Upcoming Trends Still Include Facebook

A recent project for a mobile company asked that my colleagues and I capture our opinions on trends- either on the fringe or in the mainstream- that we feel are gaining momentum. What an interesting project. We took a look outwards and made predictions based on what we feel has lasting value from a cultural,  societal and technical perspective.

Would you have considered Facebook to be THE driver of a massive communication change at the end of 2007? Not if you’d looked at the company’s audience of an estimated 50 million users. As 2009 closed out, that number had skyrocketed to 350 million. Now it is ubiquitous with the term “social media.” Whole economies are emerging around it, just like feeder businesses that follow a Walmart store opening (Chili’s, The Olive Garden, etc.). It was perfectly placed to capture a culture shift that was a natural outgrowth of an always connected world.

So what are the emerging trends that will result in new or redefined business verticals? Read on for a few of my predictions…

DIY PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

The idea of Design With Others or Open Source Design is an emerging trend and growing market with huge opportunities for success. The idea-economy is the natural outgrowth of the information economy. We are in an age of democratized industry where an idea can go through the idea to physical product cycle with little cost from the traditional POV.

Example process for a new widget:

1. Design on Google Sketch Up >

2. Generate physical prototype with $1000 3-D printer >

3. Outsource manufacturing using alibaba.com to a factory capable of profiting from low volume runs. >

4. Streamline payments using PayPal to avoid traditional byzantine terms of manufacturing and shipping using letters of credit and bank transfers. >

5. Sales and distribution using product aggregators like foodzie.com, ftmarkets.com and etsy.com. >

The collective intelligence and “can do” spirit of garage tinkers is unleashed on global markets allowing consumers to purchase products that help them feel “special” in a world of ubiquitous homogeneity.

RECOMMENDATION GENOME PROJECT

Pandora-like algorithms have begun and will continue to be the method for navigating the myriad of choices that we are confronted with in a hyper information and communication world.

Recommendation networks will leave no decision  to chance. Just some of the topics these networks will and already address:

– Food

– Finances

– Insurance

– Interpersonal Relationships (Friendship, professional, sex, intellectual, activities, etc.)

– Shopping

– Hobbies

– Music

– Entertainment

This is the rise of mathematics as a way of predicting compatibility with every possible interaction humans make in their personal, professional and community lives. No decision will be left to our own intuition or “sixth sense.” In fact, the ability to have intuition may be a “sense” that is breed out of future generations.”If you like A, then you will like B” will become the method for geo-navigating through life.

The benefits are huge for any mobile company able to truly harness this power. We are in the nascent stages of a quiet revolution that will ultimately speed the consolidation of power in the hands of the elite minority.

Examples:

http://recommender.strands.com/home.php

http://labs.strands.com/

http://scouta.com/

http://www.thefilter.com/

ONLINE LEARNING

We are a culture of options. The perception of inexhaustible possibilities leads to a lack of the general population’s depth of knowledge in any one subject. Generalists will proliferate until a crisis of collapsing social structures (political, education, health care, social security, agriculture, etc.) results in government mandated vocational training.

As a recent example of this darker trending prediction, recall the end of Soviet Communism in ’89-’91 as a precursor to what will occur in other first world societies. During Soviet Russia, a student received vocational training in high school and was expected to achieve a Graduate-level education. This generated intense specialization and, arguably, a more educated society. After the fall of communism and the capitalization of the economy, the education system adopted a liberal arts approach similar to the U.S.. It has had a disastrous effect on the society, which now expects material wealth with decreasing personal investment. In other words, more options with less effort.

The spoils will go to companies that focus on online, time-shifted learning. Over the next five years, expect an explosion in home-based learning programs as our public education system fails. Until the government mandates vocational training, the “Cultural Creatives” and “Learner Tribes” will seek out greater education opportunities through collaborative digital networks.

By the way, what is currently the largest university in the world? Is it Ohio State or the University of Texas- each with 50,000 students? Nope. It’s the University of Phoenix. According to NPR, they have over 400,000 students, the majority of those being online.

SELF-REFERENTIAL MEDIA

The link economy in the short term is a bonanza of opportunity for companies and individuals who can harness “reputation manipulation” in real-time. Over the next 2-3 years personal publishing through blogs and micro blogs will solidify itself as the legitimate information source.

Over the long term, it may be increasingly difficult to find unique and articulated voices in a world that shares the same media messaging mind space. Diversity of opinion may be harder to come by.  “Re-tweet publishing” will lead to continuous self-references within common interest groups generating spiraling circles of news. Cross pollination will eventually decrease as distinction declines resulting in a loss of diversity. The “radical” will, in reality, be much less radical.

The ability to be “special” is fleeting. Warhol’s 15-minutes of fame has been slashed to 15-seconds in a world of hyper-speed PR blitzes and dumbed-down media sound bites. The shelf life of any given media source that labels itself as outside the establishment is painfully short due to dilution of being “it”.

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So there are just a few thoughts on “trends”. More were included in the study that looked at cloud computing, open APIs, micro-transactions, slow foods, personal space, etc… All interesting stuff that I will write about in future posts!

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