13 predictions for tech platforms in 2023
I like to end each year by asking you all for your predictions about the year ahead, and comparing them with my own. Before we do that, though, I think it’s only fair to check in on the predictions I made here last year about 2022. Overall, I think I did pretty well — which means I should probably try to make more daring predictions this year.
A quick look at those 2022 predictions
What I said: “Europe cements its position as the most important tech regulator in the world.”
The reality: I do think Europe extended its lead here in 2022 — particularly over the United States, which didn’t manage to pass a single meaningful tech regulation despite one party having control of the executive and legislative branches. To give only the most recent example, Bloomberg reported this week that Apple is preparing to allow alternative app stores on its devices — a once-unthinkable move that is happening now only because the EU is requiring it. The sweeping Digital Markets Act took effect in November; the similarly comprehensive Digital Services Act was approved in July. California copied the United Kingdom’s Age-Appropriate Design Code; iPhones will swap out their Lightning ports for USB-C by 2024 because the European Parliament said so. The tech world that Americans live in is increasingly shaped in Europe, and there are no signs of that changing any time soon.
What I said: “Authoritarian shakedowns of platforms and their employees will accelerate.”
The reality: In 2021, authorities raided Twitter’s offices and threatened employees of Google and Apple in Russia. Threats against platform employees in Russia absolutely did accelerate this year in Russia, thanks to its invasion of Ukraine and everything that came after. (Almost every tech company pulled out of the country as a result.) Aside from that, though, I saw fewer reported instances of government goons roughing up tech workers. Perhaps it happened more behind the scenes; if not, though, here was one where I was happy to be wrong.
What I said: “Drama Twitter is back.”
The reality: “Will Parag Agrawal be able to hold off activist shareholders and make the case for Twitter’s independence?” the most naive person in the world wrote here last December 18th. “Will the whole thing be sold off to Salesforce by this time next year?” asked a man who was getting closer to the truth and yet who had also never been more wrong. “And what will the company manage to ship in the meantime?” wondered someone who was completely missing the point. “Whatever the answer is, I expect things to get messier before they stabilize,” offered a reporter who, on this point at last, had finally gotten something right.
What I said: “The best thing you’ll be able to say about the metaverse is that it’s still under construction.”
The reality: Against the odds, discussions of the metaverse ricocheted around the tech world all year — right up until the moment that Elon Musk bought Twitter, and all of that faded into the background. But I’d say I had this one basically right — particularly given that Apple’s headset got delayed into next year, and Meta’s Quest Pro got a mostly disappointing reception. There’s still plenty of talent and money going into augmented and virtual reality — though somewhat less of it, thanks to some steep layoffs at most of the companies involved this year — but in 2022 the metaverse was mostly a sideshow.
What I said: “Pro- and anti-crypto factions harden into place, setting up a long-term religious war over the potential and perils of the blockchain.”
The reality: This did happen to an extent, as crypto skeptics came together to more effectively advance their project. (They also held their first conference.) And Web3 is Going Just Great, from the supremely talented Molly White, was arguably the best new publication of 2023. (I wrote about it here in February.)
But all-out war between pro- and anti-crypto forces never really materialized, because the skeptics were just… right about everything! NFT sales collapsed, TerraUSD collapsed, and then a bunch of related collapses led up to the biggest and most criminal swan dive of them all in Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX. There are still plenty of people around encouraging their fellow bag-holders not to worry, because true crypto has still never been tried, or something. But 2022 is the year all those people lost the benefit of the doubt.
My predictions for 2023
The media will begin its divorce from Twitter. Elon Musk’s continued promotion of right-wing causes and personalities will push away more and more high-profile users, who find themselves increasingly put off by his shock-jock antics and whim-based approach to content moderation. Alternative platforms like Mastodon, while smaller and less intuitive to use, offer a safe haven to more and more people — particularly journalists — looking for off-ramps. By the end of 2023, Twitter no longer sets the daily news agenda by default for the entire US press. This will come as an enormous relief to many publishers, who have long wished their reporters wouldn’t spend so much time tweeting anyway.
Bonus related predictions: Truth Social and Parler fold as Musk’s Twitter makes both of them redundant. Meta restores Donald Trump’s account.
The use of ChatGPT in education will spark a national conversation about AI. I’m cheating a little here, since it’s kind of already happening: Zeynep Tufecki published an op-ed about it yesterday in the New York Times. My prediction is that this conversation will massively accelerate in 2023, as the technology spreads by word of mouth among kids home from school over the winter break. By spring break, we will have seen controversies related to the use of AI in education around the country, and by year’s end I wouldn’t be surprised if OpenAI had been dragged in front of Congress to talk about it.
The Web3 vision fades into the rear view. With the events of 2022 having made pro-crypto partisans look like fools, and the threat of a recession making venture capitalists more cautious in the New Year, expect 2023 to carry lots of crypto startups to their graves. The industry’s near-total failure to make meaningful advances in security, user experience, or almost anything I suggested here in January means that crypto will continue to be of interest primarily to die-hards. Meanwhile, the continuing parade of scams, breaches, and bankruptcies will put the industry at heightened risk of being regulated into irrelevance.
Content moderation will become illegal in parts of the country. The Supreme Court will uphold the social media laws passed in Texas and Florida, making it illegal for them to remove content based on the political viewpoints expressed. Shocked platforms will race to engineer a new “Texas version” of their sites that presents users with a default version of the service full of hate speech and ***; upon signing in, users will be asked if they would rather see a moderated version instead. The opt-in data we get from this experiment may wind up being beneficial for all of us, even as Texans and Floridians suffer.
Substack will launch an ad network. The Rebooting’s Brian Morrissey likes to say that the first step toward building an ad network is to first say you’ll never do it. Substack, the service on which the Platformer newsletter is distributed, long ago took such a step. But so much has changed since then! One, the company has struggled to grow revenues fast enough to raise a Series B round of fundraising at its desired valuation; limiting its revenue opportunities to subscriptions has meant depriving itself of the other, typically larger stream of revenue in every big publisher’s arsenal. Two, Substack got really good at growing free email lists this year with its recommendations feature — but not at converting those free readers to paid.
The company now almost certainly has millions of email addresses at its disposal, but it makes money only from a small fraction of them. The company’s need to grow is too existential, and the solution too obvious, for Substack not to act. By the end of 2023, Substack will have introduced or say it is working on a native advertising solution.
Some of your predictions for the coming year, along with a few more of my thoughts
“Meta will launch a Twitter feed, probably as a secondary brand. They can’t buy Mastodon, Post News or Parler, so most likely they will build a simple feed that they will keep separate from FB and IG. They will then find a way for folks to import their Twitter social graph into this new app.”
The New York Times has reported that Meta is discussing this. And it should! It has the product, design, and — I’ll say it! — content moderation capabilities necessary to get a big centralized Twitter clone off the ground. It probably would need some counter-intuitive twist to help it get traction — a creative constraint? a monetization tool? — but could probably go a long way just by letting you automatically add everyone you’re already following on Instagram. Facebook has copied Twitter many times before. It should try again!
“2023 prediction: Elon Musk is gonna testify before the new Republican House Majority in a splashy hearing about online woke mind virus cancel culture and then immediately and obviously comically perjure himself.”
I won’t speak to the perjury, but odds that House Republicans will summon Musk so that they can lavish praise on him and tweet clips of themselves exchanging pleasantries would seem to be in the high 80s. And I suspect Musk would enjoy playing star witness during the inevitable Hunter Biden laptop hearing.
“Hi! My 2023 prediction: 2023 will start the ‘era of many social platforms,’ where people’s attention will start to atomize across multiple platforms that each meet the needs of specific, different audiences. While many platforms will make enough money to be a viable business, this era will cause headaches for brands trying to figure out where they spend their money.”
It seems indisputable to me that the current landscape of social networks is unsettled. Facebook is running out of steam in the United States; Instagram is in a transitional period; Twitter is collapsing; TikTok keeps getting banned on government devices. And green shoots are starting to pop up in the landscape — Mastodon, Post, and Hive are some of the names you hear today; I imagine that 12 months from now at least two of those names will be replaced with others. The question is, once unbundled, how quickly social networks will bundle up again — and whether a new thing can still come out of nowhere to dominate our attention the way TikTok did a few years ago.
“TikTok Search will become more powerful leading to greater competition with Google, and a key component in ByteDance’s plans to boost its social commerce plans in 2023.”
People are already writing articles about TikTok being superior for some kinds of searches; ByteDance is smart to lean into that.
“I predict a wave of Gen-Z TikTokers all discovering ‘going to the movies’ as the next phase of 90’s nostalgia. Big summer movie season of monocultural hits coming in Q2 2023.”
Of all your weird predictions, this was the one that struck me as the most plausible. Going to the movies for nostalgia reasons, like kids in my day went to the drive-in? I’ll buy it.
Thanks to everyone who sent in their predictions — I look forward to checking in to see how we did a year from now.