Ghosts of Digital Past, Present and Future

If you were to be visited by the ghosts of Digital Past, Present and Future, what would that look like?  How would those ghosts have influenced the present and the future?  If I were to be visited here’s the things I’d see from these three Ghosts.

The Ghosts of Digital Past

Everything with the web begins with the web browser, and where better to start than Netscape Navigator, when it was the biggest competitor to Internet Explorer, and for those that remember the days of HTML and various standards, they would remember the <div>, <layer> and <blink> tags of the past.  Of the extremely different ways in which JavaScript and CSS were parsed, and where compliance to HTML 4 standards was not always followed.

Then we had analytics from things like Web Counters on every website that tracked “Hits” and if you were really sophisticated you might have had AWStats or Webalizer, parsing your weblogs to suck out information about how many people came to your website, with great insights in terms of “hits’, “views”, “visits” and other deeply insightful KPIs.

We had MySpace as a social platform, and Tripod, GeoCities and Angelfire to create websites instantly online, and you could join webrings to connect to similar sites, or you could use  Macromedia to build websites if you were a developer and your job title might be Webmaster, and you used a cgi-bin folder to manage server side scripts written in Perl, and you might have used FLASH to create splash screens on your website to welcome visitors every time they came like a Las Vegas show.

Then there was the great disrupter Napster.  Changing forever the music industry and every way in which we think about consuming anything that can be digitized; books, movies, music, and giving rise to the file sharing and distributed content networks, and litigation and the fear of bankruptcy to large media empires, the fear of the inability to monetize in this new digital world.

All of these ghosts of the past providing hope, and confusion, and fear to users, and businesses, and designers and developers. A time before UX, and IA and SEO were acronyms, a time before many of these jobs existed.  When maybe the web wasn’t understood as well as it is today, we weren’t sure if it was IT, Marketing or Operations, and when the potential was expected to change everything, and change nothing depending on the company you worked for. Then the bubble burst, and put the fear of another bubble into many in the technology space as a reminder of what can happen when you lose site of the customer and get caught up in the technology and not the results and end users.

The Ghosts of Digital Present

To tame the wild internet you need to be able to find things easily and quickly, and so there was Backrub, which gave rise to Google, and a change from browser wars to search wars, as Microsoft looked to capitalize on enabling the navigation of the internet, an industry that is now one of the biggest advertising platforms on the planet, only disrupted by another ghost of digital present; Facebook.

Social and mobile gave rise to a new way for people to connect and communicate and share with each other on a common platform that is open and closed at the same time.  As mobile grew in popularity Social Media was the biggest winner, connecting users across digital devices, and ultimately giving rise to the second screen.

And the third screen.  Watching TV with internet connected devices, from cellphones, to tablets, to laptops allowing people to be apart and yet at the same time connecting as they watched TV, cooked, spent time with their family, attended sports events and enabled people to share all of their experiences with others, in microbursts of 140 characters and photos as it happened.

The newspapers and magazines, didn’t learn from the music industry, and thought all they had to do was digitize their platform, and now they fight against ad blockers, and disruptors to how they monetize their businesses. they talk of paygates, and premium content, while subscription services rise to the top. Uber and AirBnB disrupt long thought of physical offerings, by leveraging technology and connecting people directly to each other to offer services on demand.  We see laws change again, but now instead of trying to sue into bankruptcy we look to regulate and restrict the offerings, instead of cutting them down, we look to slow them down, or monetize through legal disputes and giving rise to the patent troll.

We see analytics change, and Adobe and Salesforce rise with Marketing Cloud offerings, development moves from the desktop and back to the web and hosted solutions.  Analytics matures to web beacons, as Omniture SiteCatalyst becomes Adobe SiteCatalyst, and Google Analytics makes it easy for everyone to have usable data and insights about their web visitors.  Big Data gives rise to Data Scientists and we look to mine haystacks for the single needle of insight within them.  We begin to get overwhelmed with the volumes of information now available to us creating data paralysis, and look to parse this information with machines.  We’ve entered the steam powered age of the web, and risen from the stone age.  We feel much more advanced, but the future holds so much more.

The Ghosts of Digital Future

The Ghosts of Digital Future are exciting and unpredictable, we start to see the rise of voice enabled search through Siri and OK Google. We start to explore all the other inputs mobile devices enable, voice, and tactile experiences.  We think differently both in how we input information to navigate, and how information is output.  We look to get information to people faster, and more efficiently, and we worry about design feedback and ques to the end user.

We see wearables on the rise, and soon we’ll see bio-implants, that are always connected and provide third party APIs, as we already see happening in things like artificial hearts, that can be reprogrammed remotely, and we see connected homes, where every electronic device is connected to a wireless network.  We’ll struggle at first trying to figure out how best to use this fully connected world, and slowly we’ll experiment and learn how to create rules to connect these devices, and eventually we’ll see the rise of self learning devices based on our habits, like the NEST thermostat, but on a bigger scale in which your whole environment understands you, and your needs, and our location, all of which feedback to the the amount of light to turn on, the music to play and the temperature to set rooms at, but we’ll also see these devices share data amongst each other to create these triggers, and we’ll also use this same feedback to recommend and provide services and solutions on demand, products as you need them, or even before you know you need them.  Marketing fully embraces the non-linear approach of long term campaign building, and evolves to fully use triggers and inputs, and responses, based on the inputs from your connected environment.

We’ll see Virtual Reality a dream of the past become more common, and yes it will give rise to new forms of entertainment, and ways to engage with others, and a continued growth and markets that sell virtual products, that can only be used in the digital spaces, but it will also give rise to new ways we think about medicine and treating things like PTSD, and spinal accidents.

We’ll see the rise of connected data, and connected experiences, where you will want to allow devices to communicate with each other as you see benefit, as advertisers learn to provide services instead of scream attention.  There will be a shift to an economy powered by services, that are both paid for monetarily, and through providing access to all your various connected devices to get deeper and richer experiences, that monetize the consumer through data.  Your data wallet becomes more valuable than your monetary wallet of today.

Social media experiences will get richer and days will be fully monitored, and monetized to sell “a Day in the life of” to people to experience or share.  We’ll see technology look to make full connection to all our senses, as VR matures, using smell to trigger memories and experiences, and tactile feedback to mimic touch.

We will see legal action taken in one way or another by those that are disrupted, and those that fear what could happen.  Self driving cars will be sued by the occupants of the cars that malfunction.  We’ll have to rethink our thoughts about trust, whether or not we’re willing to fall back and let the machines catch us, we’ll have to trust and be more open, and change our perceptions of privacy as we share deeper and richer experiences. The future is bright and exciting as it is scary and intimidating, just as every other time we’ve seen digital evolve and change.  And I’ll be older, and worry about how technology is impacting the life of my daughter and what is benefiting her and making the world a better place and what isn’t, and she’ll grow up and she’ll adopt and learn how to use all this to her advantage just as we have through the ghosts of past and present.

I’d love to hear what ghosts of digital past, present and future you’d see.

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