First Published: Mass High Tech: The Journal of New England Technology – March 2, 2007.
If In our broadband-fueled, socially networked world, trends matter more than ever. Some come and go like the tides, while others fundamentally change the way business and culture behave forever. If you’re still wondering what will catch hold this year — and if you’re still wondering whether Web 2.0 really is just a trend — you’re not alone. This week we are going to discuss the emerging consumer trends to watch this year.
But before we begin, let’s take a quick glance at what has already passed. Many of the trends we witnessed in 2006, for example, were about improving an existing service or product. Companies are increasingly looking to find ways to make things easy. Web innovations and reductions in startup costs have made it possible to aggregate and display information in ways that are simpler and smarter.
“Instead of trying to create a new website, why not just find a crappy website that’s doing an awful job of executing a good idea? There is no lack of opportunities to choose from!” Wil Schroter, founder and CEO of Go BIG Network, writes on his blog.
This reinventing trend is nothing new, but it’s gaining popularity among entrepreneurs as an inexpensive way to attack a proven market. We foresee more and more of this happening in 2007 — with a lot of false positives being left behind.
One concern I have is the lack of independent thought that is associated with trends. In a recent New York Times article discussing web applications, the journalist claimed that web applications “in theory, can match anything we see on desktop computers and then do them one better.” Although it’s exciting to see alternatives to the monopolistic stranglehold that big brands have, we’re still a few steps away from a perfect web application to replace your office suite. In all the trends we discuss, I remind you to sprinkle a little salt on the ideas to ensure we don’t all become a product of groupthink.
Expanding to Young and Old
I happen to be an avid watcher of the Science and National Geographic channels on cable. As I’m bombarded with baby-boomer-focused ads, I wonder if I’m watching the wrong channels (I’m 36 years old) or if the media planners have screwed up again. The truth is probably close to the notion that as baby boomers form a bigger portion of premier media consumers, we’ll start to see more ads aimed at that audience. This is true of the web properties too. Robert Glazer of Acceleration Partners in Newton calls this older web market the “Geriaweb.” We think that in the next 12 months, we’ll be seeing more sites like Jeff Taylor’s Eons and Tom Gerace’s Gather Inc.
If you’ve got kids, you’ve also noticed they now spend as much time online as they used to spend watching TV. In fact, they now watch TV online. This year we’ll see many of the youth brands playing catch-up to social-networking trends with their own social communities.
More Widgets and Snippets
Making your web product more distributable across the billions of websites, blogs and wikis will require you to be very transferable. “I’d suggest that an upcoming trend in 2007 is the proliferation of web widgets and badges — small snippets of code that people cut and paste everywhere on the web — from their start pages, to their social networking profile page, to their blog, all the way to their desktop,” says Dave Beisel of Boston-based Masthead Venture Partners. Some widgets contain simple but useful functionality (like media players, weather information, or RSS feeds), while some communicate something about users themselves (like a photo stream, product wish lists, or brand affiliation).
More RSS and Access
Here’s one trend I expect for 2007, with consumers getting an increasing volume of information online, through both mainstream media sources and the blogosphere, there will be an increase in the use of RSS.
“This will be further fueled by the release of Windows Vista, which includes RSS as part of the core software. Users may not even know they’re using RSS, but will start consuming syndicated feeds to keep up with websites of interest,” adds Dharmesh Shah, CEO of HubSpot.
Other trends we are pretty sure you can expect to see more of: more video sites, more free trials for web applications, and a lot more integration among web tools. In fact, I think the terms “API,” “RSS” and “XML” will become synonymous with any new web development. Any web project needs to talk to the partners, customer, blogs and websites that are buzzing in all of our ears.