We begin our predictions for 2012 with – more social unrest.
The reason is simple, there is as much to be upset about as in 2011 (and perhaps even more), and digital tech will be even more pervasive. A correlated trend will be attempts by governments and copyrights holders to limit how and who can publish information.
Digital identity and the return of status
The more important the internet becomes to ordinary people in their daily lives, the more pressure will be put on people to use identifiable online identities. Expect more comment apps, forums and other authorisation systems to use Facebook, Twitter or Google sign-ins to combat anti-social and undesirable behaviour.
Status gets status
The web as originally conceived was supposed to be peer to peer and egalitarian. No wonder there's been a backlash against influence measuring systems like Klout of late. Unfortunately they won't go away. We'll see the social stratifying of online users and the importance of status gathering pace in the coming year.
Clash of the Gatekeepers
There's a huge battle going on for the entry point to digital content. Google has been pushing for its Chrome Browser to become an operating system for several years; for apps and more to run inside it. It's been a hard slog, and take up is good, if not stellar. Apple is turning the desktop into a native app environment, similar to the one we have learned to love on mobile. This has lead people like Forresters to say that the web is indeed dead. Hedging their bets, Google has launched services like Google Currents, that allow publishers to easily get onto Tablets and Smartphones via a Google interface. Similarly Facebook's new Open Graph Social News apps will allow publishers another way into users' worlds. The Guardian already claims that it has been a huge success for them.
Better UX and usability
The former trend will be driven to a great extent by a simpler and more intuitive user experience. Services like Jux is just one example. The question however, is if this better experience will come at a loss of freedom to access the weird and wonderful information that the open web provided.
Journalists and creatives in vogue
The past year saw many companies dip their toes into social and content marketing. They found it surprisingly hard. We predict a trend this year where companies, instead of hiring marketing grads, will look for journalist students and film makers. Luckily for companies these will be in abundance as more traditional media outlets close.
Predictions for platforms
Last year we predicted that Facebook could reach as many as 800 million users, which they did. This year we predict they will slow down and even slightly decline in developed markets, but Brazil and India and the growth of smartphones could see them reach 950 million by year end.
Last year we guessed that Twitter could reach 400 million registered users. In September Twitter claimed it had 380,000 million. We think we guessed that about right. What about 2012 then? With Twitter continuing to simplify its techie UX, we think it can reach 600 million registered accounts quite easily, but what really matters is active user count. This year it was 100 million. We think by the end 2012 it will have 200 million active users.
Last year, we thought that Foursquare, with a few clever tweaks, could reach 50 million registered users by the end of this year. We were wrong. The last time they reported numbers (this past summer), they only had 14 million, that's only 4 million up from the beginning of the year. Nobody knows what number they ended the year with, but we'd be surprised if it was 18 million. That's just not good enough. We think Foursquare will get bought for its infrastructure – for example: Instagram's locations run on top of it.
Instagram came from nowhere and ended the year on 14 million users. We're going to stick our necks out and say that with the launch of the long awaited Android version and continued stellar growth of smartphones and tablets it could accelerate to as much as 80 million registered users by the end of 2012.
And what about Google Plus? Stats for the service is hard to come by, but if Google releases good enough API's and leverage existing services like YouTube well, they can grow their registrations dramatically. They could even exceed 100 million registrations by year end.
Its ads Jim but not as we know it
When brands realise social media is difficult to do well, many of them will turn to more familiar ground – ads. But not display of banner ads, they will buy ads on social platforms. Expect a lot more advertising on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter this year.
Creative of the Year: Intel Museum of Me
We've featured so many brilliant creative projects this year, but the Intel Museum of Me was on a level of its own. Its social integration is so complete, that they manage to cross the gap from intellectual amazement to raw emotional bliss. This is truly inspiring.
On that note, this is us for the year. Have yourselves a lovely holiday, and we look forward to bringing you the best of social in 2012! Thanks for reading!
Spotify's coming of Age
Finally, against many odds, Spotify has come of age – it has become a platform. The guys at Spotify have released an API, and despite much speculation to the contrary, they have opened up everything. Everything you can do in the app, you can now do from your own app, using the API. Developers can, for instance, quite easily build an app that runs on Android and Google TV, and mimic iTunes's Airplay protocol. Very interesting times.
A shocking poke
How do you advertise condoms? It's a very creative space, isn't it? How about this one: In Brazil, if you're a man, you can get a Facebook friend request from your unborn child! (Your name, with "Jr." tacked onto the end).
TV takes a hammering while it gets a boost
How to plan your strategy around this? A new study shows that tablets are cannibalising TV consumption, but that smartphones on the other hand are complimenting TV use. Time to swing both ways? Also notable from the study is that tablet owners are bigger spenders than smartphone users. Makes sense.
Google Analytics for YouTube, only better
YouTube announced this week that they are replacing Insights with Analytics, which borrows quite a lot from Google Analytics. The fact that YouTube Analytics provide detailed metrics like demographics, which only Facebook has provided up to now, could establish YouTube even more firmly as a very attractive campaign platform.
It's Ads Jim, but not as we know it
A new eye-tracking study shows that Facebook users ignore ads for the most part. In a thoughtful post that laments the dismal performance of display ads on the internet, Andrew Weissman points out that we should not fret too much. We have entered a golden age, of which Google's Adwords were the first prototype. These new ads – like Twitter's promoted Tweets and Facebook's Sponsored Stories, break away from page metaphors and interruption and are closely integrated with the ways people interact with web services. In that vein, WordPress has just launched an ad system for their hosted blogs. The question is – are they the last of an old breed, or will they manage to beautifully weave their ads into the blog reading experience?
The gap between Brands and their Facebook potential
In a very interesting post (with pie graphs, ven-diagrams and all), mashable points out that the average "friends of fans" group for the top 100 brands on Facebook is 34 times the size of the "fans" group. In other words, you are marketing to an audience with an audience (and a HUGE one at that!). But hang on, why do so many brands fare so poorly on Facebook? Forrester claims that brands are still not making Facebook work for them, mainly because creating engaging content is very difficult, and is hampered by a lack of understanding on the part of the brands, as well as badly allocated resources.
No need to checkin – we gotcha!
The latest news from the US might come over a little Orwellian. How do you replicate customer tracking of web based cookies in meatspace? Loyalty cards? Surveys? Foursquare? How about this: new software put in use in US malls track customer movement from store to store by triangulating their mobile signals. You betcha!
Creatives of the Week – BERG London
We love digital, obviously. But we also love the tangible world. So no surprise that we got a tad excited by Hello Little Printer, a new gadget by super-interesting design studio BERG. HLP is a wireless, super-cute, thermal printer that creates a mini-newspaper, personalised based on your subscriptions and notifications. So you can get your to-do list, birthday reminders or the latest Guardian headlines ready in the morning in a neat little paper format. The machine is still a prototype, but it should be out early next year.