Eleven Things That Will Happen, Part 1

Lately, I’ve had a lot of time to ponder the state of the Internet. It’s great to step back, take a big-picture look at what’s been going on in the world, and try to imagine where we’re going next.

I’m not interested in far-future prognosticating or Fast Company/Wired-type techno-boosterism. But many identifiable trend lines can be followed through to their logical conclusion, especially now that we have seven years’ perspective of e-biz. My predictions are based on those trend lines. I truly believe they will happen… eventually. I’m not saying any of this stuff is going to come true next month, or even next year, but it’s hard to imagine (barring major catastrophes) these things won’t be part of our lives at some time in the future. Besides, we’re already halfway through the year. No better time to beat the end-of-the-year prediction rush . So without further ado, my list of 11 things that will happen in the foreseeable future.

  • Wireless everywhere. Given the choice between a wired tether and wireless freedom, which would you chose? Right now, those who have the opportunity and the resources to get their data wirelessly, are. With an explosion of Wi-Fi access points everywhere, soon anyone with a Wi-Fi card in her laptop will be able to hang out outside the office as long as the batteries hold out. Add to this the rapid development in small fuel cells that allow computers to run for days without a charge, and you’ve got a recipe for a major revolution in the way we live with computers. Beyond the laptop, phone access is getting better, palmtops and PDAs have wireless access built in, and people (early adopters, at least ) are starting to expect access.

    Will this happen next year? Doubtful, but there’s no conceivable scenario I can think of in which people, given the choice and the hardware, won’t chose to cut Ethernet (and eventually power) cords. What will this mean to marketers? Ubiquitous data access will allow people to be smarter, make more informed decisions, and be all-around tougher customers. Will wireless advertising take off? Maybe some day, in some fashion we haven’t thought of yet. For the next two to five years, we’d better expect our customers to have access to our sites, and our competitors’, everywhere they go.

  • E-mail: death of a marketing tool. OK, start the hate mail now. Unless something’s done to stop spam, email as a marketing tool will continue to erode in effectiveness until it’s untenable as a legitimate tool. Several recent reports say this summer is when spam will outpace legitimate email. Regardless of present or pending legislation, it’s only going to get worse. Even if customers want to receive your email, they’ll have an increasingly difficult time finding it in the clutter.

    For now, the best marketing strategy is to educate customers on setting up filters so your email lands in the folder that gets read. Legitimate marketers who create desired content will continue to reach some of their audiences. Unless spam goes away, no scenario exists for email to get any easier.

  • Blogout. Blogs have gotten a lot of attention in the past six months. Many of my ClickZ colleagues have written some pretty compelling pieces about blogs’ power as a marketing tool, perhaps even replacing the email newsletters. Outside of its utility for marketing, blogging has taken on a life of its own. Millions of registered users blogging away. It’s a new publishing medium that wouldn’t have been possible without the Internet, and one that’s given a meaningful outlet to many folks.

    But (you knew there’d be a “but”), it’s not going to last forever. As bloggers know, maintaining a blog is a lot of work. Paying people to keep on blogging can cost lots of money. Eventually, many private bloggers will move on to other things. Corporate bloggers will become too busy (or bored) to blog. As someone who ran a proto-blog for six years, 364 days a year, I know first-hand that at some point, you just run out of steam. Blogs are wonderful innovations. They emphasize the powers of the Net, personality, and instant publishing. Just don’t count on them remaining the phenomenon they’ve been over the past year or so.

  • Search engine regulation. Search engines are really the main portals (more cynically, chokepoints) of the Web. The power wielded by Google, Yahoo, Overture, and MSN is astounding. If you don’t show up on search engines, you might as well not exist. In a world increasingly dependent on the Web, that’s a lot of power. One that won’t go unnoticed by government types (or lawyers) forever. At some point, someone’s going to file a class action suit, or some legislator whose business got lousy rankings is going to say, “Hey! This isn’t fair!” I don’t know how attempts at regulation will pan out, but it’s inevitable the government will try to get involved.
  • Convergence… sort of. In media convergence, one plus one won’t equal two. Successful convergence media will not take the form of TV over the Web, or the Web on TV. With digital cable in increasingly more homes and multifunctional devices such as cell phone/PDA combos, the trend is to “smush” more functionality into fewer devices. We aren’t even close yet, but soon Web features will be combined with TV features to create a medium that acts a little like the Web and TV but looks like neither. Ditto with the cell phone/PDA/camera/GPS combos in our future.

Stay tuned for the next six predictions.

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