I love advertising – particularly digital advertising. There, I said it. Was that so hard? Well, yes, the industry I’ve partnered with for more than three decades can be very difficult to defend – and the past ten or fifteen years have been particularly bad. I’m tempted to say that everything after Google Adwords was a net negative in the world, including Facebook, which was the bastard child of Google, and even the open web and programmatic advertising (a development I’ve previously called “heroic” and “the greatest single artifact of humankind”).
It’s fair to say I have a complicated relationship with what’s come to be called “ad tech” – we developed the first ad servers and banner ads at Wired in the 1990s, I wrote a book about the business and its breakout star (Google) in the early 2000s, I started an advertising-driven open-web business that nearly reached escape velocity around the same time, I still chair an adtech and data-driven descendant of that business today, I’ve work closely with the largest advertiser on the planet for nearly 15 years, I sit on the board of LiveRamp, an essential component of today’s digital marketing ecosystem, I’ve started or advised or invested in countless media companies – most of which are dependent on advertising in one form or another.
I’m planning something different for my annual predictions this year – I’m going to take the balance of this week and write an individual post for each one of my prognostications. Then I’ll write a summary post with short descriptions of each. I usually do ten predictions each year, which means I’m planning on writing 11 posts this week. That’s about as many posts as I wrote for all of 2022. I must be trying to make up for something. And just for fun, I think I’ll release the whole batch all at once, like a proper Squid Games binge. Just feels like the thing to do this year. Perhaps I’m hoping that by writing (a lot) more during this predictions cycle, I’ll kick start my flow for 2023 – as that’s pretty much my only professional resolution for the coming year: To write out loud much more frequently.
But before I do all that, we first must review the caliber of my prognostications for 2022. Twelve months later, how did I do? Let’s take a look:
My first prediction was that Crypto Blows Up. Remember, this was written in late December of 2021, when the price of Bitcoin was nearly $50,000. As I write, BTC stands at around $16,500. Many less “stable” coins have been wiped out entirely, and overall, the crypto markets have dropped by nearly $2 trillion since last year. Indeed, crypto did blow up – and many of its heroes are now under house arrest or on the lam. In my prediction I got plenty both right and wrong: “the market will grow massively (wrong) but be beset by fraud, grift, and regulatory uncertainty (right), as well as an explosion of new apps (wrong, unless you count FTX as an “explosion”…).” But overall, crypto did what I predicted: It blew up, big time. Check.
Second prediction: Oculus will be a breakout hit, but it’ll immediately be consumed in the same controversies besetting the rest of Facebook’s platforms. Um, oops. I mean, the second part of that prediction proved true, as Oculus’ flagship Horizons app was immediately beset by allegations of sexual harassment and worse. And early in the year, Oculus sales were looking promising. But I must have been stoned on the first week or two of my new Oculus headset back when I wrote this prediction, because I couldn’t see far enough into the future to realize that pretty much everyone who bought one would use it for a week or two, then leave it forgotten in a bottom drawer – just like I did. I’ll score this a big miss.
Next up: Twitter changes the game. Well, I certainly got that right, but anyone who could have predicted the HOW of that statement deserves a place next to Nostradamus in the prognosticator’s hall of fame. In the explanatory text of this prediction, I laid out several major product changes that I felt the company was poised to execute on, given it had a new CEO (Parag Agrawal) who seemed capable of focusing the company on core technology and feature challenges/opportunities. But who could have foreseen the advent of Space Karen and his goons of doom? Not I. I should have predicted that I’d be off the service by the end of the year (you can find me on Mastodon now.) But I’m going to grade myself as mostly right here – Twitter did change the game, big time. Just not in a way anyone could have predicted. Check.
Fourth, I predicted Climate has its worst – and best – year ever. The first part of this prediction was a layup – of course things got worse this year. How could they not? Climate disaster stories dominated the news – nearly every week another terrible climate-driven catastrophe was revealed. The latest: the death of at least 25 people in Buffalo, New York just this past week. But determining the accuracy of that “best year” claim is far more difficult. I write: Best, because finally, the political will to do something about it will rise… in particular in the United States. Did that happen? Well, buried in the misnamed “Inflation Reduction Act” was, in fact, proof of that political will. The Environmental Defense Fund called it “the biggest package of climate investments in U.S. history into law,” and they’re not wrong. We did, in fact, do something about climate this year. Is it enough? Not nearly, but it’s a good start. Check.
Fifth, “The return of the office... we work best when we work together, and by year’s end, the “new normal” will be the old normal – most of us will go back to going into work.” As with crypto, it wasn’t as easy to predict this back in late December of 2021 – when nearly everyone was saying the world had changed forever, and businesses must bend to the newly powerful will of the independent workforce. By this past Fall, major newspapers were declaring “The early results are in: The return to work is working.” Yes, work has changed forever, and it seems that hybrid/2-3 days a week is becoming the new norm, but I’d say 2022 was indeed the year the office made a comeback. Check.
Next, a tough one to crow about but…exactly one week before January 6th, I predicted “Divisions in the US reaching a boiling point. I hate even writing these words, but with the midterms in 2022 and a ’24 campaign spinning up, Trump will return to the national stage.” I don’t like taking a victory lap here, but…well this certainly happened. Check.
For my seventh prediction I made the rookie mistake of getting overly specific. The headline: Big Tech bulks up. The specificity: Despite a doubling down in anti-trust saber rattling from the EU and the Biden administration, Big Tech companies must grow, and they’ll look toward orthogonal markets to do it. Meta and Apple will buy gaming companies, Amazon will buy enterprise software companies, and Google will buy a content library. Well, I don’t think I got this exactly right. 2022 was not the year Big Tech bulked up – they mostly spent the year on extreme defense, cutting staff and fighting regulatory oversight. Meta did buy two Oculus related companies, then got slapped with an antitrust action around a similar acquisition in late 2021. Apple slowed its pace of acquisitions to a similar trickle. But there’s some hope for my prediction from Amazon: The company got seriously acquisitive in 2022, buying six companies, including iRobot and One Medical. Google also sped up its spending spree, buying ten companies, but none of them were content libraries. However, just this past week Google acquired rights to NFL Sunday Ticket – and there’s simply no more valuable content play in the US than football. Net net, I think I got this about half right. Let’s call it a push.
My eighth prediction was contrarian at the time of writing, but I’d say it came out a slam dunk: “The streaming market takes a pause. The advertising business has yet to catch up with consumer behavior in the streaming television market, and as I’ve written elsewhere, the consumer experience is fracking awful. In 2022, those chickens will come home to roost.” Well…yup. 2022 was the year that streaming paused – a chart of Netflix’s share price acted as proxy for the entire industry. Check.
Finally, my tenth prediction was a massive sandbagger. Here’s the prediction in full: “Trump’s social media company delivers exactly nothing. Hey, I needed one sandbag in the mix – and this one comes with a heaping side of schadenfreude. The company will become mired in legal fights, and Trump, having grifted a billion or so from favor-currying investors, will move on to ever more ruinous pursuits.” Yep. Well, OK, Truth Social still exists, but it certainly does not matter, and the company spent most of the year not paying its bills, failing to complete its SPAC, and being generally irrelevant in the national conversation. And while Trump demurred at Musk’s invitation to re-join Twitter, supposedly because Truth Social is a superior platform, we all know he couldn’t stand to play second fiddle to a richer man who commands more reach and takes all the oxygen from the room. Check.
Welcome to year nineteen of these annual predictions, which means….holy cow, twenty years of writing at this site. Searchblog has been neglected of late, running a media startup during a pandemic will do that to thoughtful writing. I hope to change that in 2022, starting with this bout of chin stroking. If you’re an old timer here, you know I don’t really prepare to write this post. Instead I sit down, summon the muse of flow, and let it rip in one go. Let’s get to it.
Crypto blows up. 2022 will be a chaotic year for crypto – both the decentralized finance and social token/NFT/gaming portions of the industry, which will grow massively but be beset by fraud, grift, and regulatory uncertainty, as well as an explosion of new apps based on scaleable blockchains such as Solana and Avalanche. Most of these apps will fade (much as early dot com stocks did), but the overall space will be markedly larger as a result. And while 2021 was the year most of the world learned about crypto, 2022 will be the year crypto dominates the tech narrative. I’m holding off on calling a crash – ’22 feels a bit more like ’98 or ’99 than the year 2000, which is when “web1” topped out. But that first top is coming, and when it crests, look the f*ck out. Crypto is a far more integrated into the global economy than we might suspect. In fact, I’ll toss in a corollary to this first prediction: In 2022, a major story will break that exposes a major state actor has been manipulating the crypto markets in a bid to destroy US financial markets.
Oculus will be a breakout hit, but it’ll immediately be consumed in the same controversies besetting the rest of Facebook’s platforms. The company throws money and lobbyists at the problem, including enough advertising budget to mute mainstream press outrage. Apple will try to capitalize on all of this FUD as it introduces its own VR play. Regardless, the Oculus division becomes a meaningful portion of Meta’s top line, which starts the change the narrative around Facebook’s surveillance capitalism business model.
Twitter changes the game. I have no particular insight into new CEO Parag Agrawal, but the company has had a long suffering relationship with its true value in the world, and I think the table is set for an acceleration of its product in ways that will surprise and even delight its most ardent fans (I count myself somewhat reluctantly among them). How might this happen? First, look for a major announcement around how the company works with developers. Next, deeper support and integration of all things crypto, in particular crypto wallets like MetaMask. And last (and related), a play in portable identity, where your Twitter ID brings value across other apps and environments.
Climate has its worst – and best – year ever. Worst because while 2021 was simply awful (I mean, the year ends with a winter draught, then a historic fire in… Boulder?) things can always get worse, and they will. Best, because finally, the political will to do something about it will rise, thanks mainly to the voice of young people around the world, and in particular in the United States.
The return of the office. Yes, I know, everything’s changed because of the pandemic. But truth is, we work best when we work together, and by year’s end, the “new normal” will be the old normal – most of us will go back to going into work. A healthy new percentage of workers will remain remote, but look for trend stories in the Post and Times about how that portion of the workforce is feeling left out and anxious about missing out on key opportunities, connections, and promotions. One caveat to this prediction is the emergence of some awful new variant that sends us all back into our caves, but I refuse to consider such horrors. I REFUSE.
Divisions in the US reaching a boiling point. I hate even writing these words, but with the midterms in 2022 and a ’24 campaign spinning up, Trump will return to the national stage. He’ll offer a north star for Big Lie-driven tribalism, a terrifying rise in domestic terrorism and hate crimes, all fueled by torrents of racial and economic anger. I really, really hope I’m wrong here. But this feels inevitable to me.
Big Tech bulks up. Despite a doubling down in anti-trust saber rattling from the EU and the Biden administration, Big Tech companies must grow, and they’ll look toward orthogonal markets to do it. Meta and Apple will buy gaming companies, Amazon will buy enterprise software companies, and Google will buy a content library. Google’s always been a bit confused about what its entertainment strategy should be. YouTube is so damn big, and its search business so bulletproof, the company hasn’t really had to play the game the way Meta, Amazon, and Apple have. That likely changes in 22.
The streaming market takes a pause. The advertising business has yet to catch up with consumer behavior in the streaming television market, and as I’ve written elsewhere, the consumer experience is fracking awful. In 2022, those chickens will come home to roost. There’s only so much attention in the world, and with more than $100 billon to invest in content in 2022, something’s gotta give. Plus, if we get through Omicron and back out into the world, consumers might just find themselves doing something besides binging forgettable, algorithmically manufactured programming. I’m not predicting that streaming crashes, but just that the market will have a year of consolidation and, I hope, improvements in its consumer experience and advertising technology stack.
Tik Tok will fall out of favor in the US. Everyone is predicting that 2022 will be The Year Of Tik Tok, but I think they’re wrong in one big way: This won’t be a positive story. First off, the public will wake to the possibility that Tik Tok is, at its core, a massive Chinese PsyOp. Think I’m crazy? I certainly hope so! But you don’t have to wear a tin foil hat to be concerned about the fact that the world’s most powerful social algorithm is driven by a company with a member of the Chinese Communist Party on its board. And second, US-based competitors are already learning, fast, what makes Tik Tok tick. YouTube, Insta, Snap and others will take share all year long.
Trump’s social media company delivers exactly nothing. Hey, I needed one sandbag in the mix – and this one comes with a heaping side of schadenfreude. The company will become mired in legal fights, and Trump, having grifted a billion or so from favor-currying investors, will move on to ever more ruinous pursuits.
Well, that’s ten, and I wanted to keep this year’s version under a thousand words. Have a wonderful New Year’s, dear readers. I hope I see you out there in the real world, and soon.