After the year of SoLoMo, I’ve been trying to divine some trends for 2013 based on all the plans I’ve seen floated for startup incubators, accelerators, riots, weekends, hours, havens, barns, ranches, combinators, factories, labs, hackathons, sackathons, and whackathons coming up in the months ahead. Here’s my stab at pattern recognition in all that.
Far and away the number one trend is that 2013 appears to be the year of creepiness. (Regarding the picture, I’m not confusing Halloween and Christmas, but this was the creepiest photo I could edit from my sampling of my neighborhood's cute trick-or-treat kids.)
Today’s edition of CBS This Morning featured a segment on all the data being collected as one plays Angry Birds. That may provide a good way to track your kids, but that’s last year’s topic. Let’s move on to some other news.
There was a lot of attention last week to the WSJ article on Staples’ online pricing techniques, where prices vary considerably by location factors such as proximity to competitors and general demographics and also take into account your browsing history. If you are determined to get the lowest price for paper clips, you can probably deploy some software or an app to combat that, and there’s certainly no rule that Staples has to charge everyone the same price for the same item.
But, this gives rise to the old notion of redlining that arose around home lending some decades back. Frankly, I know from my own early retail experience that merchandise prices are generally higher in the poorer communities where consumers are less mobile and less equipped technically to comparison shop. I’ve seen middle class shoppers spend $5 on gas driving around to save 10 cents on an item, while well-to-do consumers tend to place more value on convenience. The financial system is already heavily weighted against families trying to recover from setbacks or escape poverty; in particular, they are harshly penalized with limited or expensive access to needed credit. Variable Internet pricing could certainly be used to add to their burdens and may be viewed as having negative societal consequences.
The recent Instagram change in terms of service, perhaps retracted or perhaps not in a smokescreen of wordsmithing, is yet another news item in this category. Do you want one of your Instagram photos on a box of Wheaties with no compensation to you? That might not be bad, but as I saw in one Tweet, if it’s free to you, it’s hard to complain. Those $B valuations aren’t garnered on the basis of community service. Who ultimately owns and manages your rights to all your creative output? If you care about this issue, you may need to pay closer attention to where you share your creative gifts on the Web. When Mick Jagger did the Letterman Top Ten a couple of weeks ago, one on the list was that he doesn’t get a cent when Maroon 5 performs “Moves Like Jagger.” I rather suspect he does, given the tight focus on rights management in all things entertainment at that level. You won’t see any outlaw photos of Mick on TechDrawl.
And then there’s the growing notion of scheduling Tweets after your death. That’s almost too gruesome to comprehend. Suppose in a few years your granny Tweets: “I told you not to marry that idiot and let him squander your money on gambling and liquor. I hope you join me here in Hell!” This is pretty easy to do with existing tools, but there already are businesses forming around the grave. It’s hard enough managing your mortal digital rights, but you’ll soon have to pay more attention to the Hereafter version.
Consider too the pervasiveness of video. Just about everyone around you is now equipped with pretty decent video capture technology on the smart phone, so you have to assume YOU are always on camera. (Ask Mitt Romney about the 47% episode.) When you do something you might later regret, you have to be mindful that video doesn’t lie. All those unsophisticated videographers aren’t too sophisticated at editing. It’s pretty easy to doctor any still image to change its intent, but not so with video. I continue to be amazed at what people try to get away with, even when they know in advance they’re in a movie, and much of that makes for interesting headlines in the general news I read. I bring up this whole topic of video because I’ve lost track of the number of ventures I’ve seen that are trying to address the very problem of how to turn random clips into production quality episodes of your life. There are pesky matters like lighting and sound that make all the difference; if you’re going to get busted for something, however, I suppose you do want to look and sound your best.
Next up on the list is the whole area of augmenting your interaction with devices and with the Web. Siri is just the start, and we’ll see a wave of new concepts that allow for touchless motion inputs to your electronic surroundings. Devices get smaller and smaller keyboards as their inventors get closer to ages where presbyopia makes them impossible to see. There is a need here, but those who talk expressively with their hands may have to become more controlled. You might inadvertently be calling 911 or ordering sushi when you’re petting your dog in the presence of your smart phone.
And, finally, a word about local reviews is in order. I read a statistic that 40% of reviews are fake, and I have a friend whose business subsists on clients sourced via the Internet. Her reviews are outstanding and genuine, but she sees competitors who are very clearly manufacturing their reputations using services like Mechanical Turk. It seems that I can’t go to the doctor or conduct any online transaction or talk to any customer service rep without getting a request for a follow-up survey. Many of these are pretty lengthy and cumbersome, but I’ve come to feel some responsibility to give real feedback. Somebody’s livelihood may depend on my doing so. If there’s any area of the online economy that brings out the weird actors, it’s this local business space, and I’m not sure how that will be resolved.
In a recent project where a group of us evaluated a number of business plans for a particular event, the most prevalent word in the comments made by the reviewers was “creepy” – often in the context of something like: “This is really creepy, but it might work.” I think 2013 will be the year where entrepreneurs and investors will be dealing with this factor, perhaps more than they want.