By John Battelle
Welcome to year nineteen of these annual predictions. Those who have been following along know I don’t really prepare to write this post. Instead I sit down, summon the muse of flow, and let it rip in one go. Let’s get to it. (Editor’s note: This column was reposted from John Battelle’s Searchblog.)
1. Crypto blows up. 2022 will be a chaotic year for crypto – both the decentralized finance and social token/NFT/gaming portions of the industry, which will grow massively but be beset by fraud, grift, and regulatory uncertainty, as well as an explosion of new apps based on scaleable blockchains such as Solana and Avalanche. Most of these apps will fade (much as early dot com stocks did), but the overall space will be markedly larger as a result. And while 2021 was the year most of the world learned about crypto, 2022 will be the year crypto dominates the tech narrative. I’m holding off on calling a crash — ’22 feels a bit more like ’98 or ’99 than the year 2000, which is when “web1” topped out. But that first top is coming, and when it crests, look out. Crypto is far more integrated into the global economy than we might suspect. In fact, I’ll toss in a corollary to this first prediction: In 2022, a major story will break that exposes a major state actor has been manipulating the crypto markets in a bid to destroy US financial markets.
2. Oculus will be a breakout hit, but it’ll immediately be consumed in the same controversies besetting the rest of Facebook’s platforms. The company throws money and lobbyists at the problem, including enough advertising budget to mute mainstream press outrage. Apple will try to capitalize on all of this as it introduces its own VR play. Regardless, the Oculus division becomes a meaningful portion of Meta’s top line, which starts to change the narrative around Facebook’s surveillance capitalism business model.
3. Twitter changes the game. I have no particular insight into new CEO Parag Agrawal, but the company has had a long-suffering relationship with its true value in the world, and I think the table is set for an acceleration of its product in ways that will surprise and even delight its most ardent fans (I count myself somewhat reluctantly among them). How might this happen? First, look for a major announcement around how the company works with developers. Next, deeper support and integration of all things crypto, in particular, crypto wallets like MetaMask. And last (and related), a play in portable identity, where your Twitter ID brings value across other apps and environments.
4. Climate has its worst — and best — year ever. Worst because while 2021 was simply awful (I mean, the year ends with a winter draught, then a historic fire in… Boulder?) things can always get worse, and they will. Best, because finally, the political will to do something about it will rise, thanks mainly to the voice of young people around the world, and in particular in the United States.
5. The return of the office. Yes, I know, everything’s changed because of the pandemic. But truth is, we work best when we work together, and by year’s end, the “new normal” will be the old normal — most of us will go back to going into work. A healthy new percentage of workers will remain remote, but look for trend stories in the Washington Post and New York Times about how that portion of the workforce is feeling left out and anxious about missing out on key opportunities, connections, and promotions. One caveat to this prediction is the emergence of some awful new variant that sends us all back into our caves, but I refuse to consider such horrors. I REFUSE.
6. Divisions in the US reaching a boiling point. I hate even writing these words, but with the midterms in 2022 and a ’24 campaign spinning up, Trump will return to the national stage. He’ll offer a north star for Big Lie-driven tribalism, a terrifying rise in domestic terrorism and hate crimes, all fueled by torrents of racial and economic anger. I really, really hope I’m wrong here. But this feels inevitable to me.
7. Big Tech bulks up. Despite a doubling down in anti-trust saber rattling from the EU and the Biden administration, Big Tech companies must grow, and they’ll look toward orthogonal markets to do it. Meta and Apple will buy gaming companies, Amazon will buy enterprise software companies, and Google will buy a content library. Google’s always been a bit confused about what its entertainment strategy should be. YouTube is so damn big, and its search business so bulletproof, the company hasn’t really had to play the game the way Meta, Amazon, and Apple have. That likely changes in 22.
8. The streaming market takes a pause. The advertising business has yet to catch up with consumer behavior in the streaming television market, and as I’ve written elsewhere, the consumer experience is fracking awful. In 2022, those chickens will come home to roost. There’s only so much attention in the world, and with more than $100 billon (requires subscription) to invest in content in 2022, something’s gotta give. Plus, if we get through Omicron and back out into the world, consumers might just find themselves doing something besides binging forgettable, algorithmically manufactured programming. I’m not predicting that streaming crashes, but just that the market will have a year of consolidation and, I hope, improvements in its consumer experience and advertising technology stack.
9. TikTok will fall out of favor in the US. Everyone is predicting that 2022 will be The Year of TikTok, but I think they’re wrong in one big way: This won’t be a positive story. First off, the public will wake to the possibility that TikTok is, at its core, a massive Chinese PsyOp. Think I’m crazy? I certainly hope so! But you don’t have to wear a tin foil hat to be concerned about the fact that the world’s most powerful social algorithm is driven by a company with a member of the Chinese Communist Party on its board. And second, US-based competitors are already learning, fast, what makes TikTok tick. YouTube, Insta, Snap and others will take share all year long.
10. Trump’s social media company delivers exactly nothing. Hey, I needed one sandbag in the mix — and this one comes with a heaping side of schadenfreude. The company will become mired in legal fights, and Trump, having grifted a billion dollars or so from favor-currying investors, will move on to ever more ruinous pursuits.
Well, that’s ten, and I wanted to keep this year’s version under a thousand words. Have a wonderful New Year, dear readers. I hope I see you out there in the real world, and soon.