Every year Nic Newman asks a bunch of people for their reflections on the last 12 months and their anticipations for the year ahead. Here’s what I’ve said this year — as always, to be taken with significant doses of salt.
What surprised you most in 2016?
Perhaps the sheer number of significant developments (compare the posts for 2015 and 2014). It was the year when bots went mainstream very quickly, and platforms took further significant steps towards becoming regulated as publishers.
It was a year of renewed innovation in audio. 2016 saw the launch of a number of new audio apps, including Anchor, Pundit, Clyp and Bumpers.fm, as various companies attempted to be the ‘Facebook of audio’. The only problem: Facebook wants to be the Facebook of audio too: at the end of the year they introduced live audio.
VR and 360 degree video took important steps to becoming integrated into the architecture of social media, as Facebook joined YouTube in supporting it and, at the end of the year, WordPress, and then Twitter did too.
And it was the year when vertical video finally became a serious mainstream option (I invited David Neal to write a guest post on the subject in May), with Facebook going vertical by default in August and even the likes of the BBC piloting vertical formats.
Landmarks in 2016
The end of The Independent‘s printed edition was perhaps the least surprising thing – but that the online-only operation became profitable for the first time in 20 years within months, well that was surprising. And it already feels like ancient history despite only happening 9 months ago.
Finally, it’s worth noting the surprise that online advertising overtook TV advertising in Europe this year, and that more journalists now work online in the UK than in any other medium.
If there was a fable for 2016, though, it would be The Boy Who Cried Wolf. I’ve written a separate post about that.
What might surprise us in 2017?
Following on from the boys who cried wolf mentioned above, I think we’ll be surprised by the ramping up of automation within verification and factchecking.
Nothing stimulates technological development like war, and we are in the midst of an information war. This is already generating increasingly ‘augmented journalism‘ as news organisations – and social media – develop the weapons to fight back.
That also includes legal attacks. So perhaps there will be legal or regulatory surprises in 2017, too, then.
Attempts to regulate technology companies as publishers would be the one thing to look out for.
We might also anticipate judgements that challenge or fulfil the worst expectations of new laws such as the 2013 Crime and Courts Act and the Investigatory Powers Act, although that could be further ahead.
2016 saw the transformative rollout of mobile formats: Instant Articles and Apple News, (launched in 2015) opened up to more publishers while Google’s AMP – integrated into Twitter and WordPress – joined in 2016. In 2017 I expect the battle between those players to heat up — expect more courting of publishers, including commissioning of content.
Companies to watch in 2017?
One company to watch in 2017 is clearly Amazon. How many homes will be getting Amazon Echo this Christmas? The company is also taking on an increasing role in commissioning content and its investment in artificial intelligence positions it alongside Google and Facebook as a key player for the next decade.
In the UK Talk About Local is doing impressive things with its Local News Engine, and new data labs from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and BBC should be worth following, while Johnston Press and The Independent have both established data/investigation teams.
But of course Facebook is the company we will all be watching in 2017, and for reasons entirely unconnected with clicks.
And having written a book about the tool this year I still think Snapchat has yet to really break through to mass usage by news organisations. 2017 may see that happen as publishers seek to make a personal connection with users who are losing trust in journalists.
Snapchat also has a habit of continually reinventing itself, so I expect they’ll throw some more surprises out in 2017.
Chat and messaging apps Telegram and Signal (and new entrant Wire) may find wider adoption as reporters seek improved security in their communication, but that might be wishful thinking on my part. There may be other new launches in 2017 that tap into fears around privacy and security.
More broadly in technologies in 2017 the growth of connected cars and the connected home make audio a particularly important field to watch, although it may be too soon to see the results of that. Facebook’s move into the field could make the difference.
But artificial intelligence, naturally, has to the main field to watch. It has only just begun to make an impact on our work.