What Will The Web Look Like In The Future?

I’m naturally a bit cynical and reticent to try and get too strategic with my pensive ramblings. I’m happy, more than happy in fact, to sit back and think of things that might or might not happen in the future but to get into predictions, well that’s another thing.

A few weeks ago now I attended a moderated session where a group of like-minded individuals thrashed out what customers might want in the future. The temptation was to get bogged down in technology, second guessing the next big thing but the reality for me is that we’ll start to notice technology less. It’s about feeling like things are less effort and that technology is an integrated part of our lives.

Today I no longer think about it when I check my email on my phone. I don’t give it a thought when I move my laptop around the flat and surf the web, it seems obvious that you can use sat-nav to find a street in an unfamiliar town and that tomorrow morning my iPod will have the latest news on it. Technology makes tasks easier, well it should make tasks easier.

But what about when life is harder because of technology? I’ve moved all my music on to my hard-drive and I worry every week that I’ve not got a backup strategy because if one thing breaks in my hard drive I’ve lost everything. In addition I lost email access a fortnight ago and missed the fact that I’d had an order through my Amazon shop. As a consequence I had to invoke all my customer-service skills to maintain a good relationship with the customer and get the item to him as quickly as possible.

To some extent this penetration of technology means we’re more and more at risk of failures becoming critical. If I lost my laptop – even for a few days – my entire personal admin would collapse, I’d be unable to bank, sort wedding things, and generally manage my domestic arrangements.

Technology is removing some of the sense of progression too. Because we – in the main - focus all of our attention at work through a single interface (normally a desktop PC) we find that we flick between tasks. Answering email, writing documents, producing stats and reports, reviewing web pages, booking diary time and so on. We don’t tend to start one task and take it wholly uninterrupted to its conclusion. Take this blog entry for example. I’ve stopped several times to answer emails and to find pertinent articles on the web. I’ll probably upload it some time after completing it and then edit the hyperlinks later still. Ergonomically this isn’t a lean task-orientated way of working and it’s not just the consequence of my erratic working style either.

Away from the screen I’ll work from start to finish on one task at a time. I blame the technology, and especially ALT-TAB. A recent report suggested
we spend an extra 6.5 hours per week on computers at work when compared against a decade ago. I want technology to begin to deliver on its promises of simplifying the mundane in our lives without penalty.

Two examples:
§ I recently switched my electricity bill to direct debit – but I will pay more each month because they can’t accurately predict my usage.
§ My gym (Fitness First, Ipswich) has just switched to keyless lockers. But I will now have to pay a £10 deposit to get a new card which is refunded when I cancel my membership. So, if I’m loyal and stay with them for a few more years my loyalty is penalised. Why not gift these cards to members and raise the money for them through efficiency savings? I don’t believe for a second that these cards cost £10 each.

Technology needs to become so embedded in company psyche that they begin to use it without consideration for what is currently do-able. This is where we return to the future planning I mentioned above and some of the ‘experience’ development I’ve blogged about in the past.

Companies need to be bold in their suggestions and predictions:
§ A bank that stores your personal data and thus protects you from identity theft.
§ A car manufacturer or motoring provider that manages your tax, insurance, daily directions, servicing and your entire motor-related life.
§ A life-essentials provider that manages your internet, phone, electricity and water supplies as well as food ordering.

Some companies are getting close already. Tesco for example are covering ground by offering a significant range of products and services – but I’m unclear whether they’re muddying the waters or make life more simple. What is undoubtedly proving elusive is the link between public and private sector. Bundling tax admin with other services , car tax with car insurance, council tax with domestic services and health insurance with advance prescription payments would all seem like a good ideas but seem hamstrung by the restrictive bureaucracy which surrounds government-managed departments.

Some key predictions for the future:
§ Customer dialogue will be crucial. We will shift from a transactional web to a conversational one, building trust through transparency.
§ Companies will provide solutions ahead of products. Commoditisation will be anathema to customer-orientated organisations.
§ Personalisation will become smarter. (No more hidden menus in Word!)
§ Environmental, ethical and community-social consideration will increasingly drive consumer demand.
§ A technological underclass will develop both willingly (conscientious objectors) and unwillingly (social poverty).

Comments and questions encouraged. Click the envelope below right.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At the speed this blog gets updated, the future will have been and gone ;)