Plus, a look ahead at the stuff that's going to change our lives in 2004.
Here it is, the Monday after Christmas. Chances are, you're on vacation, goofing off at work, or reading this on s brand spankin' new computer you spent all weekend trying to configure. Bottom line, you're probably not in the mood for anything that makes your noggin work too hard. I'm here to oblige.
I've got a duty to fulfill. The terms of my Online Columnists Local 529 contract dicate I can't spout off about just anything. It clearly stipulates (I'm paraphrasing ... stick with me), "all end-of-year columns, regardless of obligations of specific topic area coverage (detailed in section 529.d) must include one or more of the following: predictions for coming year, overly-brief wrap-ups of previous year's news, overstretched holiday metaphors, prognostication, or a combination thereof." My hands are tied. I'm sorry.
Considering I'm an overachiever (and to be certain management has nothing to quibble with), I'm including all suggested topic areas in my "Naughty & Nice List for 2003 With A Look Ahead At to The Stuff That's Going To Change Our Lives in 2004." I realize Christmas is over (making aforementioned "naughty" and "nice" suggestions somewhat superfluous) but the metaphor must be stretched. Get over it.
2003 "Naughty" List
The irritating, the annoying, the overhyped: things I wish would go away:
Spam: In retrospect, 2003 will be seen as The Year of Spam. We filtered it, tracked it, complained about it and eventually CAN-ned it. Nothing worked. Let 2004 be the year we do something about it.
Measurement: Between revelations "irregularities" and the simple fact this industry has yet to agree what an impression is, numbers remain a problem. The AAAA's (and others) are working on solutions. Stay tuned.
Internet Political Hype: Oooh! The Dean campaign figured out how to make a Web site. Yippie. There ain't nothin' happening on the Web that hasn't been done before. Sure, people are coughing up dough, but it has a lot less to do with technology than with the media noticing. This ain't rocket science, folks.
RIAA: The wounded dinosaur that's the recording industry struck back. Eventually, the courts struck back, too. The RIAA hasn't recognized they're already dead and the world moved beyond plastic disks. Reinvent yourselves, RIAA.
Innovation: "What innovation?" you ask. Exactly! Beside some particularly irritating ad formats, nothing much moved forward in the 'Net biz this year. Boring! Let's hope next year brings plenty of new thinking.
Standards: Sure, there are finally some established guidelines we can understand to create online media. But why does estimating rich media still feel like reading chicken entrails?
Focus Groups: We all know they're lying. Let's ditch this ancient methodology and start using qualitative research (like ethnography) that gets at what people do, not what they say they do.
Cell Phone Industry: Oh, how they squirmed when we could finally (in theory) take our numbers with us. Imagine, consumer choice! But have you bought one (or stood in line behind someone buying one) lately? Mortgage settlements are more fun. The manuals? Fuggetaboutit. In the fourth year of the 21st century, there's no excuse for the Byzantine mess that is wireless. Fix it.
Passwords: Why do so many sites still require a password? Puh-leez! It's easier to track my cholesterol than to keep track of all the "accounts" I have out there. We need a universal, encrypted digital keychain so we all can use one password for everything. Registration, schmegistration!
"Holidays": No, I'm not bah-humbuging the season. It's the incredibly annoying use of the word "Holidays" in ads when they're really talking about Christmas. If there's a picture of Santa, presents under a tree and stockings hung by the chimney, just say "Christmas" for goodness sake. If anyone's offended, send 'em a lump of coal.
RFPs: Why, why, why do people still crank out RFPs with nothing but redundant questions, useless essays and vague requirements? We all know it comes down to the pitch and the work. Let's come up with a simpler way to get there.
Paris Hilton: Do I really have to get into this?
2003 "Nice" List: The new, the cool, the useful, the groundbreaking, the just-plain-fun of 2003:
Vivante: Finally, a search engine that realizes location matters to real people! While still in its infancy, Vivante shows major promise as a way of tying the 'Net to local needs. The interface could use work, but there's lots of promise here.
ResearchBuzz: Search Engine Watch [owned by ClickZ's corporate parent] is a beautiful site. If you want the latest and greatest on the inner workings of search engines and the 'Net, ResearchBuzz (created by the author supercool book Google Hacks is where its at. Read it. Live it.
DMC: These guys rock! England's masters of viral communications defined the cutting edge of marketing in 2003 and (I'm sure) will continue to surf the edge into the new year. While you're at it, check out their Viralmeister blog for the coolest examples of the future of advertising on the 'Net (and other assorted goodies).
The Absolute Beginners Guide To Building Robots: This has nothing to do with online marketing, but who cares? Get in touch with your inner geek and start a new hobby with this fun romp though home robotics. Maybe you got a Roomba for Christmas? Learn how to make a new friend for it!
E-Music: Sure, iTunes is nice, but if you really want to see the future of digital music, eMusic is where its at. Forty MP3s for $9.99 per month and no restrictions on what you can do with 'em (within normal copyright law, of course). Sign up for a free trial and get 50 songs free. Nifty!
Blogs: Everyone seems to have 'em. Businesses are beginning to realize they're a great way to stay in touch with customers in a far more effective way than sanitized prose. I doubt most bloggers will be keep it up forever, but as a new publishing model it's here to stay. (p.s. If you consider yourself a pop-culture maven (and who in the ad biz doesn't?) and you ain't reading the bOINGbOING blog, you're missing out).
RFPs: Sure, most still suck in terms of the hoops they make us jump through, but it sure is nice to see 'em coming in again.
Things to look forward to in 2004 (and beyond):
Dot.com Recycling: With an immanent Google IPO and warming economy, its inevitable VC money will start flowing again. And if the hype surrounding Friendster and its ilk of social networking sites is any indication, we're certain to see a resurgence in failed dot.com ideas (Remember SixDegrees? No? Do your homework and get back to me before you get too excited about Friendster). Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
Convergence: Cheaper plasma displays. Media PCs. New game consoles that bridge the gap between game machines and PVR. WiFi everywhere. Hybrid pocket devices. While 2004 may not bring us all the way there, it will be the year when the average Jane begins to realize all this stuff is coming together. As a sub-trend, we'll probably seem some shake-ups on the digital video recorder (DVR) world as digital convergence allows consumers to record just about everything -- and the media industry fights back.
IP Wars: The first intellectual property war battles began in 2003, with wrangling over file sharing, privacy and piracy. The fight's just begun. 2004 will bring major legal battles that'll shape media for years to come.
Boom 2.0: Call me an irrepressible optimist, but 2004 looks like the year the economy starts booming again. Nope, it won't be like the heady late '90s, but it will be big. The next explosion will be smarter, involve larger and more established companies, and a lot more skeptical. But there's a lot of money out there. People are tired of small returns. Keep your eyes peeled for dormant opportunities.
Happy New Year!
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Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.
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