Ten emerging trends and issues in digital media to keep an eye on

I’m lucky enough to do some very interesting work in media literacy and was recently asked to list some of the areas I think those considering the impact of technology amongst the broader population need to keep an eye on over the coming months.

I could have written a very long list but I was asked to cap it at ten which I’ve done (and in doing so almost completely neglected any mention of data or cyber security which is surely a mistake but probably deserves a whole list to itself).

So here you go with – see if you agree and let me know what you think I have missed:

Where next for mobile?

Mobile has set the agenda in recent years becoming the dominant platform for many people but where might it go next?

We’ve reached virtual saturation of adoption and development of the technology is increasingly more of the same rather than anything obviously radical or the introduction of genuinely exciting new features.  There’s much talk of virtual reality being the next big thing, but is that really going to make the impact commentators assume it will? I’m not convinced yet.

Additionally, the mobile experience has been very agreeable for users but commercial exploitation – monetization of platforms, rapid growth in advertising etc – is growing fast. Could it be that we at the end of a golden period in mobile use, and how will consumers feel when the ‘cost’ of use – in terms of interruption, exposure to advertising, sharing of their data etc – becomes more apparent?

Creativity and storytelling through the smartphone camera

For years those interested in broader media literacy issues have suggested the internet and access to new technology and platforms should result in making the general population much more active in producing their own digital content but have seen little evidence to suggest it has really been happening beyond the basics of sharing photos and status updates.

However, the combination of an always present smartphone camera, easy to use and fun creative software packages (Instagram, Snapchat, Vine etc) and the ability to share on social networks appears finally to have delivered a nation of creative content creators and storytellers.

Snapchat seems to be a particularly interesting areas where we are starting to see increasing numbers of users, for example, telling stories of their nights out with a much greater sense of narrative than just chucking up a few snaps. Perhaps the temporary nature of the medium lowers the risk involved making it easier for people to have a go without worrying too much about the outcome? It will be fascinating to see how this trend develops.

Facebook – the internet within the internet

As Facebook offers users more and more types of content (including news, chat, video etc), all carefully chosen for maximum appeal, some users are likely to exist online increasingly within the Facebook eco-system.

The more time they spend there, the more Facebook learns about them, which can be used to further enhance the user experience, but it also raises potential issues about the concentration of power and data in the hands of one (commerical) platform.

Are people concerned about this (yet) or do they believe that ultimately there is still so much choice online that they do not see it as a threat?

The role of Facebook in controlling access to news

In recent years we’ve seen a significant decline in the importance of website homepages, especially for media titles, with users instead increasingly likely to end up viewing content – including news – by clicking links they encounter on social media.

Facebook seems to be driving this trend to new levels with its increasing dominance as a complete internet platform (as above) and the integration of features, such as Instant Articles, where curated news is tailored and integrated into users’ news feeds.

There has been some controversy of late about how the stories are selected, perhaps overblown, but what issues do arise if Facebook becomes the gatekeeper to increasing amounts of the news media people see?

Living within the confines of a social app

Of course it is not just Facebook that is trying to grab more and more of users’ share of time on their devices.

Other social and chat apps are constantly trying to make their own platforms more sticky to keep people in them for longer. For younger users in particular there seems to be more and more likelihood of their whole online experience being from within a small number of apps that originally had a much more limited role.

What impact will it have if people start to see the world – news, content, opinion, commentary etc –  exclusively from within one or a small number of social apps?

The growth of messaging apps

Data suggests more and more people are spending ever growing amounts of time using messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc).

Whilst they offer a fantastic and super-convenient means of communicating with friends – either one-to-one or in groups – what impact on people and their lives are these platforms having?

Also, what will happen as they increasingly become used not just to banter with your mates but also to interact with companies and organisations as they too adopt them for customer service/public service communications? Will this, like the general growth in the commercialisation of mobile mentioned above, start to sour the user experience?

Connected devices – where does all the data go?

Evolution in terms of mobile devices might be becoming less exciting, but we are facing an explosion in other connected devices and the Internet of Things.

Whether wearable health trackers, smart devices in the home or even connected cars, we are rapidly obtaining more stuff that is connected to the internet in its own right and is collecting huge amounts of data about us.

How concerned are people about who gets to see that data, whether they might be selling or sharing it with others, how much personal information it actually reveals and how safe it all is? And who is responsible for overseeing it all?

The internet – always there, always listening

To date voice assistance on mobile devices – e.g. Siri, Ok Google – has not been taken very seriously and at best tends to be seen as a very occasional help and a more frequent source of a good giggle.

But voice as the channel of interaction with technology is becoming a much more serious option with developments in Artificial Intelligence and the successful launch of the Amazon Echo, soon to be copied by Google and, many suggest, Apple too.

However, in order to be able to do what they do, these devices are always connected, always listening, always collecting information. How do people feel about opening up their lives this way and what are the broader implications?

The growing price of content on demand

In recent years we have seen consumers signing up for more and more streaming services whether music (e.g. Spotify), video (e.g. Netflix), sport (e.g. Sky) and so on.

Whilst people love the idea of content on demand, there might be a growing unease emerging that they are having to pay for more and more services to get what they actually want. For example, you can’t just have one streaming movies package, you really need two or three to get the content you want (ditto football with both Sky and BT needed to follow the Premier League).

Will people just accept this, as a cost for convenience and access, or will there be a backlash? And what further impact will the continued growth of on-demand streaming have on the traditional but consistently diminishing linear consumption of media we have been witnessing for many years?

What can we do when it all goes wrong?

The right to be forgotten is up and running but awareness hasn’t really cut through to the public in general. However, people are aware of the impact negative online content can have (with many now able to give specific stories of others they know being affected).

Likewise, the massive growth of SnapChat is largely driven by the younger generation’s desire to ‘leave no trace’ for those outside of their trusted friendship groups.

So what happens when when your life is negatively impacted by internet content that is damaging your reputation – whether serious or trivial, factually true or based malicious gossip? What are the principles that should be in place for removing content and who should police it?