7 things to look for on the web in 2006

Happy New Year!

I have some humble predictions for the biggest themes, trends, and ideas on the web in 2006. I’ve got seven items here because the arbitrary concept of posting either 10 or 5 seemed pointless. A list either too long or too short would’ve been diminished by the inclusion of ideas either made up or left off. So, seven themes I think will help shape the web (and the world) in 2006. Here they are:

7. Hyperlocal (or “Ecosystem”) social software

“All politics is local,” goes the old saying. In 2006, I predict the social software movement- sites that allow users to share content, data, and more- will go local more than it ever has. I believe this trend will develop in part because 2006 is an election year in the U.S., meaning that action on the grassroots level will spike as it always does around elections. Further fueling the increase of hyperlocal news & content will be the continued popularity of social content sites like Flickr. As the mainstream begins to develop and amplify ways to utilize these social ecosystems among their families, cliques, and local business networks, the space will expand with the

These trends may also promote the development of pure-play local ecosystem software, most likely in news (there are already several hyperlocal news sites nationwide) and connections (dating, business, meetups).

6. Distributed advertising networks

Blogads and Google Adsense have been the market leaders in blog advertising for a couple of years now. But the market stagnacy is about to change in 2006. Smaller players like Pheedo will either innovate or fade away, but newcomers such as Federated Media (which has been long announced but hasn’t yet launched) and Pajamas Media (which has stumbled out of the gate) with both make this space active, interesting, and competitive. Hopefully, they won’t all be chasing their tails- innovation here is welcome.

Another angle is emerging in blog, or more widely, web-based advertising. That’s the concept that users- who are providing user-generated content in droves to sites like Flickr and You Tube– should be paid at least a share of the revenue generated from the millions of eyeballs they bring to these sites. Two new, as-yet-unreleased services, Newsvine and Squidoo, are hoping to lead a change in this situation. Both services say they plan to pay their users for the content they provide based on the amount of traffic they generate. I hope Flickr and others consider following suit.

5. Identity

This is probably my riskiest prediction. It concerns a concept rarely discussed, even among early adopters and/or close followers of the web. It’s called identity, and it’s a big, abstract philisophical question that, if addressed, can help overcome some of the larger, and smaller, issues of trust, reliability, and socilization online and off.

Specifically, conversations are already underway about the need for an open, distributed system for online identity. In a system like the outlined by LiveJournal founder Brad Fitzpatrick, OpenID, people carry around a single, URL-based identity that can be used to verify their blog posts, comments, and other content; a single identity can be easily managed, moved, and updated; and it can help facilitate web-based transactions (like auction buys) and/or business (think deals and jobs) and/or personal (think dating sites and meetups) arrangements.

To jump in, start with Johannes Ernst’s fascinating post on the advantages of a URL-based identity schema. This is a foundation issue for the web- one that seems erudite but actually touches all of us as is suggests a shift away from email-based identity, part of the “plumbing” of communications on the web. To put it in powerful terms, a URL-based identity system reduces not just the publicity of, but the dependency on, email addresses, which in turn can have a positive impact on the spam crisis.

4. Attention

Identity and attention belong next to each other in this list because they’re both fairly abstract, macro-level ideas as opposed to emerging technologies or tools (though both have their own vibrant development communities). They’re also similar in that identity and attention both address the issue of who we are when we’re online.

While identity is about trust, attention is about- visibility, with accountability. As Steve Rubel explains in his thorough post about Attention.xml, “…imagine for a moment you can look at an RSS feed…and see how many people have read the same post you�re reading or how many page views it is getting, etc…What if you could get an RSS feed that notifies you every time there are blog posts that are read by more than 100,000 people?”

The questions he’s asking suggest the heart of the attention issue- that for quite a long time, the living web has badly needed a unified, yet decentralized, trustworthy place to aggregate and push out data about who, when, and how often people are reading, linking, and subscribing to your blog or content. As Steve notes, the concept of such a system wouldn’t be limited to the blogosphere: “Going a step further, consider the possibilities if the mainstream media (MSM) adopted attention.xml as well. This could happen if the big RSS feed aggregators get behind it.”

The it Rubel refers to is Attention.xml, a proposed format for just such a system to reliably track who is interacting with who. While the number and important of blog search tools continues to climb in 2006, so will the discussion of a system to begin charting the exchange of interactions on the web.

3. Delivery & Organization (RSS, OPML, SSE, and others)

2005 has been the biggest year yet for RSS, and that expolosion has likewise suggested that OPML, a close cousin to RSS, will expand its reach in 2006 and beyond. Both of these acronymns have proven to be important delivery & organization systems for a variety of content on the web (blogs, news, stock/weather data, advertisements). As blogs become ubiquitious, and social service sites like Flickr continue to launch and grow,

Furthering the rise of RSS in 2006 will be the long-awaited release of Microsoft’s next operating system, Vista. The OS, along with two of its most popular applications, Internet Explorer and Outlook, with all be deeply ingrained with RSS and its Microsoft-created (much) younger cousin, SSE. With the launch of SSE, Microsoft (and early fans of the technology) hope that the current “one way street” of RSS will be alighted to allow for bi-directional flow of information. This change, if it materializes, could be as important as the initial release of blogging tools like Manilla and Blogger were to the development of the writable/living/social web.

2. User-Organized Media and Content

Okay, so I couldn’t call this one “User-generated content” because people seem to hate that term (they feel it dimishes the user- fair enough, I guess). So instead, I’m calling it “User-organized media and content”, which in the end seems to be a more descriptive term, so woo hoo.

Either way, it’s all about the concept of giving users a large, open space to share content, links, and comments and to therefore define the discussion of what’s news. The trend emerged in a big way in 2005 thanks to Digg.com, a technology news site where the news is provided via links from users, which are then voted on. No editor picks the top stories on Digg- instead, votes determine, on a constantly-rotating basis, what lands on the front page.

It’s a continuation of the living web as a place for conversation, and beyond the traditionally-opinionated nature of blogs, this round of user-organized information brings news media into the fray.

Expect many other sites, including some mainstream media websites, to follow suit in 2006 and give their users a shot at not just digesting, but defining, what’s relevant in news and other media.

One big player in the space, which I think will be one of the most popular sites of the year, is Newsvine.com. Though the site is currently in private beta, it promises to continue Digg’s innovative, user-centric spirit, while also mixing user’s links with traditional news articles from AP and other sources.

Better still, Newsvine provides all users their own space to write and has noted that it plans to share any revenue generated from user’s content. Another service, the recently-launched Squidoo, also promises to share revenues with its users, who use the site to create “lenses”, or collections of personal expertise, on a limitless array of topics. Call it About 2.0, or, as its creator calls it, a “platform for meaning”.

No matter the label, the social web enters a new phase this year as its heart- news, blog posts, comments, links, video & audio, and all varities of other content- is made even easier to share, mix, promote, and comment on.

1. Open-source video / Videoblogging

Video was on deck in 2005, but it will step up to the plate in 2006 and beyond.

I think video will explode in two big ways on the web this year. One will be via community-based sites such as YouTube, a video hosting and sharing service similar in function to Flickr, the popular photo site. 2005 already hinted at the emerging popularity of online video communities, where users will go to upload videos of all kinds and skill levels.

I had an idea, back in January of 2005, that video on the web might be starting to get big. As the horrific tragedy of the tsunami struck in late 2004, thousands of people across the world filmed videos of the events. Through the internet and blogs, these videos spread quickly, bringing home to every citizen of the world the terrible state of Southeast Asia with stark reality. At the time, I was web developer for Media Bloggers Association (disclosure: I’m still on the Board). In its role as as a blogging advocacy group, the MBA undertook a project to help host videos of the tsunami in an effort to curtail massive bandwidth fees assumed by those bloggers hosting the videos.

During the month MBA hosted the videos, I watched our traffic explode by 1000%, while we leapt from the low-thousands into the Top 50-most-trafficked blogs on the web. This was no longer the hollow predictions from analysists suggesting the arrival of the broadband web- I witnessed first-hand the power and the attraction that even the most amateur web-based video held.

The popularity of all types of viral video did not go unoticed, at least by those in the industry. Back in May, Viacom purchased iFilm.com, a relatively-unknown site that serves up a variety of viral videos, from bloopers to hommade shorts to cable news clips.

Then, in December 2005, it got crazy. The formerly lost season of Saturday Night Live got a much-needed jolt with the premier of “Lazy Sunday,” a ‘digital short’ that aired on the series’ December 17th episode. By the following Tuesday, the popularity of the 2-minute song parody had made an almost overnight sensation out of YouTube.com, a 10-month old video hosting and sharing service, where a user had posted a clip of the SNL video.

Soon after, the popularity of the clip prompted NBC to post its own version of the file for free on its website, NBC.com. NBC’s parent, Universal, quickly followed suit by releasing a version of the video for free on Apple’s iTunes Music Store (which also sells videos of NBC and other networks’ TV shows).

The ensuing hysteria over the video wasn’t something new for its creators, SNL cast member Andy Samberg and writers Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Members of a comedy troupe The Lonely Island, the trio have been releasing their own homemade, amateur-looking (yet brilliant and hilarious) videos free on the web for a couple years now. In fact, it was in large part due to the popularity of some of their previous videos- all released under Creative Commons licenses, which encourage free linking and sharing- that the trio was hired for Saturday Night Live.

The popularity of the “Lazy Sunday” video- linked and shared freely, beginning with users up to the corporations that “own” the content- suggests what I believe will be the biggest trend on the web in 2006:

Combined with the natural expansion of blogging from a primarily text-based medium to one rich with audio, and particularly, video files, 2006 is going to be one huge year for user-created, community-shared video of all imaginable types.

The blend is right in 2006 in part because corporations- historically, the only creators, containers and distribution model for content of all types- are finally getting wise to the immesurable potential of homegrown and delivered goods. But more importantly, it’s the creators who are recognizing- and responding to- the increasingly large audience of people who are becoming more and more in tune with the idea that their entertainment doesn’t need to come in half-hour bursts from channels 2, 5, or 7. There’s more out there, and it’s getting good.