2021 is Actually 2030: We Are In Our Digital Future

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If I was to predict 2030, I would have predicted that machines would be helping us make some of the most important decisions of our lives, what to buy, where to go, who to meet, and more. People would have more space, they’d live by a lake, they’d own more, and they consume more. They’d have access to more products and services personalized to their needs, they’d commute less and when they did, it would be fast using hyperloops, personal drones, or through space. It would be a whole new era of consumerism.

We actually started seeing some of these effects in 2020. In times of a pandemic, when there was no brick and mortar option, e-commerce went through the roof. As a result of so many people moving to the suburbs and being home in general, payment services exploded, and gaming grew as consumers looked for a way to escape. The events of 2020 also impacted digital media—the “open web” became bigger, people immediately spent 20% more time online reading more and buying more, and we also saw H2 advertising budgets recover faster and stronger than anyone had anticipated

When there was no choice, the world changed faster than it would have otherwise, and we got a glimpse into what the future, 2030, would have been.

On the back of 2020—2021 will continue that “future feeling” 2020 gave us, and here are my predictions.

The Industry Will Address the Spread of Misinformation: Tech Companies will Rely More on Human Content Reviewers than on AI

AI has failed a lot lately. It failed to predict the spread of the Coronavirus, it’s failed at flagging misinformation about political figures and it’s even failed at flagging conversations amongst teenagers about suicide.

There is a certain area where AI will continue failing—identifying new problems for the first time. Techies refer to it as ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ Take the global pandemic for instance—AI would have only been able to predict it’s arrival if it knew what such a global pandemic had looked like in the past.

As digital information becomes even more critical for keeping us informed, tech platforms will have to do better than relying on AI for content review. More humans involved in content moderation is the answer. If we have to bet on a solution to address the spread of new phenomena, new trends, misinformation—we should bet on humans (not only on AI).

E-commerce Advertising Budgets will Increase, and it Will Elevate Publishers’ Revenue

Coronavirus hurt some industries, but it also created many new business opportunities in spaces like gardening, pets, at-home-beauty products, fitness and anxiety-soothing video games.

Two things changed in 2020 that will impact e-commerce in 2021 and beyond.

  1. Businesses truly understood not having an online presence where they’re ready to deliver value to consumers is a huge risk.
  2. Out of necessity, consumers started experimenting with online buying in ways they have never done before. They’ve bought homes on Facetime, furniture they’ve never seen, hired online trainers, seen online doctors, participated in online education and more.

As people buy new types of products and find new ways to buy, e-commerce ad spend will reap the rewards in 2021. We saw e-commerce grow by only 3.1% this year. Look for that number to grow to 21.8% next year, and I predict publishers will capitalize on this new behavior in a big way.

User Time Is Everything, Tick Tock, Tick Tock: Every Game, Every App will use Content to Engage Users

I’m even more optimistic about the future of the open web, publishers and news organizations overall because soon, their content will be used everywhere to help engage consumers in new ways we have not seen before. I believe we will see native applications, games, and device manufacturers incorporating news as a way to keep people more engaged—think Apple News—but everywhere.

Similar to how Apple is using news to engage people with the iPhone, like on the minus one screen, in notifications and elsewhere, imagine every app benefitting from contextual news to engage users in real-time with their app:

  • Livescore could surface personalized content about your favorite team alongside score updates so you don’t leave after checking the score.
  • Calm could recommend more content related to spirituality and relaxation after a session is completed so you don’t get meditation and leave.
  • She-in could provide articles about the latest fashion trends for shoppers who aren’t quite sure what to buy.

Diversity will Become a Proxy for Success, Similar to Gross Margin

The Black Lives Matter movement rocked the world in more ways than one. Businesses everywhere pledged support for the movement, but more importantly, looked internally to assess diversity across their own teams.

This year was different. Issues of racial justice rose around the world and accelerated discussions in the workplace about business’s approach to diversity, equity and inclusion. It pushed them to assess culture and admit their failures, but diversity and inclusion have always been essential first and foremost for humanity, and for businesses to grow and thrive across many types of audiences.

Real diversity taps into talents, creativity and perspectives from so many communities, backgrounds and cultures that it organically enriches any team, product or service that embraces it.

A groundbreaking study from Harvard Business Review proved that when investors invest in companies where they share school backgrounds, their chances of being acquired, or going public is 11.5% lower than if they came from different schools. The impact of shared ethnicity was even stronger, reducing an investment’s comparative success rate by 26.4% to 32.2%. Incredible stats.

Companies with diverse employees can better relate to and target diverse consumers. For companies like Taboola, brands and agencies will expect us to bring to them a network of diverse publishers. Having diverse talent would increase our chance of winning those diverse partners and customers.

I predict that in the future, starting in 2021, diversity, equity and inclusion will not only continue to rise in its level of importance because it’s the right thing to do, but because people will understand that when the workplace is diverse and inclusive, their chances of success grows. Similar to how investors look at gross margin, they will start to investigate how diverse teams are or whether companies have a concrete plan to incorporate more diversity before making investments.

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