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Forecasting the Digital Decade

Evan Maier

You're probably reading that headline and thinking, "forgetting the last ten years, are we?" Indeed, the first decade of the 21st century was quite an amazing one for the digital community, with new and exciting technologies springing up seemingly almost constantly and with web becoming even more ubiquitous than it had been in the 90's. But that was only the beginning. Imagine if, knowing now what we do about the last 30 years, someone told you the 70's were the true decade of the computer. Sure, computing took a massive leap forward in those days, but it was amateur hour compared to what was to come.

So you're probably basking in the glow of your computer screen yelling, "enough retrospective; I want to know what's coming next!" Unfortunately, without the aid of a crystal ball or a hot tub time machine (ahem), there's no way to decisively answer that demand. So what can I offer? Perspective.

The key to forecasting what's to come isn't to think about it in terms of the tool, but in terms of the need that tool satiates. YouTube isn't just a repository for videos; it's an easy way to distribute videos to as broad or targeted audience as the video's creator would like.  Twitter isn't just a microblogging platform, but a way of publishing and consuming insights more easily than by scouring the web.  The sooner members of the digital community start to think of things in terms of usability, the sooner we can collectively stumble upon the "next big thing."

But enough hubris.  In terms of general trends in the digital realm, what's more than likely coming down the pike?

Synergy- I know, it's an ages-old marketing cliche, but the concept rings true.  As it now stands, synergy is slowly finding its way into our online activities.  A first (albeit disastrous taste) of digital synergy came with Facebook's Beacon service, a tool devised to publish a Facebook user's activity on partner sites (think buying movie tickets online or renting a DVD or video game from a Blockbuster) on that user's wall.  Obviously that program ended in disaster (both from a PR and legal standpoint), but the concept was cool: numerous streams of information combining into one locused hub.  These days, with Twitter streams making the sharing of previously inconsequential information a cornerstone of the culture, synergeous experiences online are only going to grow.

The Self-Sustaining Ecosystem- When the internet first launched, the ecosystem was intimate.  Soon, a small number of pages began growing exponentially, which brings us to today, with an internet so large, we need the help of digital sherpas like Google and Bing just to find what we're looking for.  So what will inevitably happen?  Users will get tired of treading water in a seemingly limitless ocean of information and turn to smaller, familiar ecosystems to achieve the majority of their tasks online.  That is certainly what Facebook is pushing for, with everything from communications to social networking to leisure activities available without ever having to leave the comfort of the site.  The more services (think shopping, media consumption, etc.) that get offered in ecosystems like Facebook, the less users will need to venture outside its gates for online activities.  Whether this is good or bad is yet to be seen, but it's certainly something to consider as online trust continues to wane and as a user's willingness to scour the vast wasteland of the web becomes increasingly gauntleted.

Location, Location, Location- What started with simple map searches has become a new way of conceiving of digital information altogether.  Whether you're looking for a type of restaurant in your current neighborhood, checking to see if any friends are nearby, or want to get additional information about an unknown area, location-based services are hot and, with the onset of GPS and internet enabled mobile devices, aren't going anywhere.  The good news is the coupling of location-aware data and mobile devices gets us out from behind our computer screens and actually interacting with the world.  The bad news is privacy goes out the window when your location is made available to everyone you know (not to mention every marketer, advertiser, and interested third party with an open ear).  Regardless, expect location-based services (and the advertising that is sure to follow) to become an every-day part of how you interact with the world.  And as long as that doesn't mean the talking, targeted, individualized billboards from "Minority Report," we should be good.

Think our digital future is headed in a different direction?  Think I'm way off base?  Hoping for jetpacks?  Let us know in the comments!