As the calendar closes on the end of an eventful year, it’s time to pick up the tradition and take a moment to reflect on the major themes that emerged this year in the digital space.
Looking back at 2017’s year in review, it was clear that if we pay too much attention to the news, we can easily fall into a spiral of depression, and 2018 is no exception. Yellow Vests are burning Paris to the ground. Brexit is crashing towards a clean break that will shatter the world financial order. Mass shootings. California on fire. Anything related to Trump…
But zoom in on the digital space and there are a lot of shifting sands that could be taken as a positive or negative depending on your personal slant. The world saw a lot of good in 2018 to counter a lot of the bad. The #MeToo movement eliminated a lot of men who abused their power. Google employees fought back against questionable government military contracts. Microsoft’s longterm approach managed to bring it back to the top of the world’s most valuable companies list.
What’s clear is that we see some trends from 2017 that continued through 2018, and some others that fell flat.
Facebook’s Awful Year
I’ve written about the face plants, the scandals, and the ills that Facebook brought upon themselves and that finally caught up with them. 2017 saw the start of the decline of the usage of Facebook as other social networks like Instagram and Whatsapp took up more time in our lives. But since Facebook owns those networks, it wasn’t bad news for Facebook the company.
2018 was bad news for Facebook the company. Congressional grillings, subpoenas, and bad PR moves exposed the fact that Facebook was no longer on a mission to connect the world as much as dominate it. Zuck & Co. lost huge amounts of respect from the public and if these investigations continue to gather steam, 2018 could mark the beginning of the end in the form of a anti-trust action that could break up the company into smaller parts.
At the end of 2017, the growth chart of Bitcoin looked like this:
Even I thought about reaching for my wallet! I mean look at that potential return!
But, of course, then this happened:
So everyone jumped on the bandwagon, and then everyone jumped off. Lots of amateurs lost a lot of money and what’s clear is that cryptocurrencies are having a hard time establishing themselves for real uses. Initial Coin Offerings were one option for companies to raise money without a formal investor scheme, but as of right now not one company that raised an ICO has done anything other than wage a PR battle for attention and glean profit from each article published that pushes up awareness.
Despite the fact that an increasing number of retailers accept Bitcoin, it is still not a viable alternative to money, and it of course leaves out the fact that real money is an extension of real systems. For the rich, monetary wealth is a measure of influence and power, for the rest of us, money is a measure of our time. Bitcoin is more like playing cards at a huge poker table – it’s a closed system based on artificial scarcity. And no one knows what will happen when the limit is hit and no more Bitcoins can be created.
Blue light glasses will change your life
Working in digital means staring at a screen for most of the day. Our eyes and brains did not evolve to look directly at light emitting objects. We see everything as light reflects off of it. First from sunlight and now from lighting.
Even when we are not working, we are often staring into screens that are emitting super powerful lights directly into our eyes. The total combined screen time per day can be startling, and we don’t even know what effect it has on our long term vision.
One thing is for sure though, blue light gives you headaches, and there is a simple way to eliminate that effect: blue light glasses.
My wife bought me a pair this year and the difference is immediately discernable. Before, after the end of a long day, I found myself squinting and straining with a knot in the front of my forehead. Then I got the glasses and just like that, headaches are gone, no more straining at the end of the day. And it’s not just phones, at the company where I work we have big screen TVs in each meeting room, with the brightness set at its max. We don’t necessarily realize but even when we aren’t attached to our personal screens, there are screens everywhere. We need to eliminate their harmful effects!
Influencers are not all they are hyped up to be
The business opportunity of brands working with influencers to generate content and produce awareness has more or less run its course. Despite rising investment in the space and more and more companies adopting Influencer Marketing, it’s clear that the tactic as it exists today is not a viable business strategy.
I’ve written this year about the peak of influencers already, but it helps to point out the various issues this year, brands suing influencers for not delivering promised content, the purges of fake followers, the annoying prevalence of bots, and declining organic reach that will soon hit influencers just as much as it has hit companies.
Instagram has up until now taken a hands-off approach, accepting no responsibility for the content posted on its platform. But now that influencers are raking in cash, of course Instagram is going to step in to collect on that revenue stream. Soon, maybe as early as mid-2019, we will see a severe drop in organic reach from the biggest influencers. To counter this, brands will have to pay the influencer and the media to drive reach. In that case the influencer no longer makes sense as a partner, since their audience is no longer something they can talk to.
The big takeaway: People are waking up to the realities of technology
The Cambridge Analytica scandal really set off a series of realizations that those pesky privacy policies and terms of conditions actually have an impact on our lives and not in a contractual product sense but on a metaphysical level that contorts our very definition of the self.
Since then there have been reports of massive hacks with hundreds of millions of people’s information splayed across the web as a result. It’s safe to say, if you use a computer or smartphone, your information has been exposed. That reality has gotten people aware that their data actually has value.
The good news is that governments are waking up. The GDPR arrived in Europe to help create protections and structures around our personal infomation. It’s the first major update to address the reality that technology has created since the Internet really took off. It’s particularly important when compared to a recent exposé in The New York Times revealing how technology companies track our every move, and how easy it is to connect that “anonymous” information with you. It’s only a matter of time before that information can be used against us in ways we cannot even anticipate.
So while we steam forward towards the future, 2018 was a time of reckoning for the changes that technology is driving in our society. While we cannot (and should not) fight against progress, we can at least take a more thoughtful approach to the true value trade off of our information for services and social networks. Let’s hope that 2019 sees more focus on analyzing what it is we are doing with technology, and how we can bring back a sense of control to our lives.
Winner of the year: Microsoft
Last year’s winner was Amazon, and for obvious reasons. For half of the year in 2018 I would’ve thought that Amazon would take the crown again. Their whitelabel products represent a huge new chuck of business for the group and their practice of disrupting an industry, undercutting everyone, then making their own products to replace the businesses they killed means that they are slowly on a path of global domination, growing both by adding customers, breaking into new verticals, and then owning more and more of the production and supply chain.
Scary, yes. Impressive, very. Valuable, extremely.
Both Amazon and Apple crossed the threshold of having market capitalizations of over $1 trillion this year, another new milestone to add to their list of achievements. But the recent economic uncertainty in the US has caused a sell off and dip in investor confidence and both of those tech giants slipped back into the 9-digit market caps behind one of the oldest tech companies that exists: Microsoft.
Yes, Microsoft. Surprisingly Microsoft is worth more than both Amazon and Apple at the end of 2018. How is that possible?
We often overlook Microsoft because it’s not new and sexy and is in many ways a B2B company. Windows still powers the lions share of computers, and the Office Suite is standard for anyone working at a medium or large size company. But their consumer products have gotten better, with solid reviews for the Surface Pro, for example.
They also own LinkedIn, arguably the most successful social network, and are leading the push into augmented reality with the Hololens. Their “be boring” approach and just soldiering on in the face of thinking differently has enable their endurance and current status as top dog in the business world.
Never thought I would be talking about Microsoft in 2018 but it’s really their year.