Predictions 2009

Related: 2008 Predictions 2008 How I Did 2007 Predictions 2007 How I Did 2006 Predictions 2006 How I Did 2005 Predictions 2005 How I Did 2004 Predictions 2004 How I Did In each of the past five years I've written a predictions post – usually at year's end or…



2008 Predictions

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2007 Predictions

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2006 Predictions

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2005 Predictions

2005 How I Did

2004 Predictions

2004 How I Did

In each of the past five years I’ve written a predictions post – usually at year’s end or by the first of January. This one is late, and I’ll admit it’s because I found it hard to write. The world is showing itself to be predictable in only one way: bad news begets bad news. I’ve spent a lot of the past two weeks, where I was ostensibly “not working,” thinking about what this year will bring. And I’m not much further from where I started: this is going to be a very difficult year, for a lot of people. But I do have a fair amount of hope. I think times like this force all of us to make honest choices about what we do with our energy, our resources, and our lives. And in the end, that brings long term health to markets.

Last year I wrote my predictions as something of a narrative, and when I looked back to check how I did, I found it somewhat difficult to mark the scorecard. So this year, I’m going to try to be focused, brief, and calculable. Keep me honest, will you?

1. Macro economy: We’ll see an end to the recession, taken literally, by Q4 09. In other words, the economy will begin to grow again by the end of the year, but it won’t feel like we’re out of the woods till next year at the earliest. That’s because Q4 08 was so damn bad, Q4 09, rife as it will be with government stimulus, will look much better. But until we have another year or two to really find our footing, it’s going to feel like we’re treading water.

2. The online media space will be hit hard by the economic downturn in the first half, but by year’s end, will have chalked up moderate gains over last year in terms of gross spend. I think it’s possible that Q1 09 will be lower than Q1 08, marking the first time that has happened since 01, if I recall correctly. This will cause all sorts of consternation and hand wringing, but in the end, it won’t matter. The web is where people are spending their time, the web will be where marketers spend their money.

3. Google will see search share decline significantly for the first time ever. It will also struggle to find an answer to the question of how it diversifies its revenue in 2009. Search is the ultimate harvester of demand, and Google has become search’s Archer Daniels Midland – wherever a seed of demand might pop its head through the web’s soil, Google is there to harvest it. The media business is more than a demand fulfillment business, and Google must learn to create demand if it’s going to diversify. That means playing the brand game – a game that has long been owned by what we call “traditional media companies.” With these companies in a paralyzing economic death spiral (and their new media brethren, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo, in continued strategic sclerosis), Google has a unique opportunity to become a new kind of branded media company. It will fail to do so, mainly for cultural reasons.

4. Despite #3 above, Google stock will soar in by Q3-4 of 2009, mainly because demand will pick up, and when demand picks up, it’s like rain on a field of newly sown wheat. This after the stock tanks when the first half of #3, above, becomes apparent.

5. Tied to #3 above, Microsoft will gain at least five points of search share in 2009, perhaps as much as 10. This is a rather radical prediction, I know, but hear me out. I think Redmond is tired of losing in this game, and after trying nearly every trick in the book, Microsoft will start to spend real money to grow share (IE, buying distribution), while at the same time listening to the advice of thoughtful folks who want to help the company improve the product. However, search share is half the game, as we know. The second half is monetization, and Microsoft will continue to struggle here, unless it manages to buy Yahoo’s search business. Which it won’t, because….

6. Yahoo and AOL will merge.

7. However, in the second half of the year, Microsoft will buy its search monetization from the combined company.

8. Apple will see a significant reversal of recent fortunes. I sense this will happen for a number of reasons (yeah yeah), but I think the main one will be brand related – a brand based on being cooler than the other guy simply does not scale past a certain point. I sense Apple has hit that point.

9. Major brands will continue to struggle with the best way to interact with “social media.” They will take budget reserved for media spending (IE buying banners and building out branding campaigns) and start to become publishers in their own right. This is not a new tactic (many marketers, in particular technology companies, have published magazines, for example, and many consumer brands create or co-create television series), but given the plastic and social nature of online media, many marketers will see these efforts fail, in particular when the efforts are executed in partnership with major media companies. The reason has to do with putting the cart before the horse: in order to truly succeed in conversational media, the company must itself be fluent in that conversation. A partner with tons of traffic, but who is not fluent, will not be the “translator” major brands need.

10. Agencies will increasingly see their role as that of publishers. Publishers will increasingly see their role as that of agencies. Both can win at this, but only by understanding how to truly add value to real communities – not flash crowds driven by one time events. I don’t see a conflict here, long term. As opposed to simply being creators of media, media companies have realized (or will soon) that their job is to create platforms for communities to make media. Publishers are agents for communities, agencies are agents for brands. They need each other. It takes both agents to get good media made.

11. Twitter will continue its meteoric rise. This is a very hard prediction to make, because so much depends on the company’s ability to execute two crucial – and exceedingly difficult – new features: The integration of search into the service, and the monetization of that integration. I think Twitter’s management team (and its backers) will want to keep the service independent through 2009, both because prices are down but also because I think they want to prove something (this will not keep nearly every major web media company from trying to buy Twitter). The company has a tiger by the tail, and two really defensible assets: a passionate, committed, and growing community, on the one hand, and a valuable, growing, and meaningful database of realtime conversations on the other. Note I did *not* say they have algorithms. That will come. But the key is the community and the conversation that community is having. By the middle of 2009, the integration of Twitter’s community and content will become commonplace in well-executed marketing on third party sites.

12. Facebook will do something entirely shocking and unpredictable. I am not certain what, but it won’t have a “status quo” year. It might be a merger with a traditional media company, a major alliance with Google, hiring a head scratcher as CEO, or something else at that level of “WTF!?” As I think about it, it might be as simple as making Facebook Connect truly open, and changing its policies to make it drop dead easy to get data out of the service. Also, Facebook will build a Twitter competitor, but it will never leave beta and will ultimately be abandoned as not worth the time. Instead, Facebook will “friend” Twitter and the two companies will become strong partners.

13. Lucky #13 is reserved for my eternal mobile prediction: 2009 will see the year mobility becomes presumptive in every aspect of the web. By that I mean what I wrote back in 2007: “Mobile will finally be plugged into the web in a way that makes sense for the average user and a major mobile innovation – the kind that makes us all say – Jeez that was obvious – will occur. At the core of this innovation will be the concept of search”

14. Lastly, I promise, I will have sold my book and will be hard at work on it. And yes, still running FM too. I think I have a way to do both, given I wrote 15K words last year without even knowing it….

Happy New Year, Searchblog readers, and thanks for caring enough to read my musings. Here’s to hard work, smart choices, and learning from our mistakes….

76 thoughts on “Predictions 2009”

  1. Thanks for posting your predictions. Looking forward to how the year plays out.

    2009! will be an interesting year. Tons of change and incredible opportunity for those with IMAGINATION and IDEAS with the drive to execute said IDEAS.

    Now is the best time to go out and #MakeItHappen IMHO.

    At some point in 2010 the recession will have been declared to have ended in March of 2009.

  2. Microsoft will gain share but not during 2009 all at once and certainly not 10 points. Not until Windows 7 come out and Ozzie’s strategy is fully unveiled.

    Totally agree with #8. Apple made it to WalMart and it’s turning itself way too mainstream to be cool. Maybe they decide to skin their products but that would give access to the battery (lol) unless they come up with a nano uber cool technology to customize the looks of their devices

    Google will acquire twitter and merge it with jaiku into Android. Nokia will buy Flickr.

  3. I tweeted in search of some decent prediction posts yeterday and got little back. Your’s hits the mark and only a day late, so-to-speak.

    Quick thoughts:
    1. Macroeconomy – we may see hope by Q4 but I think it will be 2 years before any appreciable gain and we can claim to be “digging out.” meanwhile, the traditional ad agency business will be in the midst of a full, newspaper-like transformation.

    9. Major Brands – they will knowingly spend this year experiementing with incremental dollars to get experience quickly in social media-driven word of mouth programs. They will stumble as, I agree, the realization that there is a difference to holding the conversation vs. delivering messages will come hard. They will spend lots of time training and educating internally as they realize they cannot fully outsource this type of marketing.

    10. Agencies – some one of us will see the value in facilitating sustained conversation/WOM – not buzz – and will consciously deploy a 360 (ad, PR, direct, etc…) camapaign who’s primary communication purpose is to drive WOM (not acheive impressions)

    Thanks for the thoughts on 2009…

  4. John, curious to hear how in-depth, you think that agencies will become publishers. There are a few smaller agencies who do have platforms that they have developed, and now you have some very large agencies that are building their own media dashboards and platforms. Would love to hear more on this.

    Happy holidays,


  5. Nice predictions John, I know its always an uphill battle!

    I have to disagree regarding MSFT gaining search share. For such radical gain we’d need to see signs now and I am not seeing them.

    Also, I do not see why AOL + YHOO makes sense. They are both bleeding hard, and it makes the union difficult to justify.

    Apple, to me, is about a brand like you are saying, but it is also about a kick ass execution. I think Apple is still number 1 when it comes to delivering things with Google being close #2. The rest of the pack just have trouble bringing products to the market, which is why I think it makes sense to be behind Apple, until they show signs of stagnation.

    I agree with you about Twitter and Facebook in general, but I do think that there is a chance for Twitter exit, only if the price is right. Its a hot commodity and certainly both MSFT and GOOG can afford to pay the full price.


  6. I think that you do Apple a disservice by framing what they do as merely being cooler than the other guy.

    Collapsing once impenetrable boundaries between the desktop, mobile, web and media segments and then integrating them across hardware, software and service layers to deliver a great user experience is hard stuff, and I would argue that Apple is without even a “near peer” in this regard.

    If anything, Google is the yin to Apple’s yang, and as such, its closest peer and most likely foil in the year ahead (especially if Google is to diversify revenue as it must), something I blogged about in:

    The Chess Masters: Apple versus Google

    Check it out if interested.


  7. I agree with you about Twitter and Facebook in general, but I do think that there is a chance for Twitter exit, only if the price is right.

  8. This is more of a wish than a prediction:

    1) automattic buys twitter or twitter buys automattic – merge twitter wordpress as a distributed open platform to challenge facebook letting the web be the social network.

    2) Someone comes up with a better way to block blog spam than captcha

  9. #8. Most people don’t realize how much of Steve Jobs is in every single product Apple makes. Only Steve can both run Apple with an iron fist AND obsess over an iPhone’s beveled edge. MBA’s can run Apple, but it is Steve’s keen eye for design (and designers) combined with the absolute power to act that makes Apple special.

  10. doubtful on 3 & 5.

    probably on 6 & 7.

    re #12: “Facebook will do something shocking”… try “Facebook will buy a payments company” (tho actually i expect it will happen in 2010, after they try launching their own). and re: “Facebook will build a Twitter competitor”… um, john: it’s called Facebook status 😉

    a few others you overlooked:

    #15: EBAY will get taken private via LBO, and/or either GOOG or MSFT will buy the PayPal assets.

    #16: AMZN will turn down numerous acquisition offers by GOOG & MSFT and remain private. but that’s likely been happening for the past few years anyway.

    #17: FriendFeed will get acquired by GOOG for >$100M /

  11. @John Bell, thanks for the additional insights, and same to you @Dave McClure. Though we’ll see about search share! All you Apple lovers, remember, I am one of you. I am just a bit tired of how my old pal is acting, I guess. @Andrew, stay tuned on that one for sure.

  12. Absolutely dead on regarding Apple. Once the masses define something as “cool”, it probably isn’t any longer. Let’s hope the same fate does not await the Arcade Fire.

  13. #20: ZOG NAMES will emerge as a contender in mass domain registrations, becoming second only to GoDaddy in total registrations, and seriously cutting into their market share.

  14. Yes, I think 2009 is going to be a hard year. I see a purging of idealism happening, replaced by a realism that will make for better decision making once the economy turns.
    My sense is that Facebook by the end of the year will need to “reinvent” itself because Twitter has changed the game. As I described to a friend this evening. Twitter is blogging and Facebook done like a real conversation between people. The question is whether it really is anything more than that. I don’t know.
    Lastly, I do believe that this is a year to change the customer relations game. With less commerce happening, presumably, there is more time for interaction. That interaction has to build the relationships that will mean something once the recession is over. In other words, now is a great time to make fundamental changes in how business approach certain aspects of their business.

  15. John,
    I think you are spot on with your predictions.

    With respect to Twitter I think we could see Twitter surpass FaceBook in # of users inside the next 36 months. When my next door neighbor’s 16 year old, who was one of the first to own an iPod, iPhone, Guitar Hero etc… hasn’t heard of Twitter – you know it’s still very early in the game.

    Right now the conversations on Twitter are like a parade of cats – all over the place. Once they can reign in those conversations and users can go directly to conversations that interest them I think you will see that meteoric rise you are referring to.


  16. I heard some very smart guys (economists)in Washington D.C. back in November say that barring any severe mistakes in the early going by the Obama team, the economy will turn the corner by summer. No offense, but I hope they are right on this one. If so, this might skew a couple of other items, perhaps the fate of Twitter.

    That is a gutsy call on the Microsoft gain in search share. I would love to hear more from you on this.

    Thanks for some real food for thought, looks to be some interesting times ahead.

  17. #2 – Thrills me! I agree 100%
    #8 – I’m in wait & see mode. Apple’s demographic saturate the online space & love the fact that they represent cool. I think they’ll continue to toss much love & money their way.
    #11 – I agree. Twitter’s best days are yet to come which says a lot. It can & will be better!
    #14 – Can’t wait to buy my copy! And speaking of FM… can the blog of pink get a shot?!:-)

    Happy New Year!


  18. I’d like to be wrong on this, but as for our current, painful macro economic situation, I am not convinced that the old school solutions of borrowing in order to spend our way out of this recession will work. It’s more likely going to require solutions from far out of the box – as well as a longer turn around time.

  19. @dennis:

    >> I think we could see Twitter surpass FaceBook in # of users inside the next 36 months.

    srsly dude… i’m a twitter addict as much as FB & FF, but no eff’n way in hell (and that’s EVER, much less 36 months).

  20. You clearly know this industry much better than I so all I can say is they seem perceptive to me. But more than that, quite daring since they have considerable specificity!

    Prediction is essentialy a hypothesis on the results before the experiment is run…

    But you might want to keep the following old joke in mind next December when each hypothesis gets re-evaluated.

    The experimentalist comes running excitedly into the theorist’s
    office, waving a graph taken off his latest experiment.
    “Hmmm,” says the theorist, “That’s exactly where you’d expect
    to see that peak. Here’s the reason.” A long logical
    explanation ensued. In the middle of it, the experimentalist
    says “Wait a minute”, studies the chart for a second, and says,
    “Oops, this is upside down.” He fixes it. “Hmmm,” says the
    theorist, “you’d expect to see a dip in exactly that position.
    Here’s the reason…”.

  21. (the ‘Someone will figure a better way then captcha seems very relevant right now. Currently I’m looking at ‘2:09 1/4 manifest’)

    People have been predicting the ‘mobile web’ for 5 years…when will we consider it done?

    I’m so happy that you are finally talking about the limit of the mp3 player and how apple hasn’t done much since. (iPhone is an mp3 w/ a phone attached…come on…)

    Also, wondering how you are envisioning a 10 pnt shift in search behavior when most people just love to hate msft?

  22. @Dennnis, not sure I see Twitter growing that fast (agree with @Dave) but it will surely grow! @Phoebe I think Google suffers from the law of large numbers – it’s got so much share, and there are folks with a lot of cash (MSFT) ready to buy share (that’s how I think they will get share, @Josh). @Vectorpedia I’m not so sure. AOL has a strong brand with many marketers.

  23. I really don’t agree with the part about Microsoft gaining search shares from 5 to 10 %. I do believe they will gain shares, and that Google will lose some, but the amount will be marginal. Not enough to raise a brow.

  24. IE = Internet explorer?
    i.e. = id est (in other words)

    I know it’s nit picking, but using IE instead of i.e. in a sentence about Microsoft seems silly at best.

  25. John, you have been TOTALLY tweetwashed. Let me jog your memory: remember how blog comments have “permalinks”? Remember? Permalinks? I know: copy / pasting the damned links is a royal PITA, so my prediction is that a wordpress plugin will be developed within half an hour to fill the gap! ;D

  26. I know, I know, I’m an Apple Fanboy, I’m a cultist, blah blah blah, but really… how many times do we have to hear that only thing that Apple has going for it is that its “cooler?”

    Apple products work and look better than its competitors products. Is that what makes a brand cool? Then maybe some other brands should work on being “cool” rather than spending a ton of advertising dollars trying to fool the public.

  27. .. oh there are dozens of comment plugins (and I’ve already mentioned IntenseDebate, right? there are also many “competitors” to this)…

    I would definitely not call it “game over” for wordpress: IMHO, twitter’s success is totally based in the Wisdom of the Language ( ) — and that still has LOTS of virgin territoryavailable.

    You will see more and more pregnancy.TLDs, baby.TLDs, more and more Change.ORGs, Change.GOVs, Weather.COMs and Weather.Whatevers…

    It’s just the “Beginning of a Great Advernture”!

    ;D nmw

  28. Coming from the agency side, I think you are on the right track with #9 and #10. I would add that “content is currency” for brands in social media and “content is becoming advertising” for both agencies and brands overall as we try and create things that not only reach but *engage* consumers.

    In short, we are all becoming publishers.

    This is, of course, why ad rev for traditional publishers will continue to decline as budgets get redirected to content properties that brands can build, go directly to consumers with, evolve and — if not control — at least “own.”

    Nice stuff.

  29. Yahoo and AOL should merge… I think it may very well happen in q2 as well 🙂

    Good predictions.. 14 of them… Although I don’t know about #3 — Google is pretty strong overall and good with coming up with solutions. Internet penetration is still growing abroad, and Google can get as creative as they want with monetization. They are already doing so in mobile, video, radio, etc… Lots of potential in these “old age” media which Google can capitalize on if they focus on em.



  30. “Microsoft will gain at least five points of search share in 2009, perhaps as much as 10.”

    You REALLY need to start looking at real search market share. Compete, comScore, Hitwise, and Nielsen are all basing their market share reports on number of queries performed, which is terribly useless information.

    Most people “google” themselves, and many business sites perform manual ranking checks on a daily basis, and a lot of small website publishers check their search visibility manually, and most people who use ranking check software run it from their own accounts.

    The number of queries a search service handles is presently the worst indicator of actual market share.

    More people use Microsoft Search than use all other search services (except Google) combined.

  31. John, enjoyed the post especially 9, 11 and 12. Facebook has gotten closer to Salesforce this year and is becoming part of an emerging federated cloud of Salesforce/Amazon and Google. Do you think Twitter will become a part of this emerging cloud federation?

    This has implications for #9 as well. As companies start to think about how they can use social media/networks in their marketing, they will be faced with two options. Either using their existing sales/marketing automation systems and connecting them to the social graph or just switching to a sales/marketing platform that is already integrated with the social graph, i.e., the emerging federated cloud. Do you think the desire to tap the social graph more could be sufficient to drive companies to re-evaluate their existing sales/marketing automation systems?

  32. NOPE! Twitter makes me Money!!

    + can for Everybody!!

    Twitter + Facebook + GBG + U + $20 = BIG $$$ over $5000 Every Month!!


    BillyWarhol’s last blog post..GBG IS YOUR TICKET TO BIG $$$ #

  33. I think I may have given you #1. If not, I strongly agree. I have been saying this for several weeks if only because there’s almost no way Q4 2009 spending can be any lower than Q4 2008.

    #3 is very questionable, however I agree with #4. I am seeing signs of the inevitable and successful integration of DoubleClick by Google that leave me awed by GOOG’s power. Also, if we believe #13, then we should also believe that Android will play a role in the migration to mobile from fixed Internet.

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