While predicting the evolution of the internet and online consumer-related technologies over the next few years will always be guesswork at best, digital strategists from Last Exit believe that there are several trends that seem to be here to stay.
Among the coming trends and predictions for the evolution of digital consumerism in 2010 and beyond:
- Facebook could replace personal email
Occasionally a brand name becomes the verb associated with its use. Rather than searching for information about someone, you Google them. Instead of cleaning the carpet, you Hoover it. And perhaps an even more powerful synonym is when a brand becomes a noun, such as Polaroid, which has become the generic term for an instantly developed photograph. For the near future, though, the next brand verb may well be 'to Facebook your friends' - either meaning to look up someone's profile, or to send them a message through Facebook. The latter is most likely because Facebook messaging has the potential to displace personal email - mainly because it is completely permission based, trackable, accountable (abuse can be reported easily), there is no spam (yet), and no address book is required - your friends are already on Facebook.
- Open source software makes real money, thanks to 'the cloud'
Open source software (in which the programmers make their original source code open to the public to modify and redistribute at will) has become both available to and popular with the masses. While most people and companies can't run their own internet servers, open source providers have begun offering their software in a SaaS (software as a service) configuration - the principle behind the so-called 'cloud', in where users simply pay for whatever they (or their own customers) use, and where they are free from infrastructure problems and day-to-day operational details.
- Mobile payments will grow, but mainly within applications
Mobile commerce has been a promise of new technologies for many years, but the promise has never really been delivered. While mobile phones have delivered real benefits and are often used to transfer money, very few consumers are actually using them to make retail payments. After all, who really wants to fiddle around with a phone in one hand and a credit card in the other? The exception to the rule will be payments within existing mobile applications. For example, the iPhone / iTunes platform. In-application purchases on the iPhone can tempt users to buy small items, upgrades, updates, and so on, while iTunes holds the user's credit card details. This is all done seamlessly enough to encourage impulse purchases.
- One password for all occasions?
There is an increasing demand among consumers for any service that reduces the number of log-in names and passwords that must be remembered. Consumers are starting to resent having to register for anything, and there is a growing sentiment that services like Facebook Connect and OpenID are useful and helpful, and will continue to be adopted rapidly. Perhaps one future development might be the ability to pay for goods using a Facebook login?
- Disruption vs. continuity
As the significance of social networks continues to grow, businesses are investing more in community building as a marketing technique. According to the recent Tribalisation of Business study by Deloitte, 94% of businesses will continue or increase their investment in online communities and social media and, for the majority of these companies, their marketing department will drive that investment. At the same time there is an increasing shift toward online identity and social activity becoming an integrated phenomenon rather than being concentrated in separate platforms such as Facebook. With the increasing emphasis on marketing and advertising through social networks and the increasing pervasiveness of social tools, marketing objectives come into conflict with advertising techniques. While advertising has often sought to distinguish itself and stop the consumer in their tracks with a disruptive "big idea," the emphasis is shifting toward persuasion through fitting organically into the consumer's social sphere. It will always be the objective of marketing to provide creativity and novelty, but the way in will increasingly be one of persistence and continuity.
- Self-sufficiency stems from the web's open source, DIY culture
From solving complex problems through crowd sourcing to reconfiguring industries to be leaner and more innovative by harnessing the expertise of a network of independent suppliers, many of the breakthrough solutions of tomorrow appear to lie in pooling the resources and intelligence of the increasingly networked world. But this pooling effect has also empowered individual consumers to take on more and more complex undertakings themselves, such as drawing on the collective intelligence of blogs and universities' open courseware to educate themselves. Expect to see lasting changes coming from empowering individuals to work together to become more ever more self-sufficient.
- Crowd sourcing
Across many industries and organisations, crowd sourcing will become a growing tool as organisations mobilise passionate special interest groups to not only carry a message but, even more importantly perhaps, to lead and take part in activities on their behalf. From political canvassing to software development, from people journalism to environmental activism, we will see huge growth in crowd sourcing models provoked and led, largely, by digital social media strategies.
- More Flash, not less
Outside of the obvious web sites, micro-sites and media sites (e.g. those offering videos and games), Flash has been largely overlooked by technical people and search engine optimisers alike. But the latest developments involving Flash have countered its original problem (i.e. that it was used to serve up single-page, untrackable web sites) and Flash web site developers now offer deep, searchable, and highly indexable web sites that allow detailed traffic reporting, behavioural analytics, and of course true search engine optimisation. A significant advantage of being able to use Flash is that it can provide a plain e-retail web site with rich, brand-extending experiences, even on mobile devices.