Each year about this time, I’m asked by various publications and websites to contribute my predictions on trends in the magazine industry and new media in general. After a couple of decades of constant curiosity about the evolving roles of media focused on helping companies and associations strengthen their relationships with customers and members, I’ve come to this conclusion: In attempting to predict the future, it is far more challenging to predict the “when” than to predict the “what.”
For instance, the people who follow my blog know that I spent years predicting what finally, eight months ago, became the iPad. While I predicted the “what it was going to be” with great accuracy, I was less accurate on the when. In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, author Steven Johnson explains the concept of “adjacent possibilities,” a term coined by scientist Stuart Kauffman. The term is an attempt to capture the essence of a creative process wherein new possibilities are made possible only after the occurrence of some preceding “first order” innovation. For the iPad that means two-decades of innovations were required before the “adjacent possibility” of the iPad could finally arrive — innovations in the areas of networking, mobility, memory, miniaturization, Moore’s law, Metcalfe’s law and lots of laws related to the FCC and telephone carriers.
I can only guess about when the following predictions will occur because some of them may not quite be ready for their prime time. But I’m fairly confident that one day, they will be.
You’ll finally make it to the big screen: I have a flat-screen HDTV purchased for less than $300, sitting on my office desk that I use to test new content distribution channels and the gadgets that make them possible. With a $99 AppleTV plugged into it, I can watch anything posted on YouTube, available on Netflix, streamed live via any number of services or that is distributed as a video podcast and that can be picked up by my account on iTunes. For companies and associations of any size, this means the following: You can now deliver live or on-demand video direct to any HDTV connected to the Internet via a device that costs $99. (And that’s in addition to every computer, iPad and smart phone.) I predict a lot of companies and associations will realize they are “broadcasters” in 2011.
Simple, minimalist, user interfaces: Technology is often accused of making our lives more complicated. When publishers think that, to be impressive, an iPad app or website needs more bells and whistles, they fall into the trap of doing just that — making things more complicated. However, many of us are attracted to technology that helps us gain efficiency and achieve order — that dampens noise and distraction. Such neo-minimalist new products as the multi-platform product, Instapaper, are gaining a big following among early-adopting tech influencers.
You will publish an e-book: Or, you will if you want to. Two words for 2011: Kindle Singles. A huge success.
And then you will publish it in print: Book publishing using print on
demand (POD) technology and innovative distribution methods is a concept that has been around since slightly after the Guttenberg press. However, some inside-baseball channel wars and pricing elasticity challenges have prevented its long-hyped potential from matching its reality. I predict 2011 is the year that happens.
You will finally get Twitter, and you’ll realize it’s not about what someone had for breakfast: How many people have a Twitter account but never tweet? Most of them. So what do they do with that account? They use Twitter to follow the stream of news and updates on topics important to them, from companies and organizations to which they belong, from friends that matter most to them. As much as it’s about “conversation” and “inanities,” it’s an incredible tool with which to syndicate and subscribe to alerts related to those things important to us — as marketers and as consumers. Oh, and you’ll discover that Twitter is about the things that matter most to you, like your job, your church, your school and neighborhood.
You’ll use the phrase “contextual content,” “explanatory content” or “explainer or explanatory journalism” before 2011 is over: At Hammock, we describe two kinds of content: Flow and Know. Flow is the firehose of news and updates that blasts us everyday — the kind of information we need to stay on top of work, and keep up with world. “Know” content, however, is not the ever-changing news, but the evergreen explanation of why the news is important. It is the definitions, how-tos, customer manuals and analysis that fills in the gaps of knowledge we need to make decisions or understand the significance of a topic they need to understand. For the past several years, I’ve watched the early-moving thinkers on this topic attempt to label such content: “contextual” and “explanatory” seem to be the current leaders. Around here, we’ll keep calling it “Know Content” until a winner has been decided. I predict the winner will be named in 2011.
You will start thinking the word “social” is so last decade: Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but I’ve been saying the following for about three years: When you start calling everything “social,” then you don’t need the word social. So, if every page on the Internet has “like” buttons and comment boxes and at least two ways to join or see what friends have visited that page, is there really a need to use the word “social” anymore?