Andrew Walmsley's 12 digital predictions for 2011: did they come true?

Andrew Walmsley: on Digital
Andrew Walmsley: on Digital

The pace of change is relentless as digital transforms consumers' lives, and not always for the better.

This hasn't been the year when things slowed down. There has been no shortage of novel stuff to talk about in 2011, and established themes to revisit in the light of the new. So how did I do? Were there howlers? Successes?

1. In January, I wrote about how little attention online retailers pay to delivery - 26% of orders require a signature on delivery but don't warn of this, and many don't provide space for notes, such as 'leave with neighbour' (see 30 seconds on ...).

As my online Christmas purchasing goes into overdrive, this is still a big issue that is poorly addressed.

2. I covered Groupon, enthusing about its zero working-capital business model.

Then I slagged it off in May for failing to segment its audience, sending me daily offers for fish pedicures and vajazzles.

Great innovative business, terrible delivery.

I can't work out why the IPO went OK - it raised $700m, though its share price has fallen 40% since - I suspect it is not the business we hoped.

3. Stalketing, the creepy and tactless use of retargeting and other data techniques, came up. We are still seeing an irritating lack of common sense in how these technologies are applied, and this risks a consumer backlash for us all.

4. I also wrote about how, in the digital age, the traditional pitch is unsuited to the multilayered business relationship with agencies, and I predicted the demise of this way of choosing an agency. Not yet, says the market, still hanging on to the beauty parade.

5. In February, I predicted the decline of the app, as the mobile web grew. I still think I am right, even though there is seemingly no let-up in the levels of investment in pointless apps. The mobile web is growing fast, even though easyJet still hasn't caught up.

6. It remains a criminal offence to disguise selling as content without disclosure. Six months on from writing about the two-year prison sentence it attracts, I am still hearing about incidences of this, particularly with bloggers.

In shock news this summer, I was ousted as Mayor of the Cumberland Pencil Museum, a post I had held proudly on Foursquare since October 2010. It was a good run.

7. I still love the Wheretheladies.at iPhone app, which uses a Foursquare feed to power a pointer indicating in which direction the, er, ladies are at. It answered a fundamental human need, seeking out Mrs Right (or at least Mrs Right Now). Aislefinder did much the same with your groceries - less fun, but probably more money in it.

8. People Lacking Everyday Basic Skills apparently can't boil an egg, change a tyre or hem trousers. While 72% of 18- to 24-year-olds know how to join a wi-fi network, just 9% can poach an egg.

9. SCVNGR (pronounced 'scavenger') aimed to build a game layer on the world, allowing organisations and individuals to create challenges, games and rewards for people who participate.

A very interesting idea that has influenced much thinking on site and product design; the business hasn't hit the big time yet though.

10. Rupert Murdoch's well-received iPad-only The Daily is referred to as an 'iPad newspaper'.

I criticised most publications for still thinking in newspaper terms - even the most innovative couldn't shake off the reference. Turns out, though, what consumers really like on tablets are linear magazine reads.

11. In other news, Facebook is the CIA's most successful intelligence-gathering programme, Apple turned out to have data greed, collecting all sorts of information it didn't need about users, and apps emerged that turned your iPad into a remote control and social device to go alongside watching TV.

12. We discovered that there isn't a social-media bubble, there is a marketing bubble, and it has never been cheaper to start a business and steal your market.

The pace is only going to accelerate in 2012. Have a good holiday - you are going to need it.

Andrew Walmsley is a digital pluralist

30 SECONDS ON ... Andrew Walmsley soundbites on the past digital year

- 12 Jan: 'Non-deliveries are a pain for customers, a cost to the courier and an obstacle to sales growth.'

- 26 Jan: 'Online retail is at a crossroads. The techniques we can apply are growing in sophistication, and some of them cross the line. If we are not careful, the legitimate techniques we apply could be burned, along with stalketing, on the pyre created by an opportunistic politician, industry regulator or pressure group.'

- 9 Feb: 'Very few apps for iPhone users have achieved any breakthrough of note. Few deliver any value that could not be presented in a mobile website without all the adoption barriers that a download represents.'

- 16 Mar: 'A polarisation has emerged between highly skilled digital marketers and others who are struggling to create and implement strategy as digital channels grow.'

- 23 Mar: 'As digital media has become a greater part of our lives, games have emerged as a key tool in influencing behaviour, helping to inform and develop skills.'

- 10 Aug: 'Just as the web struggled to get taken seriously in its early days, scraping by on tiny budgets, many businesses seem now to be adopting a wait-and-see approach to mobile.'

- 17 Aug: 'Facebook is part of a web of sites that are contributing to the death of anonymity; not just online, but as you walk down the street.'

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