Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The Next Big Thing is...
It seemed the biggest buzz at this year's sxsw was group messaging, services that allow users to create and send SMS and other messages to lists of people. GroupMe and Beluga appeared to attract the most buzz, but a host of other group messaging startups were vying for attention.
Group messaging may, in fact, grab some users, but it isn't "the next big thing." Nor is Quora, Groupon, Hashable or the host of other consumer-facing sites that have gotten so much attention (and attracted obscene valuations) in recent months. (Quora, a site with only a third of a million unique visitors monthly, was reportedly valued at $1 billion recently--around $3,000 per unique user.) Even technologies that seem destined for wide adoption--such as QR codes and Near Field Communications--are not "the next big thing." While all of these sites and technologies offer exciting opportunities in the coming years, none will (in isolation) fundamentally alter the way the masses communicate, research, share, decide or buy.
So what is "the next big thing"? It is no one site or tool but all of them, connected by one thread that will define the next decade: Social media.
Social media is and will remain the next big thing for years to come. Need evidence? Consider, with the benefit of hindsight, what "the next big thing" was in 1999. By then, most enterprises had launched their first web site and were wondering what the next big thing would be. Of course, in the years that followed, the Web continued to evolve and Internet investment grew exponentially--the Web remained "the next big thing" for well over a decade.
And now consider where we are today with social media. It's been less than five years since Facebook opened its doors to the masses, and two short years since it passed the 200-million active user mark. For many brands, 2011 is the first year social media is not relegated to an "experimental" budget, and most companies still consider it a channel simply for marketing and communications rather than a crucial part of product and service. Much as the Web did in the years since 1999, social will continue to change, disrupt and define business processes for the next decade.
As for which company will be "the next big thing," it won't be one business but many, and the ones that matter won't be headline-grabbing consumer sites with hundreds of millions of customers but less flashy enterprises that help to power the social web for hundreds of corporate clients. Again, one can look at the Internet experience for guidance. Following the dot-com bubble bust, the companies that came roaring back were the ones that facilitated Web operations. Since mid 2002, the S&P 500 is up 54% while companies like SAP, Oracle, Rackspace, Sybase and Salesforce.com are up 225% or more.
Just as SAP and Rackspace did for the Web, the hot companies of the next decade will be the ones that make social media manageable for the enterprise. Categories include community platform vendors (such as Lithium and Jive), social media management systems (such as Syncapse, Spredfast and Cotweet/ExactTarget) and social media listening platforms (such as Radian6, Converseon, Cymfony and Alterian).
A lot of failed corporate strategy and investment dollars will go to waste chasing "the next big thing" in the years to come. That's too bad, considering "the next big thing" is as obvious as the nose on your face (or the 1.3 million years people spend on Facebook each month).