2015, we’re ready for you

We looked back at 2014, and now’s the time to stick our neck out and make some calls on what we think will — or perhaps, would like to — happen in 2015. This isn’t a rose-tinted view of a brave new world; as with last year, we’re pessimistic that a major technological development will become the Next Big Thing. Instead, 2015 will be a year where the web continues to mature, becomes more inclusive and supportive, and perhaps less subject to whims and fashion. Well, we can dream, can’t we?

Death of “digital”

The term, not the thing. The following objects can now be “digital”: fridges; central heating; billboards; bike locks. All of which renders the idea of calling something “digital” less and less useful. Even the most analogue of objects can be shared digitally one way or another. So rather than talking about “digital marketing” or “digital agencies”, let’s talk about what we’re trying to do — make things interactive? Make content shared & streamed online? Make things intelligently respond to data?

Brands on social media: fewer posts, more useful

Are we done with the Oreo tweet now? Please? Few things have been so over-hyped as “real time marketing”. The conclusion to two years’ frenetic strategy-grabbing has been an embarrassment of branded social media that’s at best vacuous, at worst inflammatory. Does anyone really want to hear from a social media account that just posts ads? Customer service has emerged as a genuinely useful place for social media to help brands and customers — sometimes, remarkably so. Let’s have more of that, and less ads-in-Tweets-clothing.

Wake up Louis XIV, patronage is back

In 2008 Kevin Kelley introduced the idea that 1000 true fans can fund a creative’s living. In 2015, we’ll see this actually happen. The App Store, Spotify, and Netflix have trained us that sometimes digital content is worth paying for. Now platforms like Patreon, VHX, YouTube Fan Funding are providing the tools to make it happen for individual makers. When Google, who has made more money from advertising than most, start experimenting with services like Contributor, it seems we might finally break our addiction to free.

Yahoo! and Google will fight for your photos

Photos have been a battleground across tech for a while — from megapixels to the Instagram acquisition. But there’s unfinished business here. Along with the usual suspects of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, there are two rich elephants in the room: Yahoo!, in the shape of the fast-growing Tumblr and the less-so Flickr — and Google, who have built some very solid photo tech into Google+, as well as being in control of the stock Android camera. Yahoo! have tons of cash (after Alibaba) and are in need of a direction. Pinterest remains un-acquired, as does Snapchat. How will this all add up?

The serious return of limitations

When even Mark Zuckerberg, the patron saint of the attenuated attention span, is getting back into books you know that longform is back. We mentioned already that paper books have had a good year, and vinyl album sales too are are at an all time high. Now we don’t think this is a retro peccadillo, or just the end of technology for some post-digital antiquarians. After several years consuming bits of information rapidly, we miss the pleasure of reading a book-length story, or listening to a whole album and it’s the slight inconvenience of paper and vinyl that help us limit our newly learned tendency to wander onto a new topic (hey, look at this!). Less is truly becoming more.

The Actual Digital Election?

The UK election in 2010 was meant to revolutionise how elections were fought and citizens engaged. While there were nascent moves in that direction (Facebook’s “I’ve Voted” button; YouTube’s Digital Debate; Channel 4’s Fact Check blog), the first ever televised debates made TV the real star. So what will GE2015 look like? Well, #bbcqt has prepared us well for hysterical, hyperbolic, hard-to-follow arguments on Twitter. And camera phones will of course capture slipups for YouTube. But more interestingly, the Scottish Referendum has shown the way for independent, mainstream coverage — and what we’d really love is an innovative, intuitive means to understand the parties’ proposals, and how they would actually impact our lives. Anyone?

UI: what’s next

In 2014 responsive web design became the norm, which means it’s time to move on and confuse everyone all over again. Android’s Material design principles glance at a more animated future in which content appears intelligently, rather than simply responsively. This becomes important as content needs to become watch-sized — you can’t keep shrinking and re-arranging a site. Meanwhile, IE11 will (partially) support WebGL, overcoming the last obstacle for the standard allowing native 3D graphics in the browser. And will we finally see OSX move to XI — and/or a single platform across Mac, iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch? Either way, our new year’s wish is never to have a conversation about old versions of IE again.

Adults migrate to YouTube subscriptions

By the end of 2014, thanks to YouTube’s own advertising campaign and Zoella’s bestselling book, most people finally knew about YouTube channels, their (mostly) young creators and their millions of devoted subscribers. Subscribing, however, still feels like a teenage thing, and the content of the mega-successful channels reflects preoccupations of a younger audience, heavy on Taylor Swift, gaming and make-up tips. But it feels like we’re getting close to the wrinklies piling in. There are already enough grown-up-friendly channels to get you started (see Jimmy Fallon, VSauce, Vice, School of Life…) and when audiences start diversifying, expect a proliferation of new creators to satisfy that demand.

TV fights back

In 2013/14 digital platforms began muscling in on longform video: the success of Netflix’s House of Cards followed by Orange is the New Black, Amazon’s Transparent, and Hulu’s The Awesomes. But the TV industry isn’t ready to cede control of digitally delivered entertainment just yet. HBO have announced viewers will be able to stream HBO Go without a cable package, a move that could herald a generation of viewers cutting the cord. And in probably the biggest experiment transitioning from linear to digital ever seen, the BBC is set to take an entire channel off the air, replacing it with a digital service. Good luck BBC3 — the future of television rests on your shoulders.

Finally, a few technologies we’re keeping our eye on …

  • iBeacon: enough compatible devices now exist for this technology to be worth serious consideration. High potential for spam but nuanced, clever use of “nearables” could genuinely benefit real-world user experience.
  • Smart watches: the Flying Object office is divided on whether the Apple Watch can save its category from gimmickry. Whether it flies or dies will depend on app developers. Apple has created a category before — can it do it again?
  • GoPro: the writing’s been on the wall for camera manufacturers for a while, given the increasing quality of smartphone cameras. No-one told GoPro this. Let’s keep it that way.
  • TV: was 2014 won by the splashy Smart TV or the affordable streaming stick? Hard to say, but with Google’s third bite at telly’s cherry launching in the form of Android TV, and rumours of Apple’s equivalent never fading, things should stay interesting.
  • Firefox OS: as Google and Apple battle for control of the device in your hand, and Windows flounders, plucky Mozilla have been quietly building out a solid, very open ecosystem around their own operating system, primarily for low-cost devices destined for the developing world. TVs running Firefox glimpse at an intriguing future.