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The Big Changes

Regulation: There’ll be more

This one is obvious: There are going to be many more congressional hearings about social media, app store guidelines, platform lock-in, and the like. Policymakers will draft new regulations around transparency and labeling media sources. Maybe protecting consumer privacy sounds good, but much of this policy will simultaneously peck away at user privacy in the interests of law enforcement.

Silicon Valley: It’ll be weird

It’s going to be an odd stretch for Silicon Valley. Lots of tech leaders abhor regulation, so there’ll be a lot of stomping around on Twitter and Clubhouse and Parler and wherever else tech libertarians go to farm their rage. Simultaneously, half of the USA sees “tech” as a democracy-destroying monster, which is bad for the brand. And, meanwhile, the pandemic has shown people how to work at home — and the FAANG companies will only become more physically decentralized, even as the services they provide (and acquire) will become more digitally centralized.

Civic tech: Lots to build on

The good people of the US Digital Service, 18F, and other civic tech ventures have all been working steadily over the past four years, like ambulance drivers in a bad hurricane. Many thanks to them!

Climate work: Here it comes

As climate guidelines get baked into law, and thus into business requirements, and money frees up to implement new climate guidelines, climate sensitivity will need to be baked into technology platforms. For example, if you’re a giant company deciding where to buy your aluminum, you’ll need to factor in the carbon involved in mining, refining, and shipping, and weigh that against a bunch of other factors. If you gain any kind of credit for that, how do you exchange it? (In Kim Stanley Robinson’s new book he posits a sort of blockchain for carbon credits, and I mean, whatever works.)

Social fragmentation: We can hope

The monolithic hold of social media over the internet’s attention is starting to fragment. First, self-regulation by orgs will change some dynamics — like Facebook’s promise to stop running political ads (eventually), or Twitter’s labeling of “disputed claims” on Trump’s tweets. Government regulation will change it further.

So, what to do?

So how will this trickle down to we the people, who make the platforms and apps with our keyboard-typing and mouse-moving? This is obviously even more of a set of guesses than the above, but consider some new probabilities.

Expect a lot of opting in

The idea that you can track someone around the internet — because…well, because you want to — could fade away, partially because of moves by Apple, and probably because of some influence from the government. You’re going to have to ask people for data, not just help yourself, and you may need to give people the right to manage and erase their own data. I could even imagine that being automated — imagine a really big DO NOT EMAIL list controlled by the government, but with teeth. The right time to have started collecting opt-in email addresses that can be used as unique account IDs was 20 years ago; the second best time is today.

Start looking for ways to “climate enable”

Climate science is hard, and if you’re a tech-oriented person, it’s a little…well, boring. There’s no IDE or YouTube tutorials, just a lot of science. But it’s pretty likely that the next four years will involve a lot of global warming mitigation efforts, and that means lots of sensors out there, lots of data to analyze, lots of machine learning models to evaluate, lots of supply chains to optimize in new ways. It won’t all be carbon calculators.

Light a candle in hopes of app store changes

This is a stretch, and wishful thinking, but just imagine for a moment if Apple suddenly was forced to charge 5% for in-app purchases instead of 30%. You’d see a vast, thriving ecosystem bloom in hours. It’s just a huge tax we all pay. Fun to think of what you’d do if you could get a quarter of your revenue back! You could do so many more interesting things with that money, whereas Apple will just use it to hold more events announcing updates to Apple Watch.

Experiment with new distribution strategies

Social media plus Google ads have taken all the air out of every room and it’s essentially impossible to make something new and share it with an audience, without paying tons of money to billionaires, or turning everything you make into memes. Plus, no one visits home pages.

Going big

Maybe over the next four years little changes: The social networks and Google agree to behave a little better. Fake news flare-ups are a normal part of life, but everyone follows a more transparent rulebook. The newsletter fad crashes because no one wants to pay for that much media, and big players like The New York Times and The Washington Post keep growing. There are more privacy rules to follow, but in general, if you use well-known user tracking and analytics platforms, you don’t get into too much trouble.

Written by

CEO, https://postlight.com, a digital product studio in NYC. Also writer, Medium advisor, programmer. Any port in a storm, especially ports 80 and 443.

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