I was recently asked to cast an eye upon the web and make a few comments on what I see coming up soon. Of course, any decent star gazing activity should be accompanied by some up front historical context and grounding. Lets begin.

2006 was the year when UGC and virals really came to the fore, created by a few and watched by many. This has since been absorbed into our routine understanding of the internet although the buzzword ‘viral’ does still continue to crop up. Definitely read ‘All Virals are Black Swans‘ by Jerome Courtial on Knitware for a quick reality check and then wade in on ‘Are Marketers hiding behind UGC?‘ asked out aloud by Martyn Perks on Netimperative for some good insight and a quick recap.

2007 was the year of Social Networking, and social networking as we know it has not at all passed and probably won’t, but instead will become more integrated into the finer parts of our day to day communications and interactions in the contexts of our personal lives, our businesses and our passions (politics, sports, gaming, fashion ..).

There will still be strong milage in social networks, as mobile platforms open up a new dimension with peer comms/interactions more available to us on the go, exposing us to valued and trusted opinion from friends or personalities of authority that will influence our decisions to buy, to participate in events, to socialise and influence how we benefit from these connections.

There is also strong milage in the 3D aspects of social networking, which has dipped below public media awareness for the time being (ref: Second Life et al), but will definitely re-emerge when technology catches up, delivering social networks in 3D through the web as a delivery network, established as a game/platform, but experienced with devices such as digital mirrors in our homes/bedrooms, goggles and in the coming years holographics. Holographics will also greatly expand the potential use of miniature mobile devices that will project displays onto surfaces and into 3D space. All of this continues to hold strong ties to social networking.

Specific mentions of MySpace, Facebook and their competition, most of these platforms are maturing into strong media partners that harvest eye-balls and personal data for the benefit of brands and businesses selling product. This is becoming the business model, but should never be confused with the reasons why people use the networks in the first place. They should tread with care and remember where they come from, or else they will most definitely be surpassed by new networks. It is easy to see the necessary lure of business success that is offered by entertainment brands, music labels and broadcasters who themselves are required to find new ways to get their product to paying consumers.

2007 was also the year of Social Network Apps, widgets and hacks. In many ways their visual identities have become clichéd with aqua-esk bubbling interfaces that call out for the user’s attention consistently, bearing a likeness to becoming unwanted and passé. App-spam is in part to blame (ref: Facebook) with close resemblance to email spam and pop-up alerts that are more appropriate to the nether realms of the darker internet. These apps essentially provide novel interfaces that act to display dynamic information feeds that are personal and of interest to a single user. Social network apps go farther to provide awareness of peers, their activities and interests and move to add depth to the experience of online social networking. (ask me more about a breakdown of apps usage)

Here today
2008 is definitely a year of the mobile platform. We’re seeing the emergence of smartphones with touch screens beginning to surpass other traditional handheld phones and take the headlines. We keep these devices with us almost 24/7 along with our keys and money, and technology has now reached a point in delivering communications services, entertainment, business productivity and the internet through these miniature consoles and tailored all the time to us as a single user.

Apple has been taking most of the headlines, while the Google Android platform shows strong promise. Every other vendor is getting into this as well. An extremely significant change is in the way we use the devices, no longer just through a limited vendor locked interface, but rather more akin to the free-agent nature of our wireless, deskless personal computers, open to running any software we choose, fulfilling our needs on an almost limitless scale of applicability. Essential, its the emergence of the mobile device as an open platform for applications that will set it free. This is it’s year. Be sure to read what David Armano, VP of Experience Design at Critical Mass has to say on the subject.

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