Offering Us Everything, Preventing Us from Nothing: The Future of Search and Sharing

By Brian Skarin

The technology powering the devices we have used to connect, share and entertain ourselves over the last 10 years has been moving at lightning speed. The decade that saw the introduction of the smart phone, the tablet and the always-online 4G networks was one of rapid change and groundbreaking announcements that seemed to come around every 6 months or so. Always new, always updating, always connected, always sharing, always available.

Our entire industry is built off of technology that barely existed 20 years ago, and through that passage of time it is almost unrecognizable from what it was when it began…begging the question, what’s next? In many ways I feel that the wave of progress has crested, heralded by the premier of yet another batch of devices. Some are used purely for entertainment, gaming systems that have evolved from their simple origins to become incredibly complex pieces of technology. Others take the progress we’ve made and distill the bells and whistles into a streamlined, efficient and uninhibited way to share our lives with others.

They are a celebration, a culmination of 10 years worth of advancements in new ways of keeping ourselves entertained and sharing our experiences. However, in some fundamental ways, they also reflect the growing public opinion that we are as connected as we need to be, that where we go from here is not forward but to the right, that we must harness and refine what we have created rather than discard it in favor of something new. Are we ready for the future?

Image: Are You Wolf Enough

Gamers Gearing Up For The Next Wave

A clear signaling for the end of the cycle of the current generation is the announcement of new gaming consoles from both Sony and Microsoft. Unlike many other corners of the tech universe that patch, adapt and slowly build on their systems, console gaming moves in massive lurches, with new systems coming out roughly every 7-10 years.

Interestingly, the newly debuted PS4 and soon to be announced Xbox are the first to emphasize the fact that their technical progress is not going to be significantly higher than the generation that preceded it. It will certainly be better, but nothing like the 16-bit –> 32-bit or 32-bit –> 3D leaps that have been made in the past. You know, the type of upgrades that would leave your jaw on the floor from marveling at the pure visual spectacle on display.

Rather, the emphasis is on “sharing.”

This quote, from an exec at Ubisoft, summarizes the focus of the new consoles. The new Dualshock 4 controller for the PS4 will feature a “share” button that allows you to connect to your social networks and upload screenshots and videos for your friends to see. You can stream yourself playing and have friends tune in to watch. Integrating with your mobile and tablet devices, you will be able to purchase new games, apps and extras or simply monitor your system updates, and eventually play your games remotely as well. Sony is promising integration across the entire device ecosystem with the ability to seamlessly connect to the digital community you are part of. And that’s just the PS4.

The next Xbox has not been officially revealed, but reports of the new system REQUIRING an internet connection to play have been confirmed, as well as the plan to provide subscriber TV packages for exclusive on-demand viewing. In essence, billions are being spent to designate this next generation of consoles as the sole multimedia provider for the living room. They will exist as an amalgam and celebration of everything we have devised to make connecting and sharing with each other seamless and integrated into every aspect of our lives.

Image: TechRadar

What role this new shift in focus for consoles might play in the realm of online marketing has yet to be seen, but I predict that segmentation of the audience will continue to be refined again and again. Facebook could begin providing data about what players are sharing, what games and apps are garnering the most interest. Using this data, we may combine it with Graph Search to isolate and target an extremely specific audience. Agencies who used to simply share photos and videos as a social strategy may find themselves working with clients to create interactive gaming experiences that tell short stories or include some type of product placement. Will social gaming drive our strategies in new ways? I can only imagine that it will continue to grow and cement its place as an important aspect of our industry.

Through the Looking Google Glass

Of course, not everything we’ll see this year will continue to bank on being a hit by providing the most features. Google’s Project Glass is poised to fundamentally alter the way we interact, but in a very different way.

To me, this quote from Timothy Jordan’s SXSW presentation is the foundation for my belief that the next 5-10 years will see products and tools that simplify and streamline the process of enjoying the level of connectivity we currently have, while addressing the common complaint that so much of the human experience is being lost as we are seeing more of the world through screens. The glasses are the right turn I referred to previously, and they look a little ridiculous…but not too ridiculous. People already take Segway tours in public, so I doubt their appearance could keep them from becoming widespread.

Image: CNET

The features Google presents at SXSW are in no way revolutionary: Capturing photo/video and sharing with friends or networks, voice searches and directions to your destination, audio playback, etc. It’s how these tasks are accomplished that might inspire adopters to leave smart phones, tablets and potentially even laptops behind. The same way that Apple simplified the desktop user experience vs. the extremely unfriendly PC’s of the 90’s and has continued to do the same for years is what Google might be accomplishing with smartphone technology. You no longer have to dig around in your purse or pocket for a phone and attempt to capture a fleeting image, no longer have to awkwardly stare at your hands at dinner trying to share the picture of your meal with friends who aren’t there while ignoring the ones who are.

What Google hopes to present with Glass is the idea that we can have the tools we’ve created without worrying about the constant distraction of trying to use them. Whether it’s Project Glass or iGlass who finds the nexus between connectivity and invisibility, the key will be offering us everything, but preventing us from nothing.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Right

In the end, of course, no one can know where we will be in the next five years. Will we even use search engines in the way we do now? It’s doubtful. How Search Marketers structure campaigns in the next few years will be significantly altered the same as they have in the last five years, but rather than learning how the technology works, we’re learning how to make the technology work for us.

We’re already comfortable with the idea of a social network being one the primary vehicles for communication across the globe, so how do we stop discarding what we have in favor of what’s new and focus on perfecting it? The newest gaming devices, which will no doubt sell in the millions, are hedging their bets on the fact that social networks and sharing will define the next decade. Project Glass may not be betting the farm on their widespread adoption, but in many ways Google has always been ahead of the curve and could simply be showing us a new direction, leaving room for someone else to come along and build upon it. Check back in five years for updates.

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