Predictions ’23: Advertising – Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Twitter

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.

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Predictions ’23: AI Gets a Business Model (or Three)

Let’s start our 2023 predictions off with some thoughts on artificial intelligence. With ChatGPT, Silicon Valley seems to have gotten a bit of its mojo back. After two decades spent simmering the magic of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook into a sticky lucre of corporate profit, here was the kind of technological marvel the industry seemed to have forgotten how to make – a magical tour de force that surprised, mystified, and delighted millions.

Even better, ChatGPT didn’t come from any of those corporate titans – not directly, anyway. Instead it came from a non-profit artificial intelligence research laboratory called OpenAI.  Founded in 2015 with a mission of furthering “responsible AI,” OpenAI is backed by some of the most celebrated names in Valley technology – LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, PayPal’s Peter Theil, Tesla’s Elon Musk among them. Now this was more like it!

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Predictions 2022: How’d I Do? Strangely, My Best Year Ever

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.
  • Number nine: “TikTok will fall out of favor in the US. Everyone is predicting that 2022 will be The Year Of TikTok, but I think they’re wrong in one big way: This won’t be a positive story.” Wow, I’m starting to think I had a pretty good year! It wasn’t easy to predict that TikTok would end up a negative story – This Information story summarizes the service’s momentum early in 2022: Advertisers Love TikTok – Now They’re Looking to Double Their Spending On It. And here’s how the press is categorizing TikTok today: TikTok’s parent company ByteDance admits to spying on U.S. users. Politicians are out for blood. Yep, it’s not been a great narrative arc for TikTok in the United States. Big 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.
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File Under “Hardcore, Great Men Are All”

There’s so much to say about what’s happening at Twitter, but I’m going to start with one word: “Hardcore.” That’s what Elon said he wants from all his employees going forward – a “hardcore” mentality, a coder-first culture, a sleep-at-the-office-and-pound-Red-Bull kind of sensibility.

I’m pretty familiar with this culture – an earlier, less toxic version of it pervaded the pre-Elon tech world, a culture I reported on at Wired, the Standard, and in coverage of Google and similar companies in the early 2000s. While it had its charms – most of us have pulled an all nighter trying to get a product out – memorializing “hardcore” as a work ethos is a deeply flawed management technique. Not only does it foster unhealthy relationships to work, it also celebrates a toxic brand of male-dominated power – the kind of power that many of tech’s current titans, including Musk, Andreessen, Thiel, and their ilk – seem to believe is threatened. In their writings, investments, and political lobbying, it’s clear that “hardcore” is a philosophy this group of Valley troll-bullies seem desperate to entrench.

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Does Web3 Matter To Marketers?

Over at LinkedIn I’ve published a short piece on Web3 – a primer of sorts for the many marketing pals who’ve asked me “does this shit matter!?”. As I do with everything I pen, I’ve posted it here as well. (image credit)

In the more than 30 years since the digital revolution swept through marketing, most of us have adapted to the ever-present change inherent in what has become a technology-driven profession. But there remains a sense that we’ve lost something crucial – that creativity and true connection with our customers has been replaced by an ever more inscrutable system of tech-mediated platforms. We pour billions each year into media-tech giants like Google and Meta, and yet we yearn for a world where technology enables our business, rather than dictating it.

Wasn’t that the promise of the Internet, after all – a one-to-one relationship with our customers, at scale?

Where did that promise go?

Marketers aren’t the only ones asking this question. Every so often a new set of ideas emerges from the world of tech that feels like a sea change. The World Wide Web – sometimes referred to as “the Open Internet” – was the first of these shifts. The second was the mobile phone, and with it the rise of social media and its data-rich platforms, yielding to us the framework under which we now labor.

 It’s that framework – which many now call “Web2” – that has birthed many of our most existential concerns: The public’s fear of surveillance capitalism, lawmakers’ perception of oligarchy amongst the platform giants, and most importantly, our own loss of agency given our dependence upon them*. In short, the technology industry feels ripe for a shift away from its current state of play.

 If you’ve read this far, you already know that this shift now has a name: Web3. So, what is Web3, and why does it matter to marketing professionals?  And most importantly: What problem is Web3 trying to solve?

A Matter of Philosophy

At its core, Web3 is a philosophy. That might sound like a non sequitur – isn’t Web3 supposed to be about technological marvels like the blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and “the metaverse” – whatever that is? Well, yes, and we’ll get to that in later columns, but to understand Web3, we must also understand its core beliefs – and to not too fine a point on it, those beliefs align with an arguably radical return to the original philosophy of the Internet, best summarized by one word: Decentralization.

 I’m simplifying here, and Web3 is a complicated topic (one that’s currently undergoing its own version of the dot com crash, but that’s another post). In short, the technologists, pundits, and proponents of Web3 believe our current technological landscape is broken, largely due to the consolidation of economic value driven by the rise of large platform players like Google, Amazon, Apple and Meta/Facebook. While they’ve driven unprecedented value for shareholders and consumers alike, today’s Internet giants have done so by employing an approach diametrically opposed to the original values of the Internet.

And what are those original values? First among them is decentralization. Internet originalists believe the power to innovate and to create value should lie with end users, not with centralized platforms or corporations. A second value is openness, also known as portability – that users, entrepreneurs, brands, and anyone else can move fluidly around the Internet, bringing with them their data, their preferences, and their resources without fear of being locked into any one platform or organization. Another key value is interoperability – that companies and platforms adhere to a transparent set of protocols and standards that allow for robust exchange of value across the Internet. A related value is composability – that various services and programs can be combined, again through technological standards, to create ever more innovative and valuable systems.

 A Better Future

In the end, the central philosophical pillar of Web3 is decentralization. As Web3 proponent (and prolific investor) Chris Dixon puts it: “Centralized platforms have been dominant for so long that many people have forgotten there is a better way to build Internet services.” The building blocks of Web3 – blockchains, token-based currency projects like Bitcoin and Ethereum, distributed autonomous organizations (DAOs), non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – are all part of a growing movement to remake the Internet free of centralized control. Will it work? Again, those are topics for future posts.

But should marketers pay attention? Absolutely.

From privacy concerns to measurement, brand safety to increasingly impossible creative constraints (who can tell a brand story in .7 seconds?!) – I’ve lost count of how many senior marketers have privately complained to me about the stranglehold Internet giants hold over their budgets, their go to market strategies, and their connections to customers. Publicly, CMOs are more cautious – we’re all afraid of the market power the platforms hold. But who amongst us wouldn’t like to see the status quo upended by a new wave of innovation that puts power back in the hands of consumers?

*This ultimate definition of “Web2” differs massively from the original vision of Web2 that Tim O’Reilly and I pursued through our Web2 Summit series of events and white papers back in 2004-11. 


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Apple As An Advertising Company: Inevitable, or A $100 Billion Mistake?

Well, until it’s not.

I hope to write something more thoughtful soon, but this piece from CNBC prompted me to at least jot down a placeholder: Apple is clearly coming for the ads business, and it’s starting exactly where Facebook did ten years ago: The app download marketplace.

First, the news – not that it’s that new given many smarter observers have noticed Apple’s recent pivot to advertising. From CNBC: Apple plans to sell ads in new spots in the App Store by year-end.

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Time was, I sat down nearly every day of the week to contemplate a blank page – and a few hours later, more or less, I’d hit “publish” in the WordPress backend, and a few hundred (or thousand) new words would appear on this site.

It’s been a while since I’ve done that. I love writing, a process I’ve often called “thinking out loud,” and my relationship to this site was one of the most productive and important connections to the world I’ve ever had. But it’s atrophied, badly, and not a day goes by when I don’t miss it. I’m writing today not because I’ve had some insight or itch to scratch – I’ve had a million of them over the past few years, and developed an annoying habit of ignoring them all. But to be honest, I’m writing today because I can’t stand the tumbleweeds and dust bunnies dancing around this place. My email signature – the one for, anyway – still has a link to this site, and this morning I considered taking it off.

Instead, I’m writing this, both a mea culpa and a promise to all of you who followed my work over the past few decades. First, the apology: I’ve met dozens of you in the past year who’ve asked me what happened to my writing, and it both pleases and pains me to hear that question. It’s something of a mystery to me why I stopped – I still write three pages a day in my personal journal, why did I fall out of practice in the public realm? Certainly my move to New York four years ago, starting another company, wrestling with my own demons as it relates to what I feel is worth paying attention to – all of that contributed. But I think in the end I just lost confidence that I had anything interesting to say. So to those of you who still believe I might, and who’ve encouraged me to start up again, I am sorry for my absence, and I will strive to make amends.

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Has Innovation Died in Marketing?


Caveat: This will likely be one of my longish, link-heavy Thinking Out Loud pieces, so I invite you all to pour yourselves a glass of your favorite adult beverage or rustle up a fine cannabis pairing, should you care to indulge…

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On Building A Better Web: The Marlinspike Threads

If you want to follow the debate about crypto’s impact on society, which I believe is one of the most important topics in tech today, you better sharpen your Twitter skills – most of the interesting thinking is happening across Twitter’s decidedly chaotic platform. I’ve been using the service for nearly 15 years, and I still find it difficult to bring to heel. When following a complex topic, I find myself back where I started – in a draft blog post, trying to pull it all together.

That’s where I’ve been this past weekend as I watched the response to a thoughtful post from Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike.  (And yes, the fact that the Twitter conversation was driven by a blog post is not lost on me…)

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A Draft Syllabus For The Rabbit Hole

(image) The most common complaint I hear from friends and colleagues who are interested in the crypto/web3 world is how hard it is to “get smart” on the topic – for a neophyte, there’s just so much noise and precious little signal. Sure, you might dive headfirst into crypto Twitter – but the experience is both jarring and unproductive (ditto that for crypto-related Discord servers).

I’ve been exploring crypto for enough time to have developed a point of view on a handful of people and resources I trust to help me make sense of what is an increasingly fractious and confusing space. Below is a first draft of what I hope will evolve into a more polished “syllabus” of sorts for smart folks interested in getting smarter. This is purposefully not complete – the list could have been much, much longer. Please comment, email, or hit me up on Twitter with additional suggestions, and I’ll incorporate them as I can. And one caveat: I’m reading in this space with an eye toward crypto’s impact on tech, society, and governance. This list is *not* created with an eye toward investing in either currencies or NFTs. There’d be an entirely different set of resources for that task!

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