Part 2: What lies ahead
If 2016 has taught us anything, it is that life is truly unpredictable. I for one am optimistic about the year ahead. I think we are witnessing a turning point in communications, particularly with respect to social media platforms, which is undergoing a maturing process that will serve businesses and consumers better in the long run. We are also seeing a renewed effort to address the concerns of American workers and balance innovation with the greater good.
With that in mind, let’s consider some predictions for the year ahead.
The demise of trolls and fake news begins
While it may be wishful thinking to contemplate the complete demise of trolls, I do think we have seen a shift from the pervasive complacency which allowed the issue to fester for so long. Fueled by a liberal idealist devotion to unfettered free speech, the political upheaval of 2016 will serve as a wakeup call. We now know that the provocation of Internet trolls and fake news are not trivial; both have more influence on the public than we ever imagined. Facebook and Google are under attack for failing to address fake news, and Twitter has taken to banning so-called “alt-right” accounts – after years of ignoring pleas to do more to tackle its most offensive users. For the perhaps first time since their inception, social media giants are truly on the defensive. And that may not be a bad thing.
The IPO market will rebound
2016 was a record low year for IPOs. In fact, this year’s IPO tally is barely halfway towards reaching the 2015 IPO count of 170. For many companies, the market was too uncertain, and predictions of another bubble abounded. The spectacular fall of Theranos left a sour taste, adding credence to claims that the market was overhyped. Add in the uncertainty that resulted from an unpredictable election and the reluctance of companies to go public was understandable. However, as we approach 2017, there are signs of a rebound. Snapchat is predicted to go public as soon as March 2017, seeking to raise as much as $4 billion to reach a valuation of at least $25 billion, making it one of the largest stock debuts in years. While one company alone cannot sustain the IPO market, a decisive and successful debut by Snapchat could ease the jitters of investors and renew confidence.
The driverless car debate will move mainstream
The demise of blue-collar jobs and the uncertain future of Middle America have been dominant themes this year. It is easy to write this off as election hyperbole, but working class discontent in this country is a legitimate concern for many. And given the decisive impact of that demographic in the election process this year, media, politicians, and the public at large are actively paying attention. President-elect Trump has made many promises to return local jobs to disenfranchised workers – promises that will be tough to deliver on. However, there are signs that concerns about driverless cars – and specifically its impact on existing jobs – will be a hot one for the year ahead. This is yet another iteration of the man vs. innovation story (and innovation usually wins). But we are entering a new era, and there are signs that regulators are renewing their focus on workers and their rights rather than simply offering unfettered support to business. This will be an interesting story to watch unfold as people who drive for a living go head-to-head with purveyors of driverless technology in a battle for hearts and minds.
The sharing economy will take a hit and Airbnb will be the first high profile casualty
Uber and Airbnb both fell afoul of regulators and legislators this year, and I see no reason why that will not continue. The negative side effects of the gig economy on workers who struggle to earn a sustainable living and are denied benefits is beginning to take center stage. In particular, the impact of the Airbnb model on affordable housing in major cities such as New York has put them on a collision course with regulators who enacted a potentially business-destroying piece of legislation curbing their operations in that city. The company, perhaps anticipating investor concern, has already begun a media push pivoting its business model beyond its original scope, launching Airbnb Trips to offer travelers a series of excursions and adventures. Whether this second act can help Airbnb sustain its current valuation of $30 billion remains to be seen. Either way, it seems likely that companies looking to branch into the sharing economy must start developing new business models and stories that demonstrate their commitment to helping people earn a living wage.