And just like that, Platformer’s 2021 is coming to a close. I’ve spent the past few days asking you all about the future over email, Discord, and Twitter. Today I’ll share a few of my own thoughts about what’s in store in 2022, followed by my favorite of your guesses.
Before we get to that: thank you for an incredible first full year of Platformer. When this year began, the newsletter was just 13 weeks old; today the possibilities seem almost limitless. Thanks for supporting everything I do.
I. My predictions
Here are five things I think we might expect to see in 2022.
Europe cements its position as the most important tech regulator in the world. With Congressional dithering entering its sixth year, Americans shouldn’t expect any of the Big Tech bills about competition, antitrust, or online content to become law. Instead, they should keep their eye on the United Kingdom and Europe, which appear poised to do the regulation for us. Specifically, the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act, which would address some of the same concerns, appear headed toward passage. Whatever changes platforms make in response will surely affect us here in the United States.
Meanwhile, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has proven to be a skeptical eye on any acquisitions. It’s attempting to scuttle Meta’s acquisition of Giphy and Microsoft’s purchase of Nuance; I’d expect a difficult road ahead for even minor-seeming acquisitions for the big platforms next year.
Authoritarian shakedowns of platforms and their employees will accelerate. This year saw India send police to raid Twitter’s offices over a labeled tweet, and Russia physically intimidate Googlers over a voting app that the company hadn’t yet removed from its app store. Just this week, a court in the country ruled that Google should face fines that double every day it doesn’t restore the YouTube account of an ally of Vladimir Putin.
With right-wing authoritarianism spreading around the world, and platforms finding that they’ll get minimal diplomatic support from the US government, expect more situations like these more, and more often. A central question for next year is whether or when platforms will push back, what leverage they can realistically exert, and whether any of these countries will cross a line that makes a tech company reconsider its position in the country altogether.
Drama Twitter is back. Those of us who came up as tech reporters in the early 2010s remember well the perpetual chaos of the Twitter board room. Each day brought a fresh calamity, and you never knew when the C-suite would be completely reshuffled, seemingly for no reason. But after a period of eerie stability and rapid product releases at Twitter, Jack Dorsey is out again as CEO — and this time, he’s no longer able to plot his return from a board seat. Will Parag Agrawal be able to hold off activist shareholders and make the case for Twitter’s independence? Will the whole thing be sold off to Salesforce by this time next year? And what will the company manage to ship in the meantime? Whatever the answer is, I expect things to get messier before they stabilize.
The best thing you’ll be able to say about the metaverse is that it’s still under construction. Meta is still doing a sneaky good job of consolidating talent in the virtual reality space, and its Oculus headsets are selling well enough to give it a solid position as competitors emerge. But we won’t really be able to assess the competitive landscape until (unless?) Apple releases its planned mixed-reality headset at some point late in 2022. It would be great if the device were iPhone-level good, single-handedly reinventing the category with version 1.0. But I suspect it will be more like the first version of the Apple Watch — a series of difficult compromises that, despite its shortcomings, points its way toward the actual future. (Something else I’ll be looking for in this regard next year: the extent to which big tech platforms become more interoperable with one another — a key first step toward the metaverse as they describe it.)
Pro- and anti-crypto factions harden into place, setting up a long-term religious war over the potential and perils of the blockchain. So much money is now invested in what enthusiasts call “Web3” that its runway now lasts well into the latter half of the decade. Nevertheless, smart skeptics continually draw attention to the blockchains’s terrible interface, user experience, performance, cost, utility, scams, and environmental impact — to say nothing of the risks of speculative token purchases.
At the same time, so much time, money, and talent is working on these projects that it seems inevitable they will leave behind something useful. This year we saw video games that pay you to play them, attempts to disintermediate big record labels, and a flurry of experiments in governance that led to a nearly successful attempt to buy the Constitution, among other things.
Next year I expect to see lots more uses of NFTs that go beyond art speculation — think NFTs that give you access to virtual and physical spaces; think POAPs. I also think we’ll see more viral DAOs that start out as jokes and then do extremely weird and hopefully cool things.
These two sides will continue to rage at each other online and off all year.
More predictions: more messy, public tech labor actions; ever-expanding facial recognition everywhere, with no meaningful regulatory pushback; Clubhouse founders cash out and sell to an Indian company; a big new push to end end-to-end encryption from Europe to India; Apple figures out a better way to identify and remove CSAM; Frances Haugen gets a TV show; Platformer podcast.
II. Your predictions
Thanks to everyone who sent in their speculation about next year. One big takeaway: crypto is on almost everyone’s minds.
Some of my favorite thoughts that you shared:
Crypto goes fully mainstream. Austin Federa, who runs communications at blockchain company Solana, says the number of Americans owning crypto will surpass 50 percent in 2022 — led not by big crypto platforms but by “tech-ish” companies that find novel uses for the blockchain: “payroll, mobile games, merchant payments, concert tickets, etc.”
There’s a strange collision coming between Web3 and politics. From Samidh Chakrabarti, who ran civic integrity operations at Facebook: “A new crypto-centric political party will organize as a DAO and inject volatility into the US midterm elections. It will run totally afoul of existing campaign finance rules, but will nevertheless succeed in pressuring a majority of candidates to join a crypto caucus.”
Similarly, the New York Times’ Kevin Roose, who is maybe only 30 percent joking, predicts that a “Bored Ape runs for Congress.”
There will be a series of novel new blockchain disasters. From developer David Elliott: “Some company will accidentally put private customer info on a Web3 blockchain, forever enshrining their mistake.”
There will be some attempted mega-deals. One reader predicts, plausibly, that Amazon could acquire Peloton. Several of you think, reasonably, that Twitter will be acquired. Or that Meta could acquire Unity.
Entrepreneur Alex St. Louis offers a thought that may not pass regulatory scrutiny, but still made my eyes perk up: Meta buying Epic Games for $75 billion or more. He reasons: “The world's best engine for creating and building 3D content, combined with the social graph of Insta, Facebook, plus the obvious VR ecosystem synergy.”
(Given late-breaking news that the Federal Trade Commission is scrutinizing Meta’s purchase of relatively small VR fitness software maker Within, though, an Epic purchase seems unlikely to gain approval.)
Loosening restrictions on app stores could make mobile development interesting again — or at least more interesting than it was this year. If you assume Apple will eventually relent and allow alternative purchasing mechanisms, some of you think we’ll see brand new business models. In the words of entrepreneur Michael Love: “Regulators finally come for the app stores and the result is a variable Cambrian Explosion of new business models from other tech companies freed of their yoke.” I’d like to see it.
And finally, a prayer from the Washington Post’s Will Oremus: “The big tech firms all repent of their past mistakes, heed their critics and consciences, invest heavily in human oversight of their products, open their data to researchers, expand their ethics teams, and prioritize their societal impacts over profits.”
Amen. Have a great couple weeks, and I’ll see you back here January 3.
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⭐ TikTok said it would adjust its algorithm to avoid showing users too much of the same thing, amid broadening regulatory scrutiny of the effects of social platforms on children’s well being. The changes are meant to ensure children aren’t exposed to excessive content about issues including extreme dieting, sadness, and breakups. Here’s Liza Lin at the Wall Street Journal:
TikTok also said Thursday that it would allow people more authority to pick videos they want or don’t want to view. One of the measures the app is working on is a feature that would let users pick words or hashtags associated with content they don’t wish to see on their video feed.
⭐ Meta cracked down on cyber mercenary companies that spied on as many as 50,000 users in 100 countries, naming them removing their accounts. I suspect there will be a lot more to say on this subject next year: “Those targeted for surveillance by the companies included journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, and families of opposition and human rights activists.” (Ryan Gallagher / Bloomberg)
Facebook is set to gain approval of its proposed acquisition of customer service company Kustomer. So if you’re keeping score, Facebook can acquire a powerful engine for B2B commerce, but cannot buy a dying GIF search engine. (Foo Yun Chee / Reuters)
The metaverse has a groping problem already. After an incident in Meta’s Horizon Worlds software, the company suggested that concerned users could enable “Safe Zone,” which prevents other users from interacting with them. (Tanya Basu / MIT Technology Review)
A group of 16 US lawmakers, all Democrats, called for sanctions against NSO Group and three other foreign surveillance companies. “Their letter sent late Tuesday also asks for sanctions on top executives at NSO, the United Arab Emirates cybersecurity company DarkMatter, and European online bulk surveillance companies Nexa Technologies and Trovicor.” (Joseph Menn and Joel Schectman / Reuters)
Related: Google’s Project Zero explains how one of NSO Group’s most fiendishly clever exploits for iOS worked. (Project Zero)
A French regulator told Clearview AI to delete its facial recognition data. Hell yeah. (Russell Brandom / The Verge)
Google faces mounting fines after a corrupt Russian court ordered it to restore the channel of a Putin ally “who was sanctioned by the U.S. and European Union in 2014 for allegedly funding the pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine.” The situation for platforms in Russia feels increasingly untenable. (Henry Meyer / Bloomberg)
Inside the Illinois Amazon warehouse that was leveled by a tornado, killing six workers. Here’s one problem: “There are no federal requirements for specially built storm shelters in warehouses.” (Jeanne Whalen and Rachel Lerman / Washington Post)
Cryptocurrency users lost at least $7.7 billion to scams in 2021. “That represents a rise of 81% compared to 2020.” Nice! (Chainalysis)
⭐ Reddit took its first official steps toward going public. So far, the company has not suggested a valuation for itself. Here’s Mike Isaac at the New York Times:
As competitors like Digg and other similar sites fell away, Reddit grew in popularity as a destination for enthusiasts of practically everything. From “Makeup Addicted” users to people who post videos of themselves power-washing their driveways, the site is home to more than 100,000 active communities visited by upward of 50 million people every day.
The site made near daily headlines early this year after one of its forums, called WallStreetBets, laid the foundation for an enormous rally in shares of GameStop, creating a category that became known as “meme stocks,” or securities popular with Reddit users and others on the internet.
Related: Reddit ended its legendary Secret Santa program. The 11-year-old program attracted more than 100,000 users, including celebrities like Bill Gates. (Yasemin Craggs Mersinoglu / Financial Times)
Google’s experimental division launched web storefronts for creators. Qaya can be linked directly to a YouTuber’s merchandise shelf. (Sarah Perez / TechCrunch)
Spotify is adding user-contributed star ratings to its podcasts. But you actually have to listen before you rate the show. (Todd Spangler / Variety)
Adidas started selling NFTs that include virtual wearables for use in the Sandbox gaming world. The company also bought a Bored Ape and said it will build a variety of experiences in Sandbox. (Dean Takahashi / VentureBeat)
The Electronic Frontier Foundation came out against proposed changes to Google Chrome extensions, saying Google is abusing its market dominance. Among other things, the changes prevent extensions from using the standard set of web APIs. (Alexei Miagkov and Bennett Cyphers / EFF)
TikTok is testing desktop streaming software for the PC. Makes sense to me. (Amanda Silberling / TechCrunch)
Ray-Ban Stories added support for Facebook Messenger. Your sunglasses will now read messages to you, as God intended. (Mitchell Clark / The Verge)
Niantic CEO John Hanke talked to Decoder about, among other things, deciding to shut down its Harry Potter game that it was making with Warner Bros. “You’ve been around the tech industry for a long time, you know that every time two companies are trying to do something in a cooperative way, that process is just harder. I mean, I’m sure you see that even inside your own organization: when trying to make decisions — and when more and more people join the table — it becomes harder and harder to move quickly. We just didn’t think we’re going to be able to get it done.” (Nilay Patel / The Verge)
Also: Decoder also has an interview with Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, on how to regulate social networks while abiding by the First Amendment.
India's ShareChat raised $266 million, valuing the fast-growing social network at $3.7 billion. After TikTok was banned, its short-form video platform Moj became the chief homegrown rival to Instagram’s Reels and YouTube’s Shorts. (Aditya Kalra / Reuters)
Stocktwits, a social network for day traders, raised $30 million. The company has 1 million monthly users and is valued at $210 million. (Gillian Tan / Bloomberg)
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Great predictions and analysis as usual. However, one thing I am missing in this is privacy (of course, privacy comes up in regulations, governance, and surveillance).
My predictions. The alphabet soup of privacy and data regulation will get more complicated. At the same, consumer awareness will rise so will rise demands for privacy features. This will be slow but investors are also noticing.
A few links. This is a good report (from Sept 2021): https://iapp.org/resources/article/privacy-tech-vendor-report/ about paradigm shift in privacy tech. This is a broad area that deals with privacy enhancing and preserving technologies along with cybersecurity. The role of Chief Privacy Officer is gaining some traction.
Privacy Platform will be a thing. I am keeping my eyes on https://neeva.com/ (ad-free, private search engine) and https://www.skiff.org/ (private, decentralized workspace), https://plausible.io/ (privacy-friendly Google Analytics alternative).