Digital Tonto: Three trends for 2012

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Jan. 6, 2012, 2:15 p.m. | Op-ed — by Greg Satell

Greg Satell

While most of the world is stumbling along, digital is moving so fast that it’s hard to keep track. Start-ups, incumbents and established firms from the analog age are all vying to develop something new and different that will resonate in the marketplace. At my agency, Moxie, we publish a report each year that analyzes existing trends in order to gain insight into what will break over the next year. It’s an important and interesting exercise, which helps us focus our energies and filter out the noise.

It is also a working document. We apply ascendant trends to our clients digital marketing efforts and all year long we meet with innovative technology companies in order to get a jump the next big thing. This year, we identified ten trends that will drive digital over the next twelve months and I want to highlight three of the most salient here.

Mobile social activism

In the 2008 election, we all got to know “Plumber Joe.” His appearance at an Obama rally in front of TV cameras drove more than a few news cycles and almost derailed the President’s candidacy. It was almost without precedent.

Still, the event made news because it was caught on TV cameras. We expect that the “Plumber Joes” of the 2012 election to be spread virally through mobile sharing (another one of the trends we identified). In fact, apps such as Protest4 and Hipstamatic have been developed with exactly that purpose in mind.

We also expect that what impacts the political realm will then be adapted to the commercial sphere. Companies will need to get used to the fact that every consumer with a mobile phone is an undercover journalist and even the most lowly hourly worker represents the company’s brand.

The web of things

It’s been a while since Kevin Ashton first coined the term Internet of Things back in 1999.He envisioned a world where RFID tags would allow machines to communicate with each other in order to streamline supply chains and manage inventories.

That’s happened to a large extent, but the next phase will be even more impressive – a Web of Things that is fully integrated on a unified standard that caters to consumers. Earlier this year, IBM announced MQTT, a protocol that will act as a “connectivity protocol for the Web of Things”.

What’s interesting about what’s emerging is that previous visions expected us to use technology in order to have machines take control over menial tasks, like refrigerators that order groceries for us. Instead, the real action is in enabling consumers with mobile devices to take greater control and unlock new potential from technology.

It seems that the more technology we get, the more we use it to express our humanity.

The new living room

While 2011 was the year that mobile really hit, 2012 will be the year that digital comes back home. Our TV’s are connected, but we use them essentially the same way we always have. That’s going to change drastically over the next year.

Apple is widely rumored to come out with a new TV product this year, Microsoft’s Kinect will surely expand beyond video games and Google, cable companies and TV manufacturers are also scrambling to invent the future of the TV.

Beyond the TV itself, pairing home entertainment with mobile devices will be a big thing in 2012., Yahoo’s IntoNow and Bob Sillerman’s Viggle and others will be fighting it out in this space next year. All are well financed with strong track records.

The evolving digital ecosystem

What we found most interesting about the trends this year is that there was no one game changing trend like mobile or social. Instead, they were all interrelated, feeding off each other. No technology is an island, but each must adapt and function in lockstep with everything else.

The new living room is, in essence, and extension of the web of things as is social mobile activism. Once these things are online, they become searchable and spreadable. Each brings us closer to McLuhan’s Global Village.

As Rishad Tobaccowala often says, what’s digital will become mobile and what’s mobile will become analog. What we’re seeing is not only technological progress, but social progress as well. Changes in how we communicate affect what we say, how we think and how we act. How we build is how we dwell.

In other words, we are not just following trends, but witnessing the emergence of a new and hopefully better society. Feel free to download the report here.

Greg Satell is a U.S.-based independent media analyst. You can read his blog entries at
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