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My Predictions for 2018

4 January, by jbat[ —]

The post My Predictions for 2018 appeared first on John Battelles Search Blog.

(cross posted from NewCo Shift)

So many predictions from so many smart people these days. When I started doing these posts fifteen years ago, prognostication wasn’t much in the air. But a host of way-smarter-than-me folks are doing it now, and I have to admit I read them all before I sat down to do my own. So in advance, thanks to Fred, to Azeem, to Scott, and Alexis, among many others.

So let’s get into it. Regular readers know that while I think about these predictions in the back of my mind for months, I usually just sit down and write them at one sitting. That’s what happened a year ago, when I predicted that 2017 would see the tech industry lose its charmed status. It certainly did, and nearly everyone is predicting more of the same for 2018. So I won’t focus on the entire industry this year, as much as on specific companies and trends. Here we go….

  1. Crypto/blockchain dies as a major story this year. I know, this is a silly thing to say given all the hype right now. But the Silicon Valley hype cycle is a pretty predictable thing, and while new currencies will continue to rise, fall, and make and lose tons of money, the overall narrative thrives on the new, and there’s simply too much real-but-boring work to be done right now in the space. Does anyone remember 1994? Sure, it’s the year the Mozilla team decamped from Illinois to the Valley, but it’s not the year the Web broke out as a mainstream story. That came a few years later. 2018 is a year of hard work on the problems that have kept blockchain from becoming what most of us believe it can truly become. And that kind of work doesn’t keep the public engaged all year long. Besides, everyone will be focused on much larger issues like…
  2. Donald Trump blows up. 2018 is the year it all goes down, and when it does, it will happen quickly (in terms of its inevitability) and painfully slowly (in terms of it actually resolving). This of course is a terrible thing to predict for our country, but we got ourselves into this mess, and we’ll have to get ourselves out of it. It will be the defining story of the year.
  3. Facts make a comeback. This has something to do with Trump’s failure, of course, but I think 2018 is the year the Enlightenment makes a robust return to the national conversation. Liberals will finally figure out that it’s utterly stupid to blame the “other side” for our nation’s troubles. Several viral memes will break out throughout the year focused on a core narrative of truth and fact. The 2018 elections will prove that our public is not rotten or corrupt, but merely susceptible to the same fever dreams we’ve always been susceptible to, and the fever always breaks. A rising tide of technology-driven engagement will help drive all of this. Yes, this is utterly optimistic. And yes, I can’t help being that way.
  4. Tech stocks overall have a sideways year. That doesn’t meant they don’t rise like crazy early (already happening!), but that by year’s end, all the year in review stock pieces will note that tech didn’t drive the markets in the way they have over the past few years. This is because the Big Four have some troubles this coming year….
  5. Amazon becomes a target. Amazon is the most overscrutinized yet still misunderstood company in all of tech. For years it’s built a muscular and opaque platform, and in 2017 it benefitted from the fact that, so far anyway, Russians haven’t found a way to use e-commerce to disrupt western democracy. Yes, Trump seems to have a bug up his bum about the company, but his tweets last year seemed to only increase Amazon’s teflon reputation with the rest of society. In 2018, however, things will change for the worse. The company is smart enough to keep hiding its power — it hasn’t accumulated the cash of its GAFA rivals, nor does it play (as much) in the high profile worlds of media and politics. But by 2018, the company will find itself painted into something of a box. Last year I thought the fear of automation and job losses would dominate the political discussion, but Russia managed to eclipse those concerns. This is the year Amazon becomes the poster child for future shock. In particular, I expect the company’s “Flex” business to come under serious scrutiny. And what it’s doing with in house brands is the equivalent of Google giving preference to its own products in search results (that hasn’t worked out so well in Europe). Further tarnishing its image will be its lack of leadership on social issues — Jeff Bezos is no Tim Cook when it comes to empathy. By year’s end, Amazon’s reputation will be in jeopardy. Then again, I do think the company will be nimbler than most in responding to that threat.
  6. Google/Alphabet will have a terrible first half (reputation wise), but recover after that. Why a terrible first half? Well, I agree with Scott, there’s another shoe to drop in the whole Schmidt story, not to mention more EU fines and fake news fallout, and that will kick off a soul-searching first half for the search giant. The company will find itself flat-footed and in need of some traditional corporate revival tactics — ever since Page stepped back into the obscurity of Alphabet, the company has lacked a compelling overarching narrative. I’m not sure how the company recovers its mojo, but it could be by pushing deeper into a strategy of letting its children grow up outside the Alphabet conglomerate structure. Perhaps not a government driven breakup, per se, but a series of spin outs, led by Sundar Pichai (Google), Susan Wojcicki (YouTube), and perhaps a new spinout around Doubleclick/Adtech, possibly run by Neal Mohan. Alphabet will remain as a holding company with stakes in all these newly (or soon to be newly) public companies, as well as a place that incubates new ventures and figures out what the hell to do with Nest.
  7. Facebook. Ah, what to say about Facebook. Well, let’s just say the company muddles through a slog of a year, with a lot of rearguard work politically, even as it starts to dawn on the world that maybe, just maybe, every advertiser in the world doesn’t want to be handcuffed to the company’s toxic engagement model. Of course, with YouTube in particular, Google has this issue as well, so here’s my Facebook prediction, which is more of an ad industry prediction: The Duopoly falls out of favor. No, this doesn’t mean year-on-year declines in revenue, but it does mean a falloff in year-on-year growth, and by the end of 2018, a increasingly vocal contingent of influencers inside the advertising world will speak out against the companies (they’re already speaking to me privately about it). One or two of them will publicly cut their spending and move it to other places, like programmatic (which will have a sideways year more than likely) and places like….
  8. Pinterest breaks out. This one might prove my biggest whiff, or my biggest “nailed it,” hard to say. But for more, see my piece from earlier in the weekAdvertisers will find comfort in Pinterest’s relatively uncontroversial model, and its increasingly good results. The big question is whether Pinterest can both scale its inventory in a predictable and contextual way, and whether it can make its self service/API-based platform super simple to use. Oh, and of course continue to attract a growing user base. Early signs are that it’s doing all three.
  9. Autonomous vehicles do not become mainstream. I’ve said it before, I’m saying it again: This shit is complicated, and we’re not even close to ready. We’ll see a lot of cool pilots, and maybe even one (probably small) city will vote to let them run amuck. But I just don’t see it happening this year. However, I do think 2018 will be the year that electric vehicles are accepted as inevitable.
  10. Business leads. Business doesn’t change by fiat, it changes through the slow uptake of new social norms. And a crucial new norm in business poised to have a breakout year is the expectation that companies take their responsibilities to all stakeholders as seriously as they take their duty to shareholders“All stakeholders” means more than customers and employees, it means actually adding value to society beyond just their product or service. 2018 will be the year of “positive externalities” in business, and yes, NewCo will be there to take notes on those companies who manage to live up to this new normal. A good place to start, of course, is the Shift Forum in less than two months. I hope to see you there, and have a great 2018!

The post My Predictions for 2018 appeared first on John Battelles Search Blog.

Predictions 2017 – How’d I Do This Year?

play episode
December 2017, by jbat[ —]

The post Predictions 2017 – How’d I Do This Year? appeared first on John Battelles Search Blog.

Every year, I make predictions, and every year, I score myself. As I wrote nearly 12 months ago, 2017 felt particularly unpredictable. As it turns out, my musings were often on target. Except when they weren’t…

I’ve played with all manners of scoring over the years, but this year I’m going with a straight zero to ten rating. Zero if I whiffed entirely, ten if I hit it out of the park, and some kind of partial credit in between. Then add ‘em up, divide by the number of predictions, and that’ll be my overall batting average.

So let’s see how I did. I made ten predictions, so to each in turn….

#1: The bloom comes off the tech industry rose. I believe I hit this one out of the park. The backlash is at such a fever pitch, it seems tech has been crucified forever, but I peg the beginning of the end at Susan Fowler’s astonishing takedown of Uber, which was posted in mid February of 2017. Not only did her revelations precipitate the fall of Travis Kalanick and set the tone for the #MeToo movement in tech, it also gave the press an antagonist it could truly villainize, which set the stage for later takedowns of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Multiple books (the FourWorld Without Mind, etc) piled on, as did the Russia/Facebook sh*tshow (and hearings), and the concerns of former tech engineers like Tristan Harris, whose “Time Well Spent” movement broke out in 2017. Overall, it was one hell of a bad year for tech (and to be honest, tech brought it on itself), and my words in January certainly rang true: “2017 will be the year the industry is cast as a villain — for its ravenous and largely opaque data collection practices, its closed and self-serving approach to its own platforms, and its refusal to acknowledge or address the very real externalities…created by its products and services.”Score: 10 of 10.

#2: The conversation economy breaks out. This one is harder to judge. You may recall that a year ago, chatbots were all the rage, and voice-based interfaces like Alexa and Google Home were a novelty. One year later, chatbots have faded (but “appbots” are on the rise), and voice-driven systems have secured a place in our shared culture. That was a fast rise, comparatively speaking. In my post, I wrote: “Combine smart chat with voice, and … well, we’ll start to see a new UX for the web.” I still think that’s true, and we’ve had a year of very promising developments. But was it a breakout year? History alone will tell. Score: 5 of 10.

#3. Open starts to win again. Oh boy. Every year I have what you might call an aspirational post, in that I very much hope it will come true, but I’m pretty sure it won’t come true. What I do know, however, is that in 2017, the table was well and truly set for open approaches to make a comeback. The reason? Well, see #1: Tech’s gotten too big, and too powerful, and the best way to dissemble that power is a swing back to open data (see this post for more). I remain firmly convinced that open is on the rise. But I don’t have much proof that 2017 is the year that trend began “to win again.” I wrote a year ago: “This year won’t be a turning point in this battle, but it will show meaningful progress.” It’s true that Amazon, Google, and Apple managed to settle their differences, and Microsoft Cortana laid down with Alexa, (and this) but…a dramatic proof of my thesis did not emerge this year. Score: 4 of 10.

#4. Privacy will become a strong product category. I didn’t exactly predict the Equifax, Verizon, Uber, and scores of other data breaches which occurred this year, but they certainly reinforced my premise for prediction #4: Privacy is now front and center for all businesses and consumers. The question remains, however, if anyone will actually make a decent product suite that protects our privacy. Certainly in the business to business realm, privacy as a product boomed this year (there’s not a board in the world that didn’t authorize more spend for security this year). But last year I wrote: “But fear of cyber warfare, fraud, and over-reaching marketers and government will create huge openings for consumer friendly versions of currently opaque products like PGP, password managers, and the like.” Well, the openings are there. But the products? Not so much. Yet. Score: 7 of 10.

#5. Adtech has a ripper of a year. OK, there has to be one that was pretty much a whiff, and this one is likely it. I am still an adtech bull, and the market still grew, if mainly led by Facebook, Amazon, and Google. But the independent adtech business did not have a ripper of a year, instead, it was a year of retrenching, mostly. Yes, good growth and strong business, but not the breakout I had predicted. Score: 2 of 10.

#6. Apple releases a truly bad hardware product. Damn, if only Apple hadn’t pulled its HomePod product this year! Because if it had actually released it, it would have laid a massive egg, I’m sure of it (the company simply does not have the AI, voice recognition, and software chops). Instead, Apple was wise enough to realize it had a dud on its hand, and delayed what would have been a stinker of a consumer product. I even predicted it would be the HomePod that lays the egg…maybe someone at Apple reads me? In any case, I think I should get partial credit here, because besides predicting a bad release (the Watch release was pretty bumpy, after all), I also predicted 2017 would be the year the press turns on Apple, and that Apple would respond by acting like a typical corporation (repatriating cash to curry favor, buying companies to enter new markets, etc). It’s well on its way to doing just that (just bought Shazam, for example, and isn’t exactly fighting the tax bill). Score: 6 of 10.

#7. A Fortune 100 company will announce its intention to become a B Corp. Nope. Wishful thinking. Despite Paul Polman *sounding* like the CEO of a B Corp on Twitter all year long, this did not happen. Move along, nothing to see here. Score: 0 out of 10.

#8. President Trump leaves Twitter. Ha! He was kicked off by a mischeivious contractor, for ten whole minutes! I was…wrong. It’s true, debate did rage about why the president *should* be kicked off, and there’s still a few days left for Trump to decide he’s bigger than the blue bird, but besides that technicality, for which I am giving myself at least partial credit, this did not happen. SAD! Score: 2 of 10

#9. Snap soars — then sours. This is where a picture is worth a thousand words:

Score: 10 of 10.

10. Human connection commands a premium in the workforce. In this prediction I also wrote: “In 2017, we’ll come to realize that we’re valuing the wrong things, and start a conversation about paying people to connect with each other — because if we can automate the other stuff, why the heck wouldn’t we value each other more?! Related: The conversation around Universal Basic Income (or my preferred term, the Citizens’ Dividend) will become white hot.” So it’s complicated, but I think overall the conversation around the future of work and UBI did become white hot, and we did see a marked shift toward valuing human connection in the workplace. However, it’s rather hard for me to prove that inside of just this year. As with a few of my predictions, only time will tell. So I’ll score myself a partial win on this one. Score: 6 of 10.

So pulling back, how did I do, overall? Two whiffs (Adtech, B Corps), two home runs (tech backlash, Snap), three that were largely wins, one push, and two that were partial credit. Better than 50% — a score of 52 on a total of 100 points. Not terrible — about average over my nearly 15 years of doing this, stellar if you’re a major leaguer (of course, an “F” without a curve…). Regardless, I always have fun both making these predictions, and scoring myself against them twelve months later. I am honored that you take time to read my work, and I’ll be back early in the new year with predictions for 2018. Util then, have a great holiday season, everybody!


Predictions 2017

Predictions 2016

2016: How I Did

Predictions 2015

2015: How I Did

Predictions 2014

2014: How I Did

Predictions 2013

2013: How I Did

Predictions 2012

2012: How I Did

Predictions 2011

2011: How I Did

Predictions 2010

2010: How I Did

2009 Predictions

2009 How I Did

2008 Predictions

2008 How I Did

2007 Predictions

2007 How I Did

2006 Predictions

2006 How I Did

2005 Predictions

2005 How I Did

2004 Predictions

2004 How I Did

The post Predictions 2017 – How’d I Do This Year? appeared first on John Battelles Search Blog.

Data Concentration In Platforms – A Modest Proposal

https://shift.newco.co/how-facebook-google-amazon-and-their-peers-could-change-techs-awful-narrative-9a758516210aplay episode download
December 2017, by jbat[ —]

The post Data Concentration In Platforms – A Modest Proposal appeared first on John Battelles Search Blog.


(I’ve been writing on NewCo Shift for the most part, but I wanted my Searchblog readers to know two things: One, I’m working on getting this site totally redone, and will be posting here in the New Year. And two, I really feel awful about how I’ve neglected this site. All of that will change next year.)


Over the past few years I’ve been looking for a grand unifying theory that explains my growing discomfort with technology, an industry for which I’ve been a mostly unabashed cheerleader these past three decades.

I think it all comes down to how our society manages its most crucial new resource: Data.

That our largest technology companies have cornered the market on the data that powers our society’s most important functions is not in question. Who better than Amazon understands at-scale patterns in commerce (and with AWS, our demand for compute-related resources)? Who better than Google understands what products, services, and knowledge we want, and our path to finding them? Who better than Facebook understands our relationships to others and our interaction with (often bad) ideas? And who better than Apple (and Google) understand the applications, services, and entertainment we choose to engage with every day (not to mention our location, our ID, our most personal data, and on and on)?

These companies also dominate two crucial assets related to data: The compute power necessary to translate data into actionable insights, and the human talent required to leverage them both. Taken together, these three assets — massive amounts of data, massive compute platforms, and legions of highly trained engineers and data scientists — represent our society’s best path to understanding itself, and thereby improving all of our lives.

If anything should be defined as a public good — “a commodity or service provided without profit to all members of a society” — it should be the ability to study and understand society toward a goal of improving everyone’s lives.

But over the past decade, the most valuable data, processing power, and people have become concentrated in a handful of private companies that have demonstrated an almost genetic unwillingness to share their platform as a public good. Sure, they’ll happily share their platforms’ output — their consumer products — as for-profit services. And yes, each of us as consumers can benefit greatly from free social media, free search, free access to the “Everything Store,” and expensive but oh-so-worth-it smart phones.

But while each of us gets to benefit individuallynone of us get to benefit from the wholistic, aggregated view of the world that the tech oligarchy has over its billions of consumers. And only the tech platforms — and their shareholders — are accruing the benefit of that perspective.

Why am I on about this? Because having access to good, at-scale data, and the platforms and people to learn from that data, is a clear proxy for progress in our society. We all marvel at the extraordinary capabilities, profits, and market caps of the tech platforms. They are the modern equivalents of the industrial powerhouses that transformed the American landscape in the early 20th century.

Back then, what was good for GM was good for the USA. But when we went to war, we went to war in partnership with those companies. GM, Alcoa, US Steel and their peers’ capitalistic platforms became our government’s most important wartime assets.

And while it feels odd to write this, no serious scholar of modern geopolitics disputes that we are now at war — a new kind of information-based war, but war, nevertheless — with Russia in particular, but in all honesty, with a multitude of nation states and stateless actors bent on destroying western democratic capitalismThey are using our most sophisticated and complex technology platforms to wage this war — and so far, we’re losing. Badly.

Why? According to sources I’ve talked to both at the big tech companies and in government, each side feels the other is ignorant, arrogant, misguided, and incapable of understanding the other side’s point of view. There’s almost no data sharing, trust, or cooperation between them. We’re stuck in an old model of lobbying, soft power, and the occasional confrontational hearing.

Not exactly the kind of public-private partnership we need to win a war, much less a peace.

Am I arguing that the government should take over Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple so as to beat back Russian info-ops? No, of course not.But our current response to Russian aggression illustrates the lack of partnership and co-ordination between government and our most valuable private sector companies. And I am hoping to raise an alarm: When the private sector has markedly better information, processing power, and personnel than the public sector, one will only strengthen, while the latter will weaken. We’re seeing it play out in our current politics, and if you believe in the American idea, you should be extremely concerned.


During WWII, the US economy mobilized, growing at more than 10 percent for several years in a row. Sweeping new partnerships were established between large American corporations, new entrants to the workforce (black Americans and women in particular), and the government. And when the war was won, the peace dividend drove the United States to its current position as the most powerful nation — and economy — on the planet.

We desperately need a new compact between business and government, in particular as it relates to the most important resources in our society: data, processing power, and human intellectual capital.

In my next column I’ll dive into ideas for how we might mitigate our current imbalance, and the role that anti-trust may — or may not — play in that rebalancing. (Update, here it is.)

The post Data Concentration In Platforms – A Modest Proposal appeared first on John Battelles Search Blog.

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