2010: the year in interactivey stuff

It says in my Blogger’s Union contract that I have to write a year-end best-of post and then one looking forward to next year. It’s in Sec. 23, para. 17, right after the part about not getting paid ever. This week, some of the most significant interactivey things of 2010, in no particular order and both off the cuff and by the seat of my pants, which is quite difficult when you think about it. I forget a lot what happens when, so some of these may be more truly 2009 items, but just roll with it.

Location-based social apps hit a saturation point. Foursquare, Gowalla, Whrrl, Flrz, Lups, Zbibbit, (OK, I made up the last three). It seemed like every week brought a new app that let you tell people what you were doing where and when. I confess I am one of those people who sincerely believes no one cares where I go or what I do, not that I ever go anywhere or do anything. Lately, though, I hear people grumbling about check-in fatigue. The bottom line is that growth in adoption and use has stalled. A smart person I know says that local deal rewards are the key to growing the category and that Foursquare is making the biggest push in this direction. Next week I’ll have a prediction on where this could go in 2011. Bet you can’t wait.

Groupon sets off the money bomb. Groupon started with nothing but a killer idea for overhead. Profitable from the get-go, they see so much upside they walked away from a purported $6 billion acquisition by Google. Dude, I would’ve settled for half of that. One reason local merchants love Groupon is that a lot of people never redeem, so in effect they get paid for nothing on a certain percentage of the transactions. On the other hand, Groupon, which splits the revenue with local merchants, gets paid for nothing on 100% of the transactions. Good work if you can get it.

Microsoft puts out something just about everyone agrees is cool. I’ve yet to actually use one or even see one (like I said, I don’t get out much), but I’ve read a lot about and am fascinated by the Kinect, Microsoft’s new motion controller for XBox 360. The basic idea is you can play games and control your gear merely by moving your body, i.e., your fat ass can be on the sofa as you wave your arms at the TV to change the channel or raise and lower the volume. The thing sells for only $159 but contains a buttload of sophisticated components (like a 3D camera, for starters), not to mention the bajillions in R&D it represents. And it’s intentionally hackable, which seems so very un-Microsoft. Ignore the cheezoid narrator and check out some of the cool hacks people have done with it:

Netflix offers streaming-only service and the old-new media start getting pissy. Lots of us have fallen heavily in like with watching Netflix’s Instant Streaming on our TVs, limited library and all. People like me went from watching almost no TV to watching some almost every night. Then there were the thousands of avid TV viewers who discovered NIS and said whatever to their cable TV subscriptions. And Netflix, which no doubt noticed a lot of DVDs staying parked at subscribers’ houses, took a big step to encourage streaming over DVD mailings (which are far less profitable): they introduced a streaming only plan; it costs what their cheapest DVD plan used to cost, and they raised the price of that plan a buck. Looks like I’ll finally be sending back that last DVD I got about 18 months ago, if I can find it.

Meanwhile, cable TV subscriptions declined for two quarters in a row for the first time in… ever. While the cable companies were pre-occupied with maintaining the status quo (forcing you to buy lots of stuff you don’t want so you can buy the little bit that you do want), Netflix was figuring out how to sell you just what you want, and by God, they were selling it to you over the cable companies’ bandwidths! Now Netflix has a huge first-to-market advantage and the cable companies—like the record labels before them—have their thumbs up their butts. So they will do what they always do—try to make it more expensive for the competition and the consumer. More on this in the looking forward list.

iPad steals the spotlight from iPhone 4. You knew the iPhone 4 was going to be a hit, but with the iPad, Apple had a real chance to lay a big ol’ egg. And they didn’t. Aesthetically gorgeous, intentionally limited, brilliantly marketed, it instantly defined tablet computing and probably killed that red-head stepchild of a computer, the netbook. From my limited experience with them, they seem so ideal for all kinds of custom learning and business apps.

Facebook puts your business in the street without your permissions. 

click for scary/awesome infographic

 Facebook rolled out a new service that basically let advertisers know when you went to the bathroom and whether you made #1 or #2. People did not like it, politicians started getting all soundbitey and Facebook backed off. It may have escaped your notice, but the Facebook got lots of other attention this year. In a New Yorker profile of Mark Zuckerberg, we learned that his aim is to become the Google of social (like we couldn’t guess). They’ll be giving you lots of new ways to do stuff you normally do via their channel, especially the stuff you normally do that involves spending money.

Google mixes flops and hits. Flops: Nexus 1 phone, Google Buzz, Google Wave (partially resurrected in Shared Spaces), and as we heard only a couple of news cycles ago, Google TV (a flop for now, but I wouldn’t bet against it long term). With the Nexus 1, Big G thought they could re-write the rules of selling mobile phones. They failed miserably, and screwing the pooch on support was just one reason. Smartphones are high touch products. Wishing they weren’t doesn’t make it so. Google Buzz was like doing Facebook twice and a privacy nightmare. And Google Wave was so great no one knew how the hell to use it or what it was even for (easy geeks—I’m just playin’).

Selected hits (there are lots more, these are just the ones I’m most familiar with): Priority Inbox (love), Chrome takes off, Call Phone, Voice Search (also love). Android gets its own paragraph below, cause it’s special.

Year of the Android. A worthy competitor to the iPhone at last. Instead of a single device, the “iPhone killer” turns out to be Google’s copycat mobile OS on umpteen different phones from umpteen different manufacturers. Should be some interesting tension between Apple and Google over their competing mobile ad networks. I’ll have a prediction on the Android app store next week. 

How’d I do? Tell me where and why I’m full of it.