Dec 21, 2010

Looking Back on 2010

Last December I made some web strategy predictions for the year ahead and many of these topics were all over the place in 2010, including issues of privacy online, the importance of analytics, the mobile web and, of course, social media. As the year draws to a close, I'll look at some of the main topics in my 2010 post and see what's happened in web strategy over the past 12 months.

Recent advances in analytics data led me to predict that businesses would use the insights gained from advanced analytics in areas like buyer behaviour and consumer preference. Not surprisingly, 2010 saw the expansion of analytics to enhance user experience, including advances in tracking mobile web usage and user engagement (more on mobile web later).

Analytics were also important in social media, and discussions about how to track social media and measuring ROI from sites like Twitter and Facebook were a common topic of conversation in the blogosphere (more on social media later too).

I declared 2010 the Year of the Mobile and looking at the increase in mobile use it's hard to disagree. With increases in mobile internet usage and purchases of smartphones by Australian mobile phone users, mobile isn't going anywhere:

  • 43% of Australians own a smartphone and 41% of Australian mobile phone owners use their phones to access the internet, up from 26% in 2009
  • In Europe, online shopping habits indicate that over 25% more of German, UK and French shoppers will use their mobiles in Christmas shopping compared to last year
  • In the US, Americans are spending as much time on mobile as reading newspapers and magazines combined

Social Media
Social media continues to be a primary topic in web strategy, and for good reason. 56% of Aussies were using social networking sites this year, an increase of 15% from 2009, and nine million users were sharing content on social media sites. These numbers cover all age groups as well, with the greatest increase in social networking usage among users in their 40s.

It is interesting to note that while there has been a significant increase in social media use in Australia, most SMEs were uninterested in these sites with '56 percent having no intention of ever using social media at all.'

Unacceptable Downtime
A year ago I spoke about the CFA website crash in December 2009 (which had problems again in January 2010) and how we were warned not to rely on the web alone for fire safety information. This is a fair point, but the fact is that technology is a central point of communication in our lives and the web is often the first place we turn for answers. If you tried calling a phone number for several hours and only got a busy signal your frustration would be justified. The same can be said for web technology. In October 2010, the website Foursquare was down for 11 hours, leading to this apologetic blog post from the Director of Operations saying that the downtime was 'unacceptably long'. Whether you are in a volatile and competitive market where you can't afford to fall behind, or are a source of crucial safety information, downtime is increasingly unacceptable (and costly).

Last year I said: "eCommerce will become a key success factor for retailers in 2010" and I'm going to stand by that claim. According to the September 2010 Sensis e-Business Report, 64% of Australians purchased items online and 82% used the Internet to look for information on products and services in 2010. While many used the internet to search for information and then went offline to purchase, Forrester Research believes e-commerce in Australia will hit $28 billion this year, up 17.5% from 2009. Retailers are still learning when it comes to eCommerce but it is also growing quickly as new players enter the game and "only the best retailers, who can continue to provide best value to their customers, will survive in the long term".

Poor Execution
User experience is an essential aspect of a website and this was as true as ever in 2010. As users increasingly use the internet to research products and services (and often use their mobiles to access the web), websites (and mobile websites!) must meet their needs. There are a number of factors that can make a user leave your site (poor navigation, missing important information, unclear messages) and users have an increasingly low tolerance for poor execution (see Econsultancy's '25 reasons why I'll leave your website in 10 seconds').

Search Gets Social
Developments in search continued throughout 2010 as both Google and Bing tried to make search more personal and social. Google Places launched in October 2010 and clusters search results around certain locations. Google's Realtime search, introduced in December 2009 and updated throughout 2010, allows users to personalise news and alerts according to their location or in a region of their choosing, and follow the latest web discussions. Bing has tried to keep up through upgrades and a partnership with Facebook to make search more social, and also provides updates on "hot" social topics on the web. How these "social signals" will affect search rankings will be interesting to follow in 2011.

Brand Wars: Google and Apple
When it comes to Android vs. Chrome, some (including Gmail creator Paul Buchheit) are saying that Chrome and Android will merge (Google co-founder Sergey Brin already said this in 2009), while others argue that Android and Chrome are targeting 2 separate markets and offer different experiences for different types of users (again, something that came up back in 2009). With Chrome OS netbooks arriving in 2011, predictions of Chrome's destruction may be premature, for now.

Over at Apple, the iPad launched in April 2010 and has cut into the netbook market while the iPhone continues to battle with Google's Android OS. While iTunes has reigned as the leading app store with over 300,000 apps, the Android Marketplace reached the 100,000-app mark in October 2010 and continues to grow. Android smartphones are also outranking iPhones in a list of top 30 mobile devices.

The new mobile platform Windows Phone 7 also launched in late 2010 (with more upgrades to come in 2011), adding something extra to the mobile mix.

Privacy and Individual Control
In a July 2010 blog post I looked at privacy issues with Google, Facebook and Apple and asked who was protecting our privacy and what we could do about it. As we've seen, social media use is growing in Australia, so what does this mean for the privacy of Australians on the web? In 2010, features in Google Analytics raised privacy issues and Google spokesmen were brought before Parliament over privacy problems in October. This should continue to be an all-important issue for individuals, businesses and government in 2011.

Augmented Reality
I mentioned (newly updated in June) and in my comments about augmented reality at the beginning of the year, and by December 2010 apps with augmented reality (AR) are becoming useful tools in everyday life. Some apps using AR are more gimmicky than helpful (ice cream, anyone?), but ones like Nearest Tube (helping you find a subway), Yelp or the virtual box simulator from the United States Postal Service shows were AR may lead in the future. Non-profits are also taking advantage of AR for educational and marketing purposes as development costs come down.

Like many aspects of the web, these topics will most likely change and evolve in the future. Check back next week for my 2011 predictions for online strategy.

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