10 Internet Predictions for 2010

December 24, 2009

Taking a Look into the Future of the Web

1. Increased shift towards online sales. In 2000, when I asked the class I was teaching at FDU, how many of you have made an online purchase, only one person raised their hand. Now it’s the opposite. Expect double-digit gains in online Ecommerce again this year, while Brick & Mortar stores struggle to stay even.

2. Social Media starts making cents. That’s dollars and cents. Businesses and Brands of all sizes are catching on. This week we launched a ground-breaking Social Media site to connect Brands-to-Fans. Checkout Smile.ly and let us know what you think. The secret to making money online in 2010 will be getting your business connected to consumers through social media.

3. Search engines will interface with social media. Through integration with new real-time capabilities, search engines will be able to include real-time data (i.e. twitter posts). Awareness of your web-activity will allow search engines to include previously private data from social network friends. Search engines may eventually incorporate their own social element, using data from other web users to hone search results. This combination of search engines and social networking will help to filter results, leading to more refined searching. It may also mean more relevant and effective search engine advertising, with ads that incorporate friends’ viewpoints or personal preferences.

4. Sites with subscription fees. There is an increasing flow of professional video content online – whole seasons of TV shows, entire sports events, etc. Thus far studios and networks are only making money off advertising. However, as most video media migrates to the web, other revenue streams are going to be pursued. Video streaming speed and reliability will have to increase greatly. But considering how quickly it has improved over the past year, it seems likely that online streaming will reach near television quality over the next year. Most likely, there will be some sort of combination of advertising with subscription services. This will also only increase the irrelevance of broadcast television. Advertisers are shifting more and more of their dollars to the Internet, where results are trackable and more targeted. Expect more interfacing of computers with TV screens, or increased sales of cinema displays specifically for computers. It will take a long time for TV to lose its position as the top video media outlet, but the change toward the Internet is gaining pace.

5. Increase in people trying to find and save money online. Unemployment is expected to continue to rise and consumer confidence is lower than it has ever been. In 2010, increasing amounts of people will turn to the web to find a new source of cashflow. Members-only discount groups like Hautelook.com, Ruelala.com, and Gilt.com can expect to see a rise in traffic. Auction sites like ebay.com,swoopo.combigdeal.com, and gobid.com will also garner more interest as the amount of people looking to cut spending rises.

6. Land-line phones will be completely obsolete. The transition of video media from television to the Internet along with the increase in speed and reliability of online video streaming will only be another nail in the coffin for land-line phones in the wake of VoIP and services like Skype. Land-lines are already almost completely unnecessary due to cell-phones, and with quick, reliable video streaming, we should be able to have video-calling, and certainly voice-calling next year over the internet which is almost completely live and stutter-free. At that point, land-lines would be a completely obsolete technology. In my ideal world, we would have ubiquitous WIFI, and either super-portable computers such as the netbooks which are rapidly growing in popularity or just internet-capable phones, on which one could run reliable VoIP. If this were the case, the only fee one would have to pay for communication would be for bandwidth.

7. Broadening of Internet audience and in addition, broadening of high-speed internet access. Internet usage will continue to rise as more ways to access the Internet become available to consumers. The main forces behind this trend are devices like Internet-enabled TV’s, MP3 players, smartphones, and gaming consoles. Teenagers and adolescents are already Internet-active with a variety of devices, and this activity is only on the rise. The real change, however, will take place in adults age 55+, many of whom have already shown interest in consumer electronics, and are just beginning to discover social networking and other online media outlets. Hopefully this increase in the Internet’s user-base will also mean a redefinition of the US’s broadband standards. Currently the US is not even in the top-ten of broadband providing countries when it comes to household penetration and quality of connection. The FCC has been tasked with creating a National Broadband Plan by February 17, 2010, so we should see some changes taking place around then.

8. Proliferation of social gaming. This year, social games completely took over Facebook. 17 out of 20 of the top apps were social games as of November 23rd. Next year might be the year we can expect social gaming to expand out from their social platforms onto the general Internet. Social games which are independent from Facebook would use the social aspects of Facebook (interaction with friends within the gamespace) without the limitations Facebook places on email, instant messaging, etc. in the interest of maintaining privacy. Console gaming has also seen the beginnings of major changes brought about by high-speed Internet. Videogames, which are traditionally sold on discs in stores or online, are seeing an increase of digital sales. Services like Xbox Live and Direct2Drive allow users to download a wide variety of mainstream video games directly to the hard drives of their console or PC. Eventually we could expect most or all games to move to downloadable formats as increased connection speeds make this a viable possibility. This is just another example of storage devices such as CDs becoming obsolete for the transfer of software as the ability to simply download larger and larger files increases.

9. Increased utilization of crowdsourcing for various applications. What is crowdsourcing? Put simply, it’s when a company takes a project which would usually be handled by an employee or contractor and outsources it to the “Internet crowd” with an open call. Crowdsourcing represents a big step in the practical potential of the Internet. Wikipedia is probably the most mainstream example of crowdsourcing, where a huge source of information has been compiled, and its creation was really only possible because there were countless motivated contributors making it happen. Essentially, crowdsourcing is the first example of the collective brainpower of the masses of people connected through the Internet being utilized for practical purposes. As modes of communication and cooperation through the Internet only become more efficient; we can expect to see more companies realizing the potential of and taking advantage of crowdsourcing in more creative and interesting ways.
Some favorite Crowdsourcing Sites for you to checkout: Threadless, 99Designs, Namethis, YahooAnswers, MahaloAnswers, Kickstarter.

10. Further development of 3D technology and further penetration of 3d into traditional media. Avatar is being hailed as a huge step forward for 3D media. The truth is that Avatar is really just a milestone in the journey of 3D towards the mainstream. Movies have been playing around with 3D for years now, but mostly just as a gimmick. With Avatar, 3D is now an acceptable mainstream technology which we can expect to see more and more in media. Videogames have been working with different forms of human-interfacing, as we can see with the tremendous success of Nintendo’s Wii. 3D gaming is an old and in the past, generally unworkable concept. Perhaps with current or future technology, 3D gaming could be a reality. Judging by these developments, it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable assumption to say we could expect to see 3D on our computer screens by next year. If 3D becomes at all commonplace, expect to see it in online videos, simulations, and games. Basically all independent development happens on the web, so this is probably where we’d see the most creative innovation with 3D. If only we can get rid of the glasses! (maybe we can – check out this video)

Here’s a little online 3D doodling toy, the beginning of many?


“How do I make money from all this Social Media Stuff?” 5 ‘Simple’ Steps

November 12, 2009

The most common question I hear from clients is, “How do I make money from all this Social Media Stuff?” That is the $64 million dollar question and technology companies, advertising agencies, PR firms, and thousands of entrepreneurs are scrambling to answer it.

However, like anything new, 98% of it is either fluff or failure and 2% is of great value. So let’s forget the 98% and focus on the 2% that matters to you and me. First, let’s go to where the action is Twitter and Facebook. Between them are over 300 million members – many visiting and posting multiple times per day. They are interested in a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with your product or service, but some of them are interested at least some of the time. Now the trick is to find them, engage them and get them to come to you. This is where most efforts fail for lack of strategy and know-how.

So here are are 5 Things you and your business can do to make Social Media work for you:

Social Media Flowchart - Pathfinder Consulting

Create a Social Media Chain-Reaction

1> Get in the Game: either you, or someone you hire, needs to establish Facebook and Twitter Accounts; post stuff that people may find interesting both personal and professional – maybe even political. DO NOT blatantly promote or advertise your service.
2> Build your Audience: the more people that you invite and Friend or Follow you, the more responsive they will be and the greater the odds they will call on you for your product or service when they need it.
3> Triangulate for Results: cross-link all the activity, content, posts, status updates to each other and your web site. See the illustration on this page. If you do this effectively, you will create a chain-reaction or a cascade of visitors to your Blog and Web Site.
4> Make Sure your Web Site helps convert a high percentage of these new visitors to customers. Professional design, branding, credibility and message are key. Get help with this! Contact us or another talented firm. There is both art and science to making your web site sell for you.
5> Do it over again. All these media will keep evolving and changing. It is constant learning and testing. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t work, either change your approach or stop doing it. Just makes sense – doesn’t it?

So after all this, our client asks, Who has time for all this?” The answer is that most business people are busy focusing on their own business and don’t have the time, expertise, or even the inclination to do all this. But it is worth it! If you are not doing it, you can bet your competitor is and grabbing all that business.

[Warning: shameless self-promotion!] That’s where we come in. Pathfinder not only designs and develops winning web sites, but will set up, manage and maintain your social media sites, blogs and Email and triangulate them for results. Maybe we can help you?


T(w)eens Don’t Tweet? They May Start Soon

October 7, 2009

[For the original article from ReadWriteWeb, click here]

“Teens don’t tweet.” Over the past few weeks, this fact has been reported time and time again from analysts, bloggers, and even mainstream media. Why the obsession with the teenage crowd on Twitter? Perhaps it’s simply because adults can’t believe that, for once, they’re the group responsible for the birth of an internet phenomenon and not the other way around. But before all you adults get too comfortable with your Twitter dominance, take a look at the recent data from comScore. It appears that the youngest Twitter users – those in the 12-24 bracket – are now the fastest growing segment of Twitter’s population. So the kids don’t tweet? Looks like they may start really soon if this new data is to be believed.

Kids Don’t Use Twitter

According to a recent article in the New York Times, teens are more likely to use text messaging than Twitter for keeping up with their friends. Today’s teens feel somewhat uncomfortable with the public nature of the communication that takes place Twitter, and, besides, they just don’t see the point in broadcasting what they’re doing to the whole world. Yet even without this age group’s participation, Twitter has seen amazing success, proving the point that a new technology does not have to be adopted by this young group of users in order to make it big.

Twitter’s Youth Sees Growth

Although Twitter didn’t attract the teens from the onset, that could still change. In fact, it looks like that change may already be underway. A newly released chart from comScore breaks down the age groups of Twitter users and plots each group’s growth over time, relative to audience. The most surprising revelation from this chart is the steep incline seen in the age group 12-24. Over the past few months, this group’s participation levels have been increasing dramatically.

In reading the chart, a score of “100” means that the age group on Twitter is represented in perfect proportion to how much that age group uses the rest of the Internet as a whole. Go over 100 and that means the age group is represented more heavily on Twitter than they are represented on the rest of the web. In July, those aged 12-24 scored a “121” – a score that was only in the mid-70’s a mere six months ago.

Statistics Can be Misleading

But wait – a quick glance at these statistics can be misleading. At first, it appears that the chart simply shows the increasing participation levels of the teens (and young adults) on Twitter. While that may be true, it’s important to note that the actual number of younger users on Twitter is still much lower than those of their adult counterparts. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that only 11% of Twitter users are aged 12 to 17 according to comScore.

Plus, there’s the fact that the age group 12-24 represents an odd way of breaking up the demographics. Why not 12-18 instead? With this particular slice of Twitter’s user base, there’s no way to tell how many users are teens versus how many are young adults in their 20’s.

Finally, what the chart is showing is audience growth as compared to the rest of the Internet as a whole. That’s also a an interesting way of charting the demographics of Twitter, to say the least.

All that being said, the data seen here is still valuable to some extent. It’s interesting to see this market segment’s growth, even if it’s sliced and diced in this odd way. But does this mean that teens are going to start tweeting sometime soon? Let us know what you think in the comments.


Google Opens Up Its EPUB Archive: Download 1 Million Books for Free

September 15, 2009

[for the original article from ReadWriteWeb, click here.]

Google just announced that it will now allow users to download over 1 million public domain books in the EPUB format. Google had already made this archive available to some of its partners, including Sony and Barnes and Noble, but until today users weren’t able to download these free EPUB texts from Google directly. Google will continue to make PDF versions of these books available for download as well, but users with eReader’s will find the new EPUB files far more useful.

If you don’t have an actual hardware eReader but still want to read these EPUB versions, you can install Stanza or a similar desktop reader to read these books.

EPUB: The One eBook Standard to Rule them All

EPUB is a free, standardized format that almost every hardware eReader or desktop software understands. Amazon’s Kindle interestingly, however, cannot read EPUB texts without using some intermediary software that converts these books into a format the Kindle can understand. While there are a few competing formats, EPUB has turned into the de facto standard for eBooks. Some vendors, like Sony, wrap a digital rights management (DRM) solution around these books, but others just publish completely open, non-DRMed versions of their books. The EPUB files from Google Books will not be locked down by a DRM solution.

It is important to note, however, that these EPUB files were run through an optical character recognition (OCR) system and weren’t edited afterwards. While this software has greatly improved over the last few years, there are still quite a few mistakes in most books. This post on the Google Books blog explains the conversion process in more detail. The PDF versions of these books don’t suffer from this problem, as they are just copies of the actual pages. This also means, however, that these PDF files are far larger and that users can’t, for example, adjust the size of the books’ fonts according to the size of their screens.


Twitter Wants to Make Money

August 26, 2009

How do you take a good, free service with a large and growing user-base and make money off of it? There are two obvious routes.

  1. Take away the “free” aspect and start charging users or go halfway and create paid premium accounts which have more privileges than normal accounts.
  2. Keep it free, but compromise the aesthetic with advertising.

Well Twitter, everyone’s favorite micro-blogging service, is looking to finally gain a revenue stream.

Biz Stone

Biz Stone, co-founder of the company, said in a May 2009 blog post that while Twitter is not philosophically opposed to the idea of advertising, “[…]the idea of taking money to run traditional banner ads on Twitter.com has always been low on our list of interesting ways to generate revenue.” Stone has repeatedly stated that he’d like to foster Twitter’s ability to bring businesses and consumers closer together, implying that he sees Twitter as a tool with potential to be more than just a venue for the chattering of the masses. Stone has said that “the service’s value should be judged, not by its traffic – which grew 131% in March to 9.3 million visitors – but as a tool to ‘facilitate connections between businesses and individuals.'” If Twitter succeeds in that goal, it may achieve lasting commercial value, and become more than just social media. So how can they achieve this? The people at Twitter have a few ideas:

  1. Premium Accounts, or more accurately, “commercial accounts.” Twitter is considering making paid accounts which would appeal specifically to businesses trying to reach consumers through Twitter. The accounts would offer the advantage of sophisticated analytics to assess how well a company is Twittering.
  2. APIs, once again being more  commonly referred to as “commercial APIs”. The idea is to create”business-oriented application programming interfaces (APIs), creating a ‘commercial layer’ over the social network.” Presumably these would serve as more obvious means for businesses to sell through Twitter to consumers, rather than just talking up their new products on the service. An example might be an online store API which sits right in Twitter. Twitter is also talking about coming out with an API which allows latitude and longitude to be tied to any tweet. You could then conceivably filter tweets by location, allowing you to find out who’s at that concert with you, or who’s tweeting from the earthquake in China. Not exactly as useful a service for commercial applications, but still a good example of how the effective functionality of Twitter could potentially increase in the near future.
  3. Certified Accounts, which presumably are tied in with premium accounts, are different as far as their specific purpose. A “certified account” would be an account to which Twitter gives its seal of verification, so that everyone knows they’re hearing from “the real Shaq” and not an imposter who’s looking to mislead a slew of basketball/Kazaam fans. Twitter has done this for a few celebrities already, and you can see how a “certificate of genuineness” would be appealing for brands trying to Twitter. Not only would it instill trust with consumers, it will probably also give certified users priority status when searching for related users or services. One drawback is that normal, public users might see it as a mark of a corporate account which is only trying to push their products, and immediately avoid such certified users. Still, I don’t think Shaq has to worry about losing his own unique brand of genuine Shaqness.

These are just a few ideas for how Twitter can start to make money. Regardless, Twitter has raised $55 million since the company started 2 years ago and made it past 44.5 million unique users in June, according to ComScore. In light of that information, Stone has asserted that Twitter has plenty of cash and is in no rush to develop a business model. As to whether or not you’ll ever find yourself paying for your personal Twitter account, Stone is quick to reassure users, “Twitter will still be free for everybody and we’ll still tell them to go crazy with it, but we’ve identified a selection of things that businesses say are helping to make them more profit.” So maybe all you free users can help Twitter make some money…by spending it on businesses that are using Twitter.

References

premium accounts

commercial accounts/APIs

Twitter staying ad-free

long/lat API

Stone’s advertising blogpost


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