January 9, 2008

Predictions for 2008

If the following predictions are as accurate as last year’s, we should make this a paid service. This year we have seven predictions.

googlechurch.jpg The short version: Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and eBay open-up, change the economics of online property, Microsoft starts panicking and everbody fights against everybody in one big battle.

Last year we witnessed a battle for user identity that lead to the discussion of the “social graph.” This year, we’ll see a battle for identity platforms: Holy Google has a huge advantage, Facebook has a strong position (with its millions of real, high-profile identities as well as third-party application experience), and Yahoo is “me too-ing.” As outdated as Yahoo seems, they have a secret trump card. One thing is certain: news will be big this year.

1. Google

Frontal attack against Microsoft on the Office front

Schmidt, Brin, Page, and Cerf are the Fantastic 4 of our age. If they decide to take down Microsoft, Microsoft is in trouble. If I were one of the Fantastic 4, I’d suggest the release of a free client for Google Docs. The idea would be simple: a Google Docs that’s present on the desktop, more stable, independent from connectivity, and easier to use (particularly the table calculator). Technically, making this happen isn’t a big deal, so what’s Google waiting for? If they release an office-standards-compatible client complete with the basic Office features, Microsoft would have to withstand a magnitude-8 earthquake. Of course, the real Fantastic 4 probably have a much better plan in the works (on the Google Docs and mobile phone front, for sure). We can’t wait to see what happens.

Rise of a religion

The four central aspects of a religion are 1) the power to shape one’s daily rituals, 2) the influence to become a reference for truth, 3) the ability to mirror human nature, and 4) the aspiration for absolutism.

1) Google has become a part of most Internet users’ daily online ritual. They are occupying increasing amounts of touch points within the process of information gathering.

2) Google has become the reference for truth—not as a single infallible answer, but as a series of possible answers to our prayers (i.e. search requests) from which we choose.

3) Google has become a mirror of our human nature: it adjusts its search results based on our profile. Currently it’s still subject of techie irony (such as Vint Cerf’s title “Chief Evangelist”), but it’s only a matter of time before a couple of wackos really start praying to Google.

4) Google has become an aspirant of absolutism. They are occupying more and more central points of the Internet and your desktop. Google is becoming a search monopoly, forming an online ad monopoly, invading mobile platforms, conquering the domain of online identities, developing into a central mail service, and continuing to plug-in new services (recently, we hear, they want to compete with Wikipedia).

iA respects Google. But iA would like to see diversity, not a stronger, bigger Google. We never needed another Microsoft, but with Google, we have the most powerful monopolizer ever. “Most powerful” because its empire is built on knowledge and caution.

That is why, despite the huge problem of spam, we are not moving to Gmail (due to their massive data advantage, Google filters spam more efficiently than anyone). Instead, we await the arrival of a Google competitor; or an Apple twin that takes on the Microsoft twin. We would like to see the rise of another search engine (what ever happened to the social bookmarking searches?). We would like to see a successful small web company that doesn’t give in to being bought. And we would like to ask: why, in Google’s name, are there no online anti-trust laws?

2. Facebook redefines itself as an online identity service

The hype is over. Face it: Facebook is boring. Facebook is annoying. Facebook is silly. You don’t need to know what kind of tea your friend’s roommate’s sister’s mother (whom you’ve never met) likes to drink on a rainy Sunday afternoon. No one is interested in anyone else’s boring lives. The true capital of Facebook is its enormous database of names—real names. They should terminate the application spam, kill 300 unnecessary features, and capitalize on their users’ social graph. Ideally Facebook grows-up and becomes the Apple of the early 21st century. UPDATE: Right after we wrote this we hear that it has already happened—Nine days into 2008 Google and facebook joined forces on dataportability.org to form the center of online identity.

3. eBay stumbles

eBay: A beautiful idea—the Internet at its very best from the very start. Yet it seems the pioneer is sick. Signs of mismanagement—specifically, a weakened brand impact that’s due to a lame redesign graphically reminiscent of the Altavista disaster. The current eBay site looks like one of those fake domain squatter pages. People also began to wise-up to the fact that—despite most auctioneers being honest people—auctions only pay-off for the seller (for some magical and mathematical reasons). eBay shares a strong point with Facebook though: its users’ identity base. Together with PayPal, StumbleUpon, and Skype (an absolutely amazing product, stop bashing it), they have tons of ID-dollars to build upon.

4. Rage Against the Machine

Next year is going to be political on many fronts. Although we don’t know when—whether it’s when Digg gets sold to Newscorp, whether we realize what really happens to The Wall Street Journal, whether Google lends another hand to the wrong regime, whether something fishy goes down at the Olympics, whether blogs get censored during the American presidential election or Yahoo gets sold to Microsoft—iA predicts that next year we’re going to have some pretty angry crowds throwing Molotov cocktails with a hypertext protocol. A digital 1968, if you will.

2008-revolution-piazza-del-popolo.jpg Romans celebrating New Years Eve 2008 by throwing bottles and firing massive noise bombs on the Piazza del Popolo—symbolic of the upcoming year?

5. Swiching to handhelds, SMS dives

The word “Internet” will become old-fashioned. Things will either be “connected” or not. This will become increasingly obvious once more (young) people become connected through their handhelds. Hopefully, SMS will disappear from the planet and be replaced by e-mail. Android will finally open-up Western cellphones.

6. Newspapers

Murdoch understood it first: there’s tons of money in online news. The New York Times is lucky to have one of the best information designers to drive the platform. The Washington Post, with its two-brand nonsense, remains broken. Newspapers have to wise-up, buy online property, form alliances (see The New York Times and MSNBC), and massively invest in quality writers. If they don’t, they face being bought by online giants and forced into an overall news strategy. From an economical point of view, top journalists and writers of high-end news need to earn more. With the inflation of news, quality information gains value. Rupert Murdoch knows this. Instead of selling-out or working with underpaid freelancers, newspapers should invest. This is the year to invest in online services. What is done with newspapers needs to be rethought. Oftentimes written in a boring, page-filling way that’s difficult to read and impossible to scan, newspapers need to connect to the online offer—we’ve said it many times. Show us some real innovation!

New York Times Building Cafeteria The cafeteria of the new, New York Times building. I had the chance to see it during a short, jet-lagged interview with Khoi Vinh (for the upcoming iA book).

7. Yahoo’s Trump Card

We don’t understand how this went unnoticed, but from what we understand, in 2007 a series of newspapers basically left their online ad business up to Yahoo. While the tech bloggers got excited about some new little feature on some random website, Yahoo was skimming the American online news business:

The deal includes 176 regional papers, which will start using Yahoo’s HotJobs classified jobs site from December. People involved with the partnership said it would later include other types of advertising and shared news content and search abilities. The deal boosts Yahoo’s regional exposure and gives the papers national reach for their local ads and content.

In the mean time they have magnetized over 240 newspapers. If done correctly without getting lost in dreamland, Yahoo can make a big silent come back as an online news mogul. Strategically, we see Yahoo working mostly behind the scenes. On the user end (where their official focus lies today) they’re not competitive enough to battle Google, it seems that they are just building up the know-how which in part is responsible for Google’s superiority. Google is the very proof that Brand=Interface and will continue to lead the race for the best brand/interface, while old tech brands might take an IBM back door. In the long run, Yahoo and Microsoft might take that path. It’s never too soon for Yahoo, yet maybe it’s time not just for Bill Gates but for Microsoft as a whole to prepare retirement from end-user products!

The Brand Power Litmus Test: The Personality Behind the Brand

If you feel that this time we are way to far out there (and of course we are!), you can take the following litmus test. Strong brands need strong personalities with the charisma and the power necessary to be put ideas into practice. The best indicator for the development of a brand may be the power driving it, the personality that makes it happen. Brin and Page (Google) are strong, Balmer (Microsoft) is more of a lunatic driving a truck than a personality driving a brand, Jobs (Apple) is radioactive as ever, Jerry Jang (Yahoo) still doesn’t look too sure of himself, Zuckerberg (Facebook) is looking for trouble since he entered the stage, and Murdoch (Newscorp) looks like Emperor Palpatine and acts with the same neutron-bomb power, but, hopefully, he won’t be able to stop Luke Obama Skywalker (USA Inc).

With so many superheroes, half gods and manga book evil doers, exciting times are ahead.

Oh, before you faint: Don’t take this too seriously and most importantly: Don’t miss our next entry, the 2008 Web Trend Map preview.

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Oliver Reichenstein Route Kamiya-cho Bld 5F 5-2 Kamiyama-cho Shibuya-ku Tokyo 150-0047 Japan