The Next Extinction Event for the Web Is Coming
Channeling the power of Nostradamus to predict the doom for internet companies that don't get ready for the major changes coming over the next few years.
Attempting to predict the future is for the brave and the foolish, so you can be the judge as to which I am as I tell you what I reckon is coming in the next year or so.
I’m using the term “extinction event” to refer to a period of time where the rate of change in technology (and subsequently user behaviour and expectation) changes so fast that many major sites and services are unable to adapt in time and subsequently die off.
I would argue the last time this happened was around 2006/7. This is what occurred:
Things kicked off. Myspace and Bebo were the biggest social networking sites at the time but their growth plateaued. Facebook passed 12m users which was far below those two rivals but their rate of growth was unprecedented. They turned down an offer from Yahoo to buy them for $1bn, which many considered a crazy valuation. Their market cap is now $249bn. Twitter was founded and their rate of growth took them to Myspace levels in 3 years.
Haven’t heard that for a while, eh? That phrase was everywhere in 2006/7. It meant, of course that web technology then allowed everyday users to create content and publish it online. And my word, do we now.
I don’t need to explain to you how much this changed things. Smartphones and the mobile web have probably had more influence over the internet than anything else in recent years. The rollout of 3G was a major enabler at this time too.
YouTube grew rapidly and was bought by Google at the end of 2006. I think we can all agree that it, and video in general are kind of a big deal online these days.
Looking back, it’s slightly surprising to see that so many of the fundamental building blocks of today’s web all emerged in that short period. These things radically changed user behaviour and expectations. New interfaces were needed to work with them and new habits were formed by users. Companies had about a couple of years to recognise the changes going on and adapt or die. Many didn’t. The giants of the day: Myspace, Bebo, Yahoo and Microsoft all got eclipsed by Facebook, Google and Apple who all rose to even bigger heights. The old guard were caught out and those that didn’t adapt, got in trouble.
I would argue that a comparable event is underway now. There are three major technological changes coming. Each has a huge amount of investment, backing and interest from major companies.
The first VR sets will go on sale this year and Facebook’s Oculus will go on sale in the first quarter of next year. It’s not just about games. In fact, games may have a harder job than other sectors to create superior experiences to existing console offerings. VR is going to revolutionise many aspects of our lives. Placing VR cameras in theatres, sports stadia, holiday locations, social occasions or anywhere of interest will enable anyone with a headset to feel like they’re there. It’s going to be popular. But how will this change the web? No one can predict all the ways it will affect us but I believe it will make voice commands and gesture recognition de facto standards for navigating the web. It’s going to be a major industry.
This is similar to VR but perhaps even more accessible. AR headsets and glasses work by overlaying an interface onto a user’s normal field of vision. This can be something as simple as a dashboard of information through to an entire landscape with moving objects that can be interacted with. Again, voice and gesture recognition are primary control methods. It’s possible to imagine AR wearables becoming very mainstream in just a year or so, once the equipment becomes less conspicuous.
The Internet of Things
This is already well under way but hasn’t hit the general public’s collective conscience yet. I’m not sure it will, or even needs to. All the hype about it remains within the bounds of the industry and their attempts to engage the public involve stories of toothbrushes that tell you when to change their head or fridges that order milk. Nevertheless, I’m convinced it will change things and lifestyles will change as a result. The tracking and operation of possessions via the internet is already happening as well as the ability to see the data produced by them. These are fast becoming basic user expectations. I feel the phrase “Internet of Things” will go the way of “Web 2.0” and become taken for granted that this is just how things work now.
So these all represent major shifts, technology, user behaviour and user expectation. They are all arriving within a year of each other, just like in 2006/7. As a result, I think we’ll see another extinction event. Companies that haven’t prepared for this change are going to struggle.
Perhaps learning from the past, companies like Google and Apple have already made preparations for voice commands and gesture recognition. It could be that the real value of the failed Google Glass product lies in the provision of vital experience for Google in working with AR interfaces. If anything could threaten Google’s dominance, it would be a new mainstream web interface that Google Search doesn’t work intuitively with. But even in this, they are already ahead of their competitors. Microsoft has bet big on AR with their Hololens technology and are looking confident. Facebook has bought Oculus and are ready. Then we have a host of new names and products waiting in the wings: Magic Leap, Steam VR by Valve, Blippar, Meta, and then there’s the new generation of apps that will sit on these wonderful devices. It’s going to be a fascinating few years ahead.
Nathan Jones is a Digital Marketing professional working for the full service digital marketing agency The Big Group. If you enjoyed this blog, there are many others you can read on our website.