November 21, 2016
The Internet has matured from humble beginnings over the past decade to become a stable substitute for virtually all real-world activities, including banking, commerce, dating and business. But over the past few years, our expectations for the World Wide Web, especially as marketers, seem to have solidified. And while incremental advancements are made on a regular basis (a new ad platform, for example, or another slightly-more-real-time social network), the major breakthroughs seem to have stalled.
But not so fast.
Just as the Internet today has little resemblance to the Internet 10 years ago, I would bet my weight in Bitcoin that the Internet in 10 years will have little resemblance to the Internet today. In fact, digital experts (such as Google’s Ray Kurzweil) are predicting a rate of technological advancement over the next 20 years that will surpass any two-decade span in history. The primary benefactors of this advancement will be industries such as space exploration, health care, renewable energy and transportation, but the Internet itself (and the role websites and social media play in our lives) will surely go through revolutions of their own.
Below are three emerging trends that could change the Internet as we know it, and provide singularity-sized opportunity for entrepreneurs and marketers brave enough to get creative with our digital future.
1. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence is no longer a science fiction fantasy; it’s here. Expected to escalate over the next five years, AI is poised to resemble the electricity revolution of the late 19th Century when hundreds of non-electronic devices (such as tools, lamps, and calculators) were reimagined as electronic products. Similarly, the availability of AI will open the door for technologically enhanced versions of countless everyday objects, including apps and websites.
Algorithm-obsessed companies such as Google and Facebook are unsurprisingly taking the lead. Both are developing AI powered systems that provide real-time machine responses to any conceivable question, much like a personalized search engine that provides direct answers instead of link suggestions. If these chat bots could be made customizable and open source, any brand could utilize a sophisticated AI customer service platform online. Other first generation AI implementation related to brands and marketing could involve scheduling meetings, handling social media accounts, data entry and marketing automation.
2. Virtual Reality
Several platforms (including Oculus Rift, Morpheus and Google Cardboard) have legitimized VR’s potential, and the next step will be integrating these technologies into devices with mainstream adoption, such as television, computers, glasses, etc. Professional practices such as design and user experience will evolve quickly once VR and augmented reality make widespread adoption on Web browsers. The job of the designer and UX specialist will be to imagine worlds and facilitate a user’s journey through them. Gamification has been a theme on websites for years, but with VR the experience of surfing the Web will literally feel like being inside a game. For brands that excel at creating immersive customer experiences, this technology will be a playground to take marketing to new levels.
Startup VR Web browsers already exist, and Firefox and Google are currently experimenting with their own versions. Mainstream adoption still seems to be three to five years away, so businesses are not advised to start investing a lot of money into VR experimentation, but it should be on the radar for both brand managers and designers. A good question to ponder now is “what can my brand/website offer inside somebody’s living room?”
3. Digital Currency
When digital currencies, led by Bitcoin, were introduced around 2010, they were an inexpensive novelty. A single Bitcoin, for example, cost around five cents. Today that same Bitcoin is worth more than $600.
To recap, digital currencies are open source monetary systems that operate without the involvement of banks or government institutions. They are based on scientific mathematical algorithms which inflate and deflate value automatically following behavioral changes from users. Bitcoin (currently a $7 billion market) was originally met with skepticism around security and scalability, but these concerns have largely been put to rest. Instability, however, is still a problem. The cost of Bitcoin is prone to wide fluctuations as users debate over the platform’s potential. Still, digital currencies show no signs of atrophy.
The list of websites that accept Bitcoin as payment is growing every day, and already includes household names such as Microsoft, WordPress, OkCupid, Expedia, Tesla, and Whole Foods. Because of its highly encrypted nature, Bitcoin is especially worth considering for businesses where privacy is a major concern.
But digital currency provides more opportunity than only buying and selling. Steem, the third leading digital currency, offers social integration on its content network Steemit. When users posts on Steemit, they are rewarded with a small amount of Steem currency. The more popular the post becomes, the more currency the user receives. This idea suggests all sorts of potential around the intersection of rewards and user-generated content.
James McCrae is a director of brand strategy at Blue Fountain Media and author of Sh#t Your Ego Says. He works with brands to provide creative solutions to business challenges and turn imagination into results. He lives in New York City.