The Britton Digital Update—Week of January 2, 2017

Five minutes to get you up to speed on this week’s digital, business, social media, entertainment, and marketing news

Annually, there are two occasions when we try to predict the future: New Year’s Day and Groundhog Day. Sure, we guess how my Cubbies will do at the start of baseball season or how many games the Cleveland Browns will lose in a season, but when it comes to predicting what happens in the near future, it’s between us and Punxsutawney Phil. Since we’re not ready to see our shadow or to decide whether winter or spring is on its way, let’s stick to something we do know: digital. While it seems like a cliché to kick off the year with predictions, it is also important to understand what is coming so that you can build your business and marketing around future opportunities. Here’s what’s headed our way in digital in 2017.

AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Expect Google Home, Amazon Echo (or Echo Dot), and other home-assistant devices to become more mainstream in 2017. Amazon sold nine times the devices this past Christmas than the year prior, which will help the online retail giant enormously. Amazon has removed the barriers to ordering everyday items. It’s now as simple as asking your home assistant to do it. Plus, unless Google builds warehouses and a supply chain, only Amazon is there to fulfill that order.

One benefit of the growth of this category of devices is that it will also encourage the use of smart appliances and moving toward a connected home. Of course, it will take a few years to reach a significant threshold of homes. However, in 2017, we should start to see more connected televisions and lights (“Alexa, turn on the hallway lights”). It will take significantly longer for things like refrigerators, etc., to become more mainstream. Security needs to be proven in the home, too. Will someone hack your fridge and start pouring out ice cubes from the ice maker? Will they be able to burn your coffee from your smart coffee maker? Now that is scary (and the coffee part, pure evil). There will probably be some sort of malicious attack that scares people off a bit in 2017, but this will continue to grow by leaps and bounds this year.

I don’t believe Apple will release a home-assistant device, as the company has said it believes your phone is that device. I do, however, have another prediction for 2017, in regard to AI and Apple: Siri will become relevant again. Apple has opened up Siri development and will make that part of the next iPhone release, along with new skills, like Alexa and Google Assistant. This will also help to expand the use of Apple Pay and online merchants, as it will become too easy not to use.

The Rise of Chatbots

Bots have been used for years, but this year, in particular, expect to see incredible growth in this market. Customer service is becoming increasingly important again (millennials value customer service and have a low tolerance for errors), and companies understand that they need to be in your neighborhood, er, preferred channels (as in Facebook and Messenger, Twitter, maybe even Snapchat).

The good news is that it will be easier to get your complaints heard and receive a quick response. The bad news is that it will be automated by chatbots. Every major retailer will have a chat bot by the end of 2017. This is a priority for them. Some tasks are easy to automate, like “pay my bill.” But others require a certain amount of care and compassion that I worry will be missing. Remember how frustrated you were in automated-phone-customer-service hell? Will this be any better? The hope is that with predictive artificial intelligence the answer is yes, because the responses will be personalized and improve over time with machine learning.

Social Media in 2017

In 2017, expect existing successful platforms to continue to swallow up smaller emerging companies. Snapchat is partnering with Prisma. Facebook is copying anything Snapchat does. This strategy—buying smaller companies and incorporating their technology before they become big enough to become real competitors—seems to be working. It will become increasingly harder for new networks to emerge, so growth is more likely among current platforms. Since most of Instagram’s users are outside the United States, expect big growth in 2017. As big as Instagram—which Facebook purchased—is, it really is just the tip of the iceberg. Expect Snapchat to continue to expand to older demographics. Twitter and LinkedIn have huge opportunities if they can improve user experience, but perhaps some of the biggest growth in 2017 will come from messaging apps.

Both Messenger and WhatsApp are owned by Facebook, but both will take off to new heights (could Messenger catch up to Facebook?). Why will this happen? In-app apps are one reason. It gives the app the ability to become more productive without leaving the app (plus, you see more ads that way). Think of it as Facebook adding what are now basic features, like video, etc., at its very beginning. Now, there isn’t a reason to go anywhere else. With their ability to reach not only the inner circle with whom you communicate most frequently but also the brands with which you want to communicate, messaging apps are poised for a big year.

Facebook will try to appease the fake-news haters in 2017. My guess is that it gets worse before it gets better. The same goes for ad fraud, which Facebook needs to get a better handle on. After all, trolls and spam are one of the biggest downfalls of Twitter, which didn’t resolve this issue and is still on life support. I predict that Twitter survives this year, but 2018 is a bit cloudy.

Social media influencers will continue to play a huge role in marketing. Fake news is a big reason for this. Who do we trust anymore? Brands are telling us what we want to hear, but those influencers that we follow for their authenticity and integrity will “tell it like it is” through influencer content marketing—or at least they will tell us what they are getting paid to say it is. Eventually this becomes overplayed, so we can’t trust anyone but our friends anyway. But in 2017, influencers will continue to become very valuable to brands.

Autonomous Cars

We see them all over the news. They make some of us excited and others nervous. We won’t be driving them in 2017 (although it is possible to be a passenger in one thanks to Uber and Lyft testing these vehicles). However, this will be the year that regulations get figured out. This is an important step forward. As for driving them? Maybe in 2020, but more likely in 2025.

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality will see big gains in 2017, but don’t expect it to be mainstream (as in, you won’t see your grandma buying one yet). This year, expect virtual reality to take off with the gaming community. Video-game creators will release some well-known titles that will actually put players “inside the game.” It will be a whole new level of entertainment and will be enough to get gamers to spend the cash. Media companies will want in on that action, too, so expect more movies and live sports to be viewed in virtual reality. It’s a small step toward us all sitting in a virtual Facebook chatroom—like Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated—which could even get released this year (but it won’t be mainstream).

Augmented reality took a step forward with Pokémon GO and Snapchat Spectacles in 2016. This could be a big year for augmented reality, as it very well could become a standard smartphone-camera feature (Apple is a big believer in AR). This means that more games and apps could integrate AR into our lives. Some retailers, like IKEA, are doing this now with their furniture apps, and some fashion brands are already doing this with clothes or makeup.

Only time will tell whether these predictions are realized, but for the record, even meteorologists keep their jobs when only about a third of their predictions actually come true—and no one has fired that groundhog yet. If it is current digital news you desire (much easier to predict), we haven’t forgotten about you. Here are some additional stories from the past week that you may have missed.

If you liked this, check out our previous Digital Update posts or the Digital Update on Flipboard.

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Photos: BMDG

Dave Goode

Dave Goode

My name is Dave B. Goode (yes, it is my real name). If it sounds like a radio name, it is—well, it was. I had a 22-year radio-broadcasting career as a brand manager and morning-show host. I’m an amateur photographer. I love to cook. I am obsessed with social media. I have come to the realization that Chia Pet seeds do not work on a human head and that it is OK to be bald.

Meet Dave Goode