Augmented reality metaverse will beat the virtual reality metaverse, everyone will eventually become an advertising company, remote work will increase diversity in tech and technology companies will learn to live without personal information about users.

If 2020 was the year of uncertainty and social reckoning, 2021 was the beginning of change in its wake. New business opportunities were born from a massive migration online, digital advertising became more crucial than ever before, and companies everywhere realized the value of diversity. Here’s what I think will come from these changes in 2022.

1. Augmented reality will beat a virtual reality metaverse, because nobody wants a real-life Ready Player One

We’ve seen Mark walk in a virtual world, and we all remember Ready Player One — the cinematic, nostalgia-packed dystopian future that dominated the box office with $53.2 million in ticket sales it’s opening weekend in the US, and an additional $128 million overseas.

It’s a cool book, but it made us stop and think about what a metaverse could really do to our society. It could create a world where we’re home even more, alone more, and less social. Who is excited about it? I’m sure there is room for VR, much like there is room for autonomous cars, but I think an AR metaverse will win in the ‘eyes of a mass audience,’ over a VR metaverse, much like I think personal drones that fly us around will beat autonomous cars. AR provides many of the benefits of a VR metaverse without requiring us to abandon our world completely.

Whether we wear goggles at home and connect to a virtual world, or goggles outside and connect to an augmented world; whether Facebook is the one to ‘win’ in the Metaverse or someone else — the most important thing is not replicating past mistakes of our social worlds. If Facebook does come out on top, they’ll have to iron out some larger problems to avoid the same issues they’ve had with their Feed.

No more privacy issues, no more hurting publishers with Instant Articles type initiatives, no more bias and moderation challenges. Meta is an execution machine, and they have a real chance to do the right thing. Taboola’s data shows that everybody already cares about Metaverse, so let’s get it right.

2. Everyone will start to sell digital ads

2021 was a record-setting year for growth in advertising. Worldwide ad spend reached $780.59 billion which is $32.92 billion more in spending than initially anticipated. 

This massive growth happened partly because ad spend waned in 2020 when COVID-19 spread business uncertainty. But it also happened because digital ads have unleashed entrepreneurship. They enabled small businesses to match their products to consumers globally, and cost effectively. Social networks are going through a lot of transition with privacy changes coming on strong. Apple’s IDFA, and other initiatives are making it harder for social networks to offer targeting the way they used to, which means advertisers will be looking for other channels they can scale.

My prediction is that eventually, all businesses that reach people at scale will start to show ads as an additional revenue stream. I’m talking about everyone — all streamers, all automobile companies, telemedicine applications, pharmaceutical technologies, real estate platforms and finance platforms. Many industries are ripe for advertising disruption.

It’s already happening. Bumble now sells clothing for you to wear on your first date. DoorDash just rolled out search-like ads within their platform, which attracted interest from news readers, following others like Uber Eats and GrubHub. 

I suspect over time Netflix will show ads in some markets, Tesla will show ads in the car, consumers will have “brought to you by” in any service they use that has meaningful scale. Because this is the case, it’s very important that ads are relevant and useful, rather than interruptive and harmful to user experience.

3. Remote work will broaden talent pools and increase diversity in tech

The debate about why a diverse workforce is better should have been long over. It’s not only the right thing to do — it’s critical for success. Building a company with diverse leadership and employee base will become as important as having a great gross margin. Both are a proxy for success. 

2021 was the year the technology industry reckoned with falling short when it comes to building a diverse workforce, but 2022 will be a year of execution and measurement against real goals. 60% of companies already measure diversity, while 28% say they’re working on putting measurement metrics in place.

Diversity is here to stay. Hybrid work is becoming permanent, and the great resignation is expected to continue. Companies have to tap into new talent sources or talent and continue to increase the diversity of their workforce.

But, what’s next for diversity initiatives is a focus on equity and inclusivity. What companies need to do next is to support their diverse talent in hybrid work, and find new ways to engage talent to improve collaboration, innovation, and to make work fun and rewarding.

I think we’ll see that remote work and hybrid office environments enable us to get closer to  those diversity goals that we set for ourselves. If proximity to technology hubs like Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv and New York aren’t a requirement, the whole world is your oyster. This greatly expands your candidate pool, and makes finding candidates of different ethnicities, ages, genders and backgrounds much easier. As we expand our candidate pool to other areas though, it will be important for us to practice empathy for everyone’s individual work situations, so that everyone always feels equally included at work.

4. Contextual signals are the “new pink”

Consumers have spoken loudly and clearly — they want a personalized online experience without having to fork over personal information to technology companies. People don’t want tech companies to know who they are or where they go. Privacy is no longer a topic that is discussed among general counsels — it’s a topic everybody cares about. And people are going to get what they want. 

In the last few years we’ve seen many changes from the internet leaders and government bodies in a major move to protect the identity of users. GDPR, CCPA, IDFA, and the impending cookieless world just scratch the surface.

This year, we’ll see technology companies shift to rely on contextual signals, and implied signals in order to personalize our experiences online. Amazon says “people who buy this product also bought this,” and it has nothing to do with me, it has everything to do with people in my situation or the context of the product I’m considering. We will see a lot more of that, versus “tell me who you are, and I’ll tell you what you need.” 

I’m optimistic about our industry’s opportunity to grow and change for the better in 2022. Whether it’s a battle between AR and the metaverse, diversifying ad space for advertisers, building more diverse teams, or an internet with better privacy, 2022 will be a year of positive change.

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