As many of us gather with family on Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and the year draws to a close, now seems as good a time as any to touch on just a few of the highlights and trends of the past year. There will be plenty that I don’t cover here, but feel free to add in your thoughts:

Unicorns heading for the cull

There’s no end of people elaborating on the end of the ride for Unicorns (or for some, the bursting of a bubble entirely), but one thing seems clear; Unicorns are having challenges going to IPO with their enormous valuations, which when coupled with the end of near-zero interest rates means that valuations will fall and VC funding is likely to diminish. The resulting shortened runways will lead to reductions of workforce, increased pressure on sustainability and potentially many hasty acquisitions. Funding will be more sparse for new or smaller companies. It’s not clear if this will be RIP Good Times, or just a small hump.

Me-Too Messaging

Messaging is becoming an extremely crowded space. It’s likely that the shift to messaging is a combination of 1) people initially looking to avoid text message fees and 2) communities shifting back to the more “natural” state of communicating amongst small groups of close friends, as opposed to status updates to large groups. Indeed, in mobile, messaging has overtaken social. This shift has resulted in many people jumping into the space, hoping to grab a significant user base. Unfortunately, general messaging requires massive numbers of users to be useful, and faces all of the fragmentation issues that Instant Messaging faced before it. To win in this space, entrants will need to be either a) extremely niche (with a focus on community), b) massively adopted (for example, by being part of a large social network like Facebook), or c) provide the infrastructure for others to implement in their services. Everyone else will fade away.

Move to Secure

The introduction of App Transport Security by Apple is just the latest move by the industry towards the use of secure encryption for everything. The days of plain HTTP are numbered — All new protocols such as SPDY, HTTP/2 and QUIC are by default encrypted, providing assurances to end users that nobody has intercepted or manipulated their cat videos. Expect everything to be secure by the end of 2017 if not sooner.

Seamless Experiences

The increasing number of devices that make up our digital footprint (think Laptop, Phone, Watch, Fitness Tracker, Cameras, Thermostats etc etc) require that we move beyond the web, apps and IOT to “Seamless Experiences”. These maintain your state and experience across multiple mediums, screen sizes and capabilities. They pull in data from disparate sources, present it in the context of the device you are using, and correlate data over time to infer context. For examples of this in action over the last year, look to the Apple Watch, Google Cards and Amazon Echo.

Net Neutrality

This was a big one earlier in the year, as US legislators sought to ensure that all sites played on a level field, with no option to give an advantage to any particular one in return for money. In the early days of the web, this was pretty much a given (although large infrastructure vendors absolutely proposed this model in order to sell DiffServ capable routers and switches). Today, as cable companies seek new revenue models, it was clear that this “gentlemen’s agreement” of the early web needed to be established in law in order to preserve a fair competitive environment. The landmark ruling in Feb achieved this, but cable companies are not yet done trying to fight it. Look for more on this next year.

Final Thoughts

As we move into 2016, we are clearly looking at a world that is full of distributed data sources, from a multitude of device types, all-HTTPS, all the time. The infrastructure required to process this data is not insignificant, and we will see individual companies increase their server infrastructure build outs as well as looking to cloud services to help scale this out. Content will be increasingly structured, and presented through more “natural” interfaces such as intelligent assistants or simplified card-style results. We’re just on the precipice of where this will take us, and I’m positive we will need to change the way we build and deploy services as a result. It’s going to be an interesting 2016 for sure.

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