After a tumultuous and fascinating 2008, what might be in store for 2009? We interrogated our best sources using enhanced techniques (bright lights, bamboo and the music of John Mayer were all deployed) before turning to the entrails of a goat (the vegans on our staff settled for an artichoke) to bring you our predictions for the world of search and social media in 2009. We make no guarantee of actuality. Void where prohibited.
In the Year 2009…
Horizontal is the New Vertical – The first wave of vertical search engines such as Business.com or Shopping.com was launched with the intention of starting search businesses from the get go. What’s interesting about the new breed of search engines is that they weren’t originally intended to be search engines at all. Instead, they were born out of the need to sift through the mass volume of content being produced on social media sites.
The need to retrieve and categorize user created content is already leading many social media platforms to become alternative and relevant search indices for specific needs beyond the general search engine results page. For example, Twitter search gives you visibility into “now”, Facebook search scours people (while LinkedIn offers more professionally oriented info), Flickr search delivers a better, more diverse image result set than Google images while YouTube features superior video search results.
Marketers will take notice of this trend to the horizontal in 2009 and these platforms will respond with more compelling SEM offerings to help lure them in.
The World of Online Ad Networks will Finally Consolidate – with many companies merging in an effort to survive, while others disappear altogether. This gives Google AdSense the opportunity to suck up even more of this market, resulting in:
1. Higher overall revenues for Google, but…
2. Lower revenue shares for smaller online publishers as Google takes a bigger cut of the pie and it becomes harder for them to monetize.
3. The collapse of online companies with no clear monetization plans.
Analytics becomes the Chocolate to Social Media’s Peanut Butter – Spending on social media marketing will rise despite the recession as more marketers discover useful analytics tools to measure success across the distributed web. Clients will be impressed by YouTube visitor counts, bit.ly’s url tracking and Omniture’s ability to track behavior in iPhone apps. This improved capability to test social media campaigns and see results before committing to major spends, helps open the floodgates and deliver real meaningful value – and revenue – for the first time.
Social Media Will Help Make Us Better Citizens – Phase one of online activism was powered by applications that allowed people to spread the word about their causes (e.g. Facebook “Causes”), phase two will be powered by microgiving services (e.g. Tipjoy and Microgiving) that allow people to put their money where their mouth is. As a result, funds given to charity through social networks will finally get more in line with the number of people who profess to be interested in them. The integration of Paypal into these services will help facilitate these transactions.
Furthermore, as the recession drags on and access to credit becomes increasingly difficult, Paypal will play a larger role in many online transactions including peer-to-peer lending, replacing some traditional banking services.
Is the Domain Friendfilter.com Taken? - As “friending” continues to gain momentum (and dilute its real life meaning), context becomes more important than ever. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed will need to empower users with more parametric filters so that they can publish – and parse – information to and from different groups of people. For example, a person may have various interests ranging from social software to hockey to comic books – giving that individual more control of the distribution and consumption process will eliminate noise from the social graph and provide more meaningful connections. The web is filled with nooks and crannies of niche content, so there’s no reason the social networks, or the ecosystem born of out of them (for instance, services like Stocktwits) shouldn’t better enable those subject specific communities.
Mobile Voice Search Increases its Long Tail – People don’t speak the same way they type – we tend to be fluid and wordy instead of terse and structured. When you mosey down to the car dealer to look for a new ride (or a “whip” as the kids call them), the tendency is to ask something like “What do you have that gets good mileage but can haul a kid’s bedroom set and won’t make me look like a total tool?” rather than to use Search-ese like “SUV, fuel efficient?” Therefore, it stands to reason that as voice recognition software creeps into mobile search apps, the searches we conduct on our cell phones are going to start to look a lot less like those from traditional search engines. Spoken questions are longer and phrased differently than online search. Advertisers who hope to simply use their existing search keyword lists to reach mobile users are going to be in for a surprise.
Then again, we might be getting ahead of ourselves – 2009 will not be the year that advertising for voice search takes off. The user experience still needs too much work for mainstream adoption.
Yahoo is Broken Up – No year-end list is complete without a gratuitous Yahoo swipe – here’s ours: Microsoft reunites many Yahoo search refugees’ posteriors with their former chairs by acquiring Yahoo’s search business at a fire sale price.
The Phrase “Google Killer” Will Become the New “Munson” – The term becomes synonymous in hip-hop to describe a hyped young rapper who steps to the big guns only to come up short and be forgotten. When was the last time you used Cuil?
Mobile Gets More Social - Time spent logging into social networks from a mobile device will approach 50% of total time spent on social networks in ‘09. In a related event, incidences of hit and run accidents and people walking into open manhole covers will rise dramatically in ‘09 as they use their fancy new iPhones and G1 Android phones to throw snowballs at each other on Facebook.
Google TV Ties Together Recessionary Threads – The two most resilient places for advertising in a recession turn out to be search and TV. How convenient for Google’s fledging offline ad biz as the search model of targeting, accountability, and responsiveness continues to migrate to offline platforms in ‘09. The timing is now.
Fame is Measured in 140 Characters Instead of 15 Minutes – Twitter celebs (plane crash guy, Egyptian jail guy) find fame far more fleeting in ‘09 – it lasts as long as it takes to refresh your screen.
Facebook Connect Takes Off – Brands and marketers embrace the ability to use Facebook Connect as a way to socialize websites cheaply. In fact, it’s already starting to.
Twitter Will Surprise Their Critics With Their Ability to Monetize – We’d explain what that monetization plan will look like in more detail, but unfortunately, we only have 140 characters.