-based messaging – both to insure top talent considers them as a career choice, and to maintain relevance to a new generation of purpose-based consumers. We’ll see mainstream media outlets start to cover the social and environmental impact of companies in more than just annual “Doing Well By Doing Good” roundups. In fact, the mainstream press will tire of ogling shiny tech startups and idolizing their newly-rich founders. We’ll see the launch of well-funded initiatives attempting to track the “true cost” of consumer goods and services, and rising support for triple-bottom line and B corps. And of course we’ll see politicians pick up the meme – particularly in Europe – appealing to voters by demanding businesses become true citizens of our society. Oh, and our little startup, NewCo, will play a small but I hope important role in all this happening!
2. Mobile will finally mean more than apps. Last year I predicted that a new mobile startup will force a “new approach to mobile user interfaces.” I graded myself as half right – I think last year we laid the groundwork for that new approach, but no single mobile startup was responsible for what ultimately is an ecosystem shift. That shift will accelerate in 2016, and by year’s end, we’ll find ourselves interacting with our technology in new and far more “web like” ways – bouncing from link to link, service to service, much as we did on the original web, but with the power, context, and sensor-laden enablement of mobile apps and devices. This will be aided by the widespread adoption of deep links and services like Google’s App Streaming.
3. Twitter makes a comeback. Ouch, 2015 was not kind to Twitter, especially if you were a stockholder. But in 2016, Twitter will find a way back to mainstream relevance (and stock appreciation). How? Well, I’m threatening my own chances at getting this prediction right by being too specific, but here goes: Twitter will take Moments, which was not exactly a hit with the Twitterati (IE, folks like me), and begin to evolve it to a far more granular level. At present, Moments are very lowest common denominator – NFL highlights, reality TV roundups, you know, standard Yahoo home page crap. But if Twitter can take each of our interest graphs and create automated “Moments” that deliver true value, well, that’s something everyone would appreciate. The first version of Moments was built for those who don’t really use Twitter. The next rev will be for those that do – and that could change everything. Extra credit prediction: Twitter will tap crowd-sourced curators to create Moments, and that will create a new ecosystem of value for both the company and its constituents.
4. Adtech and the Internet of Things begins to merge. OK, this is utterly speculative, but it just makes sense to me. The Internet of Things requires several things to really take off: First, use cases where connecting the physical to the digital adds true value. We’ve now seen enough of these to believe that “every physical item will have a chip embedded in it.” Examples include sensors in jet engines (and just about everything else of industrial significance), exercise and health wearables, and home automation, to name but a few. But as I wrote earlier this year, we must not forget the Internet when we remember the things. And the Internet wants to connect all those things, and allow them to message to each other, run auctions where value is determined and exchanged, and then transact and account for it all based on a nearly impossible to comprehend amount of data and parameters. Our current adtech system is perfectly engineered to do do that job. Sure, it currently slings trillions of ads around the Internet on a daily basis. And I’m not predicting that we’ll see ads on your Nest thermostat anytime soon. Instead, I’m suggesting that the underlying technology powering adtech is perfectly suited to execute the highly complicated and highly performant rules-based decisioning required for the Internet of Things to touch our lives on a regular basis. The groundwork for this combination will be laid in 2016. Related: We will most likely see a blockchain-based entrant in adtech in 2016, if we haven’t already (I couldn’t find one, but I may have missed it….).
5. Tesla’s Model 3 will garner more than 100,000 pre-orders, but Tesla will have a rough year of news. I’m as excited as anyone about a $35,000 all electric car that has a range of 200 miles and a total cost of ownership well below your average mid-market sedan. And I’m guessing when Tesla opens pre-orders in March of 2016, more than 100,000 folks will get in line to reserve one. That’d be four times the pre orders for the Model X, but that car is priced four times as high. These pre-orders will drive Tesla’s stock to untold heights, but it’s not easy being Tesla, and the reality of building both the Model 3 and its gigafactory will force setbacks and delays, and the company will most likely have a volatile year of headlines.
6. Publishers and platforms come to terms. I like Fred’s prediction that there’ll be a reckoning between large publishers and social platforms, and that it will end badly for one or more publishers. But I’m more bullish on how publishers will leverage platforms, and in 2016, Medium, LinkedIn, and Facebook will all make strides in helping all publishers succeed – especially mid-sized ones. Twitter may as well, if the details in prediction #3 bears out.
7. Search has a dominant year, thanks in large part to voice and AI. In the past few years, search has fallen out of favor, as industry watchers focused on the shinier new social and mobile platforms, and pointed out that search is, at its core, the product of the PC-focused web. But I think we’re very close to an era of ambient intelligence, where the world becomes query-able. It’s now quite common to ask Siri, Google, Amazon’s Alexa, and Cortana just about anything and expect a decent response (my experience is that Google runs circles around Siri, but then again, I’ve never used Alexa or Cortana). And increasingly, search happens without a query – anticipating your needs before you even make them. If you count voice and contextual queries along with more traditional “type in” traffic, search volume will be way, way up in 2016. The only question is – can revenue models shift as quickly as use cases have?
8. Apple endures a boring year. Yes, those of you who know me well may think this is projected schadenfreude, but in fact, I think it has more to do with the laws of corporate gravity. Apple is the most highly valued company in the world, and therefore has almost unmanageable expectations to meet. With the Watch and Apple Pay already in market, most folks expect a slew of incrementalism from the company in 2016 – updated models and software versions, but short of yet another iPhone folks feel obliged to purchase, there’ll be nothing spectacular. I don’t think folks will be calling for Tim Cook’s head, but many will wonder if Apple is meandering its way toward a boring, profit-milking middle age.
9. Microsoft and Google get serious about hardware. Microsoft has already committed to its well-regarded Surface line, and Google has been dabbling with hardware with what have essentially been limited-run, high-end products in the Chromebook Pixel and Nexus line of smart phones. But the benefits of tightly integrated hardware and software experiences will prove too tempting to both companies, and I expect them to expand their offerings in 2016.
10. Medium has a breakout year. I’ve been watching the Medium platform closely ever since it launched, and I think 2016 will be the year Medium breaks into the world’s consciousness in a big way. Key to this happening: A native revenue model that allows publishers to really leverage the platform, and a tightly integrated loop of product development that makes reading Medium feel like reading your own, intelligently curated but still serendipitous personal magazine. Expect a slew of notable publication launches on Medium, as well as a growing number of “traditional” publishers who commit resources to the platform.
11. China goes shopping. It didn’t really happen this year, did it? We all expected Alibaba et al to start snapping up US-based companies, but perhaps valuations were simply too high. But in 2016, highly capitalized consumer and enterprise companies with large customer bases will start to look for exits, and Chinese companies eager for a foothold in the US will start to open their wallets.
12. Sports unbundle. The one thing keeping me from abandoning cable altogether is watching broadcasts of my beloved Giant’s home games. That’s pretty much it. I know it, Comcast knows it, the Giants and the MLB know it…and finally, I’ll be able to buy home games digitally. Most likely they’ll be offered a la carte, at a ridiculous markup, but from that toehold will come the eventual demise of the cable bundle altogether. Fear not for Comcast’s margins, however, because by 2017, Comcast will have become a major streaming competitor in its own right. But that’s a prediction for another year.
Well, that’s a dozen, and while I could go on, I probably shouldn’t. And yes, I didn’t talk about VR (everyone else has already said it’s overhyped), or AI (it’ll be the talk of the year to be sure), and I held back from predicting any major Facebook news. Time will tell if I missed the boat there, but in the meantime, let me know what you think, and point me to your favorite predictions for the new year as well. Have a great 2016, everyone!
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