3 Predictions for 2013... and How to Predict the Future

Predicting what will happen in 2013 (and beyond) is actually quite easy. Our needs as human beings have not changed much over a few thousand years and they will not change. We just find new ways, tools and products to help us meet those needs. An understanding of those needs combined with an assessment of our past makes predictions quite straightforward.

What happened in 2012?

2012 on the Internet was the year of Pinterest. Globally, the usual suspects had the most traffic (Google, YouTube, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, Amazon, Baidu, QQ) but the upstart Pinterest joined the ranks of most visited websites in a not too shabby 36th place. According to reports, the site saw traffic of six million unique visitors between January and February of this year. Sites like Fab and Kickstarter also had breakout years. On the people side, some personalities became everyday names. PSY and "Gangnam Style"? A few months ago you would have thought it was short form for some disease. Who knew Nate Silver a few months ago? And in 2012, as every four years, the Olympics captivated the world's attention.

But why should we not be surprised about the trends from last year? Let's look to Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Why weren't 2012 trends unsurprising?

To determine what websites/products/individuals that will be the breakout trends in 2013, I decided to dig into the past to see if I could do my best Nate Silver impression and accurately predict the future. Fortunately for information junkies like myself there are sites like Google Zeitgeist, which provides historic search trends. It revealed some expected things. Correlating the search trends to our hierarchy of needs highlights 4 things that make a prediction of 2013 trends pretty easy. The trends over the last 10 years highlight that:

  1. People search for events and incidents that make us question our safety (the second need in the hierarchy). Tragedies showed up in top searches every year for the last 10.

  • We look for products and technologies that enable us to communicate with our friends and families, satisfying the need for love/belonging (third in the hierarchy of needs). Google+, Facebook, Bebo or some other form of communication tool showed up every year for the last 10.
  • And four. We aspire to be like the stars of the music we listen to and of the movies that we watch. We desire the creativity, wealth and the respect of others (esteem is the fourth need and self-actualization is the fifth need in the hierarchy) and believe the Brad Pitt's and Katy Perry's of the world have what we desire.
  • So what does 2013 have in store?

    With the expectation that we as human beings will continue to have the need to communicate, aspire and be creative here are three internet and tech predictions for 2013.

    1. Mobile as a social platform will continue to grow in leaps and bounds with some particular products coming into their own: WhatsApp is one of the most under-hyped mobile communication apps in the world and 2013 will be its year. The app is available on iOS, Android and Blackberry phones and, with a billion messages sent in one day, there are more people using the app to cross the barrier of operating system compatibility. I use the app to stay in touch with my friends Europe and Africa at no cost beyond the initial 99 cents I paid. With its immense utility across the globe expect this app (which is being rumored to the target of acquisition by Facebook), and mobile technology in general, to make great strides in 2013.

    2. Consumers will start to pay attention to the 'Safety' ladder of the hierarchies: As the economy improves, albeit slowly, we will start to move away from the basic needs of food and shelter. We as human beings will start to move up the needs ladder using the Internet to take care of our security. Not just security -- security of employment (using tools that build off our natural social nature like Branchout) and security of health using tools and apps provided by companies like Massive Health. There will also be more attention to security of financials and security of our energy resources as the 'cleanweb' starts to pick up pace as web and mobile tools help consumers utilize energy (especially electricity) sustainably.

    3. Knowledge as a currency will continue to grow in importance: Our desire for information is also a need, a need that to feel esteem. But the amount of information offline and online is mind-boggling. The phrase 'big data' was overused in 2012. Unfortunately, it will continue to be overused in 2013. Despite its overuse the inherent value in big data is not in the data itself but in the knowledge and insight that can be gleaned from that data. Consumers will gravitate towards companies that help us gain insight, and consequently, esteem -- companies like Recorded Future.

    With the pace of change and the innovation happening in the world, 2013 is bound to be even more exciting than 2012. But human needs will not change; we will just have better tools to satisfy those needs.