And the winner is…

Trophy

There have been hundreds of articles covering ‘predictions’ for 2011, most of them listing 10 or 20 ‘big’ topics. That’s a lot, so I’m going to try and make it a little easier on you and just talk about one thing.

“And the winner of the award for Breakthrough Service of 2011 is…” *hushed silence*

“…the company that can simplify the mass of stuff that is my online life!” *applause and tearful acceptance speech*

As I’ve covered before, the way that people use the internet evolves over time. This includes the type of information we transfer over the internet, the type of activities we do on the internet, and the way we access the internet. And the upshot of these changes?

Chaos.

I’ll stand up as an example. I’ve got Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Skype, Live Messenger, Google Talk, Mozilla Weave, Online banking (sorry, no specifics on that one) and other services. I’ve also got RSS feeds, work email, and the whole plethora of other sites that I use on a less regular basis. It takes a lot of tracking. Of course, for different people, the amount of their life spent online will vary, but, over time, I think we can be fairly certain that it will grow as the internet becomes more engrained in all walks of life.

There is a massive opportunity awaiting the company that can create order from this chaos.

The process of pulling these individual services together into a more meaningful and useful form is convergence. Convergence happens naturally in all industries as products or services mature towards a de facto standard, but the rate of innovation on the internet is so rapid that we are seeing very little of this.

How does this get resolved?

The key to addressing the issue lies in two areas: filtering and semantics.

  1. Filters provide the means to sort the important information from the unimportant, reducing the amount of information we are receiving. This will include social links (am I connected the sender in some way), past interactions (is this source of information one that I regularly communicate with), previous behaviour (do I tend to consume information from this source), amongst others.
  2. Semantics will allow automated systems to understand the relationship between items of data – messages, tweets, articles and others – so that they can be effectively categorised. Bundling information in this way will allow us to navigate the complex set of information more easily, and prioritise individual information sets. (There’s also a big opportunity to use this to understand the more serendipitous relationships between the information we acquire, but that’s another subject in itself)

A consumer-focused system that can successfully do this, that can sort the signals from the noise, make order out of chaos, will find themselves a real niche in the technology market and acquired before they can click their fingers.

Who is doing it now?

Not many. And where they are it’s only first steps, combining data types are very closely related already; in a previous post – Making sense of it all – I looked at a few examples of where this is being attempted in the messaging space, including Facebook Messages. Outside of this, there are only the content aggregators. Sites that collect information, but don’t apply any intelligence to the content they process.

FriendFeed was one of the more successful content aggregators, but the issue is that it simply collects into information a single place.  Although this saves me time – I don’t have to visit as many sites – it just creates a bigger pile of information to deal with.

It is the next generation of this type of service that will really change the way that we deal with information.

Where does the next generation service come from?

The usual suspects are lining up; both Facebook and Google have the required building blocks:

  1. Huge audiences for their products
  2. Massive reach – through OpenID and OpenGraph – into 3rd party information streams

Personally, I think Google has the slight advantage at the moment, due to their IP around search and there algorithmic culture, but the ongoing brain drain to Facebook will hinder this. Facebook also has the advantage of thinking more socially; it’s their core business and everything they do has that at its centre. Google doesn’t do this instinctively, and is still catching up.

But you never know, maybe a start-up will come along and be the next big thing? I hope so, and soon.

Right, back to sorting out my emails.

[…] would like to use your current location

If you have an iPhone, you’ll have seen this message plenty of times. If not, well, you have probably answered without even knowing.

Location-based services are set to be the next ‘Big Thing’. FourSquare is setting pulses racing, Twitter knows where you are tweeting from, and Facebook is set to launch ‘Places’. But why the big fuss, and what does it mean for marketers?

In a way, we should have foreseen this, the world can only become so globalised; at some point it would have to bounce back the other way. We’re now seeing that bounce, and it’s in the form of localised information. Having pushed information to the biggest audience possible, service providers are now trying to increase the relevance of the information they provide by understanding you and the people that surround you.

Let’s look at the three players:

FourSquare – Takes a much more relaxed and game-like approach to using location, users are awarded ‘achievements’ as they use the service. You can earn everything from the ‘Newbie’ badge to the title of ‘Mayor’. Already they are seeing success with advertisers, with Starbucks offering discounts on coffee to the ‘Mayors’ of their stores.

Twitter – I think we all know Twitter very well. But did you know Twitter stores the location from which each of your Tweets emanates? At the moment it’s used to create local trend information (see Trendsmap for a great example), but as Twitter seeks to monetize itself effectively, location-based advertising will follow.

Places – Facebook has been talking about location-based services since 2007, but has put off until now. Why? Well, apart from the fact that there is now competition from the likes of Foursquare – their patchy record over privacy has led them to be cautious. Facebook has now reached a point where its hand has been forced; if it wants to keep up the pressure on Google, Facebook have to stay current. Places will open a host of opportunities for them to generate revenue from location-based advertising, with communities growing around specific places. A spokesperson for Facebook said: “There are currently no plans to add marketing partners to this product. We may consider working with marketers to enhance the experience in the future, but have no plans to do so at launch,” At launch… expect this to be available to marketers very soon.

And what of Google? Covered by Techcrunch’s Eric Schonfeld on the 16th April, Google has made updates to its ‘Google Suggest’ feature that tailors search results to your location – not just your country, but your city. In collaboration with a December update to personalised search we’re now in a situation where we can’t take search results for granted, and with it our efforts at SEO and targeted marketing (unless of course we use Google Adwords!)

So, what does this mean for marketers?

These services come with a fair share of concerns, the top of which is privacy. Why should you share your location with these service providers? But the value proposition attached to them is powerful and may hold sway over users in the long run.

The world is moving towards a more mobile-based digital experience where location-based services will become the norm, and the ability to leverage these to create a better or more intimate user experience will pay dividends; whether that is through timelier message delivery, the creation of local communities, or something as simple as customised promotions for individual retail stores.

Preparing now for these changes will stand Marketers in good stead, because as the big guns of the information world come on board everything will start to accelerate. With the ability now here to provide highly targeted advertising and promotions, we must be aware of these possibilities.

Next time… the rise of the robot…