Predicting the future

February 22, 2010

The Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association hosted a panel discussion last week on the state of “emerging technologies” and predictions for 2010. “Social marketing, cloud computing, geo-location, oh my” was the first sentence of the official event description, and I assure you, Wednesday morning would have been a great time to play buzzword bingo.

Beyond the buzzwords, though, was one of the more interesting discussions I’ve heard at an event like this. Of course, making accurate predictions is a rough game, but there was still plenty of interesting insight to be found, regardless of whether the forecasting holds true.

Some of the trends the panelists — Kim Garretson, partner at Ovative Group; Alex Hawkinson, founder and CEO of Mural Ventures; Robert Stephens, founder and “Chief Inspector” for the Geek Squad; and Douglas Pollei, VP of Internet strategy and corporate development for IKANO — noted were:

  • Cloud computing: Expect a continued increase in the use applications over the Web rather than having them installed on your computer. Some examples you might be familiar with include the Cision media database or Basecamp project management software.
  • Social discovery: Using your network of friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances to find news and information. Imagine if Google News was powered by your network of Twitter and Facebook friends, or if your Facebook friends were your only way of finding information. Might sound a bit extreme, but it’s slowly starting to happen.
  • Dealing with data overload: As always, the year ahead is going to be full of developers trying to build solutions to help people deal with information overload. It sounds like a familiar refrain. I say, Godspeed, developers.
  • Personalized dashboards: Unless I’m missing something, there’s not much new here. Netvibes, iGoogle and all sorts of other personalized dashboards have been around for a while. Perhaps, again, they’re just predicting more growth in people using these tools.
  • Mobile first or, at least, equal: Developers and content creators will increasingly see mobile as the platform to create for, not some secondary afterthought.

The panel also spoke about automation and technological anticipation. If Web services or mobile phones know what you’re up to and what you might want to do next, that could make your life a lot easier. The Geek Squad’s Stephens made an interesting observation about the difference between services that are “spooky” and those that are “creepy.” Predictive technology should be smart enough to surprise us (spooky) but not so invasive it worries us (creepy).

Garretson suggested a possible service that could easily be considered “spooky” or “creepy,” which hints at an ethical discussion in the near future. He spoke about the idea of “mobile spookiness”: Imagine receiving a text message that says, “We see you’re in aisle 9. May we offer you a 10 percent discount on…”

The quote of the day, though, goes to Stephens. “It’s important, when you can see the future, to remember to back up.” My interpretation: Step back. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Being a visionary or an early adopter doesn’t mean much if you’re so immersed that you can’t bring your colleagues, your clients, your friends along with you.