As 2014 gets under way and we begin packing for the annual Consumer Electronics Show, its time to think about the advancements in internet and technology that could impact the way we all consume content and interact with each other. While we’re excited to see the latest in wearable technology, break-through high resolution TVs and connected electronics, the real game changers may not be device-specific at all. Instead, we’ll be thinking about the more subtle forces that could impact the future of marketing. Here are four progressions we see shaping internet + technology culture in 2014:
1. Public vs. Private Interaction
In its early days, popular mobile messaging app Snapchat was heralded as a way for teens to send racy photos outside of the watchful eye of parents. But, as the audience grows in to the tens of millions, Snapchat is being recognized for what it is— the necessary outgrowth of years of “public” being the dominant value on the social internet. Sure, Snapchat’s photo-first messaging strategy is quick and fun to use, but its the freedom of impermanence that really drives the service in a way that can only be such a relief after understanding the exhaustion of the opposite.
It’s become clear that the drive towards openness is a symptom of a persistent Facebook-guided social media culture that has its limits and its repercussions. For many, it’s become tiresome thinking through the necessary polish and potential ramifications of sharing each piece of life content. Snapchat’s disappearing messages offer a way out — a way to engage with friends and family without thinking it through very hard, like you might in person. If that’s something we’re all yearning to return to, then Snapchat is just the beginning of a new wave of platforms and products that offers an alternative to the public eye.
2. In-depth vs. Snackable Content
In a year where Buzzfeed more than tripled its size, it seemed as if every publisher was rushing to emulate the magic formula by turning every article into lists, slideshows, animated gifs and Upworthy-esque headlines. The result is a web culture that in some ways feels like its one giant tabloid magazine for the attention-challenged generation— big, bold, suggestive headlines paired with flashy imagery in place of real depth or context. The snackable content format fits perfectly with the rapid-fire news stream that Twitter and Facebook has established. But like the gif-column, the news feed is a ride consumers may be starting to feel differently about.
Just when it seemed blogging had been made extinct by 140 characters, new publishing platform Medium was conceived by the very same founder to provide a construct for people who want to write without distraction. Even more drastically, in December we saw the launch of The Information, a $400 / year online technology publication that promises just a few articles, on topics that deserve depth and dialogue. It may be time to start thinking differently about the content we create for consumers.
3. Open vs. Closed Infrastructure
The feature wars between Apple and Google, Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat (etc.) have been well covered. But while everyone is focused on the land grab over a billion users messaging + photo + friend platform of choice, the bigger struggle developing may be over the destruction of the very fabric of the internet. The early days of social media were defined by openness— structures such as RSS feeds, open APIs and chat protocols. This early web infrastructure helped services grow and content spread in a collaborative, user-centric way that benefited all.
But in 2013 Google substituted its open Google Chat platform for its new proprietary Google+ Hangouts to compete with Apple iMessage, an equally closed messaging platform. Google also closed the RSS-powered Google Reader in hopes of making the silo’d Google+ the proprietary social news platform of choice instead of Facebook. Twitter notoriously reigned in its once public API to control its customer more tightly. The question is, will users be comfortable with these decisions as long as they are continually given new features, or will embracing the open internet begin to serve as a stand-out differentiator?
4. A La Carte vs. Bundled Video
Every time a cable network and broadcast company battled over carriage fees the cry for a la carte television becomes louder. The truth is a la carte is here, it’s just arriving through the back door of connected TVs and streaming video providers. In the last year, the arms race between Hulu, Amazon and Netflix has resulted in numerous water-cooler worthy original shows being created outside of the traditional broadcast model. The future is being defined by these new “channels”, libraries of archive + original content a consumers wants to pay for at ~$8 a pop.
Unfortunately each library of content is silo’d in independent application gardens. Connected video systems like Apple TV require viewers to jump in and out of each ecosystem instead of easily navigating all of a user’s subscribed content in one menu, and may not even support each 3rd party “channel” as a competitive practice. We are in the golden age of television content, but managing your television has never been more difficult. This must be solved now, because a la carte will really be tested if the traditional networks and premium video providers like HBO start to disaggregate from the cable bundle as well.