Guest Post By Kaila Krayewski
Now that we’re well into 2018, the annual landscape forecasts are becoming clearer. Though the Bitcoin crash was predicted by some, it was a shock to many, and experts are clamouring to give their predictions on whether the cryptocurrency is set to rise from the ashes or tumble into utter inexistence. Similarly, the social media tide is turning and – many would argue – not for the better. New rules, algorithm changes, and a steady stream of paid advertising are only a small taste of what’s likely to come, with government regulations that could forever change your newsfeed looming. Let’s dive in to what we have identified as the top five tech trends to look out for in 2018.
1. Social media algorithms are a’changin (250)
You may not have noticed it because the change happened over such a long period, but your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter newsfeeds look a heck of a lot different than they did this time last year. It’s not so much about appearances – it’s about the algorithms behind them. Instagram and Twitter both introduced algorithms that prioritised content either more tailored to user actions or based on the high amount of engagement it received, as opposed to prior, when content came up as it was rolled out. Facebook, in the meantime, made changes that were far less obvious, but possibly far more impactful. Did you know, for example, that the social network started prioritising posts with more ‘reactions’ than ‘likes’ in March 2017? And that it started rewarding faster-loading sites and demoting low-quality sites between May and August? And while algorithms were originally created to show us content that is tailored to what we like, making our social media experience more fulfilling (and, by proxy, more addictive), the ability of these social networks to so easily manipulate algorithms is also a bit scary. What happens if (and some would say when) governments start regulating our newsfeeds? After all, it’s already said to have happened with the alleged Russian interference in the US election, said to have been bribed with payments to Facebook in Russian roubles.
That’s not all – the rise of disposable content, inaugurated by Snapchat and quickly copied by Instagram, followed by Facebook, and now even Youtube has a similar product in its “reels” – is changing the way we interact with the online world. This one-night-stand form of media consumption is on the rise, and we expect it to grow and develop even further in 2018. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, and brands and social networks are having to adapt accordingly.
2. Rise of augmented reality
You’d better get used to the idea of augmented reality, or AR, because it’s probably going to be everywhere by the end of this year. Though everyone remembers their first encounter with AR – most in the form of Pokemon Go – they may have thought it was a flash in the pan. Newsflash: it’s not going anywhere, and if anything, it’s massively on the rise. Not looking forward to browsing through that boring museum tour? The BBC is launching an AR app that will allow users to view and explore artefacts virtually through their phone. So you may not be able to open up that sarcophagus (particularly with security guards and “do not touch” signs everywhere), but you can point your phone camera at it and check out what lies beneath. And that’s pretty cool. Redecorating? Ikea now allows you to to see what that new sofa will look like inside your living room with the click of your mouse; all you have to do is upload a photo of your space and drag and drop your desired piece of furniture.
3. A whole new meaning to word-of-mouth
Google reports that around 20 percent of searches are vocal at the moment. And with voice recognition software becoming increasingly sophisticated, it’s predicted that 50 percent of Google searches will be spoken, rather than typed, by 2020. The rise of voice assistants, ushered in by Siri and evolving into home pods like the Amazon Echo; though Google’s home product actually scored best according to an analysis by Stone Temple. It’s not surprising that voice technology is getting lots of attention, considering the average human can speak 150 words a minute, and only types around 40 on a mobile (that statistic drastically lowering with the increasing age of the individual, it would seem!). This move from fingers and thumb interactions towards more intuitive ways of engaging and conversing is likely to lead to some major transformations in communication in 2018.
4. Amazon: can you feel the jungle encroaching?
The megalithic online shopping portal may be miles behind Facebook and Google in terms of revenue, but that could be changing. Amazon’s ad sales have been shown to be its fastest-growing revenue, and if the trend continues, it may not be long until the company catches up with the “digital duopoly” likes of Facebook and Google. Amazon is the fourth most-visited site in the US, and experts say that its continued growth is down to its impressively sophisticated customer journey (or customer sales/ retention funnel) that neither Facebook nor Google can compete with. This could be the engine that steamrolls it ahead of other sites. Of course, given the headstart that Google and Facebook have had in capturing a huge majority of web traffic and, as such, a huge portion of the global market, it may be far beyond the likes of 2018 that Amazon manages to catch up (if it ever does).
5. The Crash of the Cryptos
Of course, one of the biggest surprises of 2018 has been the steep decline in the worth of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. This could be due to many reasons – some say that it’s bureaucratic involvement (since the underlying technology behind blockchain and cryptocurrencies can be massively disruptive to states, banks, and other official institutions that are not normally open to change). Others are simply saying ‘I told you so’. It’s no doubt that government involvement has had an effect on the crypto market: China banned ICOs and crypto trading, as did South Korea – though trading is only banned for anonymous users there, while Japan has brought in licensing laws for crypto exchanges. Furthermore, under current US law, no federal agency has the authority to force cryptocurrency exchanges to register with the government, report transactions, or do anything, really. This poses a threat to securities officials, who report that ICOs have raised more than $4 billion USD, yet not one has registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Not one.
Meanwhile, Bitcoin recently hit its lowest low since mid-November, dropping below the $6,000 USD mark. Many are calling this a market correction, but if that’s what it is, it’s taking far longer to correct than most of these optimists (likely with plenty invested in the coin) expected. Bitcoin’s astronomical rise in late 2017 did seem almost too good to be true, and some are predicting another massive growth after February of this year, which could even surpass that of 2017. Whether it crashes and burns, or reaches the $50,000 USD to $100,000 USD mark that many experts are predicting by the end of 2018, remains to be seen, but this is certainly a market to watch very, very closely this year.