It’s an amazing time to be following social technology, and 2011 was an outstanding year for the Web. Google, Facebook and Twitter may rule our landscape, but by no means have we reached the end of the line.
So here are some trends, developments and changes I think will be making headlines in 2012:
1). Path is the intimate social network.
It’s a dinner party compared to Facebook’s house party. Path limits you to 150 friends, and the experience all happens on your phone. As Facebook goes mainstream, it’s becoming more cluttered, and Path is here to offer a fresh new social experience. There are also thousands of Gowalla refugees who are looking for a mobile social experience that has made design and UX its North Star. Path is their answer. I would bet the farm on Path as a dark horse contender for mainstream social networking success this coming year. I think Path is what Apple’s social network would look like. Look for their iPad app to draw more attention. Co-founder and CEO Dave Morin is super smart and should not be underestimated. If you liked Facebook, then you will love Path. But just like Google Wave, if you don’t know anyone it’s no fun.
2). Data visualization will continue to entertain and infographics will keep going viral.
I see two things happening: high quality infographics (e.g. well-designed, well-researched, high overall integrity) will increase and we will see way more DIY tools in the years to come. I am fascinated to see where Apple’s Numbers application goes, as it is ripe for coming on and beating out this rather average and crowded landscape. At JESS3, we’ve been working on a number of our own tools and will continue to pioneer in the static infographic and the interactive and dynamic data visualization space. I am also keeping my eye on our friends at Visual.ly!
3). Foursquare will dominate for discovering places and making recommendations.
Yelp and OpenTable continue to do a good job of social reviews. While GetGlue dominates for TV check-ins, Foursquare released a Movie check-in feature. Meanwhile, Zagat is a great brand, but they have not been able to gain relevance in mobile or social. (This could change with their Google deal.) Foursquare just integrated 250,000 menus into their Restaurants section, and are working on adding important contextual relevance to places. Dennis Crowley told me that, “When we get this working the way we want it to, it’ll blow your mind.” And I believe him!
4). I am excited for Rapportive, Xobni and other such smart email features.
I don’t know what I would do without Rapportive. For those of you not familiar, Rapportive is a plugin for Gmail that loads in the right column the social profiles associated with the email address of whoever just emailed you. They have incredibly useful widgets with pretty much every API. I love the CrunchBase, Behance and Flickr widgets! The most useful plugins for smart email are Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.
5). Android phones will continue killing it.
In December, I was at Radio Shack, Verizon and AT&T stores and all the salespeople were raving about Android – all of them personally used Android devices. Let’s expect the smartphone field to be even more competitive this year.
6). Google TV will battle out rivals like Apple TV and lateral opposition from Microsoft’s Xbox Live.
The next step is using mobile phones as remotes and as interaction devices with TVs. I use my phone all the time to look up and save information when I’m watching TV – now I want my phone to work with my TV.
7). Instagram, TwitPic, yfrog, Color, et al. It’s time to thin the herd.
There are too many different apps just for photos, and this is coming from someone who personally loves mobile photos. I use different apps for different purposes (Path for close friends, Facebook and Twitter for those platforms, Foursquare and Yelp for location, etc.) Flickr should acquire some of these mobile image startups and come back from the dead!
8). Uber is uber awesome.
It’s a black car service that works from an iPhone app. It’s slightly more expensive than a cab, but not as much as a car service, and you are charged like a cab with distance and whatnot, rather than just by the hour. It’s a smartly designed and simple app, which is, of course, dependent on your city having the service and cars being available. The other day in Paris when we were there for Le Web, it was so great to be able to have a car pick me up when I needed it. It is impossible to hail a cab in any city when you are in a rush, and Uber is a really smart way to solve that problem.
9). I cannot travel without Airbnb now.
I plan my trips based on how good their options are. For those of you that don’t know about Airbnb, it’s a modern apartment rental service that feels very social. You get ratings and comments from people you stay with, like CouchSurfing. Photography and design is where Airbnb clearly sets themselves apart, but recently growth and success has been defining them. They were valued at approximately $1 billion.
And a couple other things to look for in 2012:
Quora will build on last year’s amazing growth in the new year. Already super hot, over time it’s becoming more useful for getting information and tips on a range of subjects. I love Y-Combinator’s Hacker News for news, in tandem with Quora for my Q&A needs.
Pinterest seems to be very popular, but I’m still not sold. I was falling in love with FFFFOUND! and then all my hip friends started talking about Pinterest (all my female friends added me about three to ten months before my male friends, an awesome first), so watch this space. I’m most excited about the emergence of Dribble and Forrst, two sweet image-heavy design communities. These sites are going to have a big next 12 months.
Tumblr can potentially become the new default blogging platform. (Jon Stewart mentioned it as shorthand for blogging this month.) Its simplicity and social features make it highly accessible and relevant – and it is much easier to use than Blogger or WordPress or other legacy blogging software. Tumblr is great for finding streams of content on specific topics and sharing.
TaskRabbit is another site to watch. While Craigslist has a number of uses, it is still a little like the wild, wild west when it comes to reputable, easy-to-find services. I think we will see TaskRabbit and other new marketplaces being elevated to the level of eBay and Airbnb.
LinkedIn is apparently ramping up for huge growth in 2012. Their various hiring services are great, but I’d like to see them develop some brand partnerships like we’ve seen with Facebook and Foursquare.