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

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 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. 8. Apple will see a significant reversal of recent fortunes.

    Simply put? Wrong.

    Apple doesn’t sell sugared water. It has no real competition in the markets it has chosen to enter. And it has earned it’s market share on merit as well as a user experience second to none and so tightly integrated as to be considered seamless. As another posted pointed out, if consistent high standards and seamless functionality are “cool” then it’s time some other companies focused on being cool.

  2. Hello John,

    Thanks for the great post!

    You forgot to mention Yahoo BOSS.

    What happens when someone makes search a commodity, giving it away for free…?

    What happen to the company that runs 99% on search…?



  3. I think #3 is way off. Google is going to not only see a rise in share but attract a whole new crop of advertisers by further expanding its fleet of free search apps. With the combination of integrated search trafficking along with Google analytics and AdWords targeting and ease of use, Google search will become a bigger powerhouse and more advertisers will be flocking to the platform for advertising. Expect CPCs to rise (again) and competition to become much more fierce, especially for small and medium business and even more so in local search.

  4. 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.

  5. First time visitor here – I love this blogging topic and how you’ve kept up with it for all these years! I just wrote a post about my lessons learned from 2008 and I’m definitely putting this as a lesson learned for 2009.

  6. @Kevin, you may well be right. I sense, however, that Microsoft is going to really lean in to win share in search this year. I owe this a longer post. Same for the points in #9. I’ll get on that, @lincoln. Thanks for the kind words, @Gary.

  7. @DaveMcLure@JohnBattelle: With all due respect, I appreciate your candor and I recognize you both as tech visionaries. With that said, one can sometimes be too close to see what’s really happening. Even with 4-5 mil users, Twitter is still primarily only being used by tech savvy people.

    Unlike the days of the dotcom boom – 4-5mil users today doesn’t constitute critical mass.

    Take a poll amongst your non tech savvy friends and family and ask them if they have even heard of Twitter.

    John- In your case, ask your dry cleaner if he has heard of Twitter, then ask him if he has heard of FaceBook. I suspect he will have heard of FaceBook and may even be a user.

    What does this mean? We have a ways to go before we can discount Twitter’s ability to surpass FaceBook in # of users. Until Twitter gets/is accepted outside the tech savvy world we will not know its true potential.

    Light communication such as what Twitter offers opens up 3 billion mobile users overnight. I can’t remember the last time I checked my FaceBook page from my mobile device but I am constantly checking Twitter. Its simplicity is its sophistication.

    If you are just the average Joe (Plumber) using the service it’s very easy to stay connected with your network and far superior to text messaging or email.

    Full disclosure: I do not own any shares in Twitter (yet) 


  8. These predictions are awesome. I don’t agree with all of them; heck, I don’t agree with most of them. However, I’ve read probably 50 different sets of ’09 predictions over the last week, and nearly all were just blah, blah, blah, more of the same…..they don’t stick their neck out. Yours are thought provoking. Thanks.

  9. 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

  10. With the combination of integrated search trafficking along with Google analytics and AdWords targeting and ease of use, Google search will become a bigger powerhouse and more advertisers will be flocking to the platform for advertising.

  11. Hi John & All,

    We are today launching into public beta. It’s a social predictions platform (a microblog meets Digg for predictions).

    We are for example already tracking the prediction, ‘Will Facebook acquire Twitter in 2009’ right here:

    So, time to put your mouse where your mouth is and publish your predictions…

  12. @ Brad re:

    I am just trying out your new predictions platform. This is interesting for Collective intelligence purposes and well done. Could I have more background information on that project? Having worked at Yahoo! Answers, Flickr and Community products out of Canada, I like to discover interesting projects like this. What is your business model, advertising?

    Curious to see the evolution of that.

    Katheline Jean-Pierre

  13. 1. Macro economy: Take everything you’ve learned about the current crisis in the home building sector; close your eyes and Imagine the same storm in the commercial sector. We follow this closely and we’re hearing the noise right now! The people that own commercial properties have all the same problems! What a shame all the Liars on Wall Street aren’t talking about it more.
    2. The online media space: Spot on, many businesses are off 50% and more. But at the end of the day the Internet takes all!
    3. Google: Right now Google is the Internet as far as many people are concerned. It’s their’s to lose. When we’re doing SEO we don’t even think about Yahoo or MSN. Vertical integration could save them. Twitter like so many others needs a business model. I think business will advertise on facebook,twitter, etc, but won’t sell anything. There all going mobile and thats not good for sales.
    8. Apple: will last as long as steve jobs does. I will pray for him.
    9. Major brands: I think Google is the Major Brand right now, and thats kind of scary! Anyone with a great website, and some SEO can act and look just like a Major Brand! The first product or business in the consumers mind wins. It’s true, Proctor and Gamble have proved this for years. What does that mean now? Maybe the top of the organic listing on Google! Hmmm, Who controls the organic list?
    12. Facebook: these companies are all data miners as far as I’m concerned. We talk with Home Improvement contractors constantly, and the ones that do bother to connect with these, soon forget about them. I set up an account on Linkedin, and it was horrible, the worst bunch of self serving spam crap every morning on my email, I shut it down!

    When was the last time anyone reading this blog, clicked on an ad on any of these social media sites, and purchased anything? That’s the problem at the end of the day, they have lots of kids blabing to their friends and thats about it!
    14. Lastly, I promise: Finish your book Dammit, and consider an ad or two in the book, and on the Audio versions, I swear no one would mind! Just keep it short like Hulu.

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