Here you’ll find WIRED’s predictions for the coming year, and they come with one big wild card: Donald Trump. When the new administration takes office at the end of January, it will alter the course of so many things in this country of ours—not to mention the rest of the world—and alter them in ways we can’t necessarily predict. Tech is no exception.
A Thousand Tech IPOs Will Bloom
2016 was a dismal year for IPOs—the slowest IPO market we’ve had since the recession. But that’s likely to change in 2017.
Snap (formerly Snapchat) will be the first big name going public after the new year. The company has already filed paperwork for an IPO that could value it between $25 and $35 billion. That would be the third most valuable market tech company debut of all time, behind Facebook and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. If it does reach those heights, others are likely to follow, including streaming music company Spotify, cloud storage vendor Dropbox, and meal-kit maker Blue Apron.
We might even see debuts from the ride-sharing company Uber and the super-secretive big data outfit Palantir. The environment must be right, but at the moment, things are looking good. Of the 20 tech and communications companies that went public in the second half of the year, each climbed more than 25 percent from their debuts.
What does a Trump presidency mean for IPOs? Trump has said he plans to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent—good news for companies that may have calculated their valuations on the higher rate. Either way, tech companies likely won’t view a Trump presidency as a deterrent. In fact, they may be spurred to go public sooner rather than later—before Trump rolls out policies they haven’t foreseen. —Davey Alba
The Internet of Things Will Die
Last September, some malware took control of millions of internet-connected devices, including security cameras and DVRs, and launched an attack that took down the website of security journalist Brian Krebs. It was one of the largest ever attacks of this type. The next month, the same piece of malware rendered large swaths of the internet inaccessible to many people.
The incidents capped off two years of bad news for the “Internet of Things,” including bricked devices, irritating outages, bankrupt startups, an international emissions testing scandal, and a viral story about a Brit who spent 11 hours trying make tea with a needlessly high-tech kettle. A Twitter account called Internet of Shit started documenting this market’s silliest gadgets, funniest error messages, and most depressing possibilities. It now has over 100,000 followers.
The Internet of Things was a made-up term to begin with. And now this bit of marketing nonsense carries a sheen of ineptitude, danger, and other shit. The upshot: the term will die in 2017, kinda like Big Data before it.
The Internet of Things—or whatever you want to call it—has the potential to save precious resources, spot and fight pollution, and help people lead healthier, safer lives. But adding internet remote control to every single product on the market won’t necessarily help us get there. What we need are thoughtful, affordable, durable devices that actually, y’know, make our lives better. A new name, and a renewed sense of purpose, could be just what the Internet of Things needs. —Klint Finley
Real Internet TV Will Wait in the Wings
What we all want is television that lets us watch any show at any time from any device, all at a reasonable price. But that’s not quite a reality. And in 2017, it will remain not quite a reality.
Yes, YouTube is putting together a live TV package set to launch in early in the year. Hulu is doing the same. Amazon is poised to enter the fray. And the services will join existing options like AT&T’s DirecTV Now, which offers 60 channels for $35 a month or up to 120 channels for $70, plus premium channels HBO and Cinemax for an extra $5 a month.
Sure, the FCC has proposed new rules that would require cable and satellite TV companies to distribute their content through free apps—without the dreaded cable box. And that could push us towards even closer to the nirvana of Internet TV. But there are so many caveats hanging over this market.
Trump’s FCC will likely kill those proposed rules, siding with the cable incumbents who want to keep you tethered to your cable box. And his FCC is unlikely to curb “zero-rating,” which AT&T is already using to favor its own content on DirecTV Now over the content from rivals. This dynamic may only become more problematic if AT&T is allowed to acquire Time Warner, and the Trump administration will surely allow it. Meanwhile, those live internet TV services have so many holes in them—holes typically involving live sports. Without live sports, you’re still tied to cable.
This year, we may see Comcast introduce its own live internet TV service—but this will come with many of the same caveats as DirecTV Now. Internet TV run by the cable companies isn’t internet TV. —Davey Alba
‘Uber For X’ Will Be X-ed Out
In 2015, the on-demand ride companies Sidecar, Shuddle and Karhoo shuttered. Food delivery apps Spoonrocket and Kitchensurfing sunset their services. Washio, which promised push-button laundry, closed down too. Instacart is cutting courier wages, and Postmates doesn’t expect to profit until 2018.
Sure, Uber is still going strong. And Airbnb is too. But “Uber for X”? It will die in 2017.
Consider the numbers. From nearly $9 billion invested in on-demand companies in the third quarter of 2015—the peak for the on-demand economy—there was a sharp pullback in VC funding shortly thereafter, according to industry research firm CB Insights. And the bigwigs in on-demand—Uber, Chinese ridesharing service Didi, and Airbnb—were getting the lion’s share of the investments. In 2016, excluding those companies, funding to on-demand startups fell by almost 50 percent.
The field was too crowded with too many competitors. This type of business has razor-thin margins, and running these operations is enormously complicated. They juggle not just consumers but contract workers, all while competing with players with already enormous scale, like Uber and Amazon. In hindsight, Uber for X never stood a chance. —Davey Alba
Trump’s America Will Bring Blogging Back
On December 11, 2016, government strategist Eric Garland had some thoughts about how Russia influenced the US election. So he unloaded those thoughts on Twitter—where else?—and called them a THREAD.
<THREAD> I’m now hearing this meme that says Obama, Clinton, et al. are doing nothing, just gave up.
Guys. It’s time for some game theory.
— Eric Garland (@ericgarland) December 11, 2016
Garland, in language at times lyrical and soaring, laid out what he called a game theory analysis of the long con Russia pulled on America with the surprising endgame of electing Donald Trump president. It’s a conspiracy theory. But for many, the most controversial thing about this conspiracy theory is that Garland unloaded it on Twitter, requiring his readers to wait and read—and wait and read. (The Stranger helpfully compiled them into a single-page story you can read here if so inclined.)
When 2016 kicked off, this would have been called a tweet storm. The hip nomenclature as the year ends is “thread”—as Garland showed—but the idea is the same whether the tweets are numbered or merely threaded. And they are happening more and more in the days since November 9. That’s because liberals on the internet have a lot of thoughts. Not all of them are as nuanced and out-there as Garlands, but on topics ranging from race to the white middle class to Hillary Clinton’s campaign failures, to media bias, to Trump’s foreign policy, people are THREADING.
In response, a joke has emerged: uh, guys, remember blogging? It was sort of this same exact thing where you get to speak what’s on your mind, but you did it all in one go, without frantic typo-ed tweets unrolling piecemeal over the course of an hour and keeping we poor Twitter followers sitting at our desks waiting for the thrilling conclusion?
Like all the best jokes, it’s brilliant because it’s true. We’re entering a period of tumult and unrest in America and along with it will come lots of thoughts and takes and threads and storms. The upcoming culture clash will make the George W. Bush years look quaint, and those marked the heyday of the blogging era. In 2017, mediums like Medium and Tumblr, which easily let people publish whatever they want, will flourish. In Trump’s America, the blog will make a comeback. If only it could bring Google Reader with it. —Emily Dreyfuss
Online Headlines Will Get True Again
As we grapple with the complex causality of disinformation and fake news proliferating through the media landscape, one problem is obvious: people only read headlines. Researchers at Columbia University found that almost 60 percent of stories shared on social media have never been clicked. This is partly the result of the sheer glut of available “content.” People simply can’t read all the journalism out there. And with news delivery services like Twitter and Facebook, which show only a headline and a short description, scrolling story after story in front of frantic, dry eyes, people feel an impossible pressure to read everything. The solution: read every headline and move one.
Others, like “Saved You a Click” creator, Jake Beckman, blame this phenomenon on clickbait culture, which in the late aughts tricked readers into clicking on stories that didn’t actually deliver on the promise in the headline. Readers rebelled against the deceit and stopped clicking altogether. They judged the story by the headline alone and moved along. Aha! Can’t trick readers! But in fact, the logical evolution of clickbait culture was fake news, which understood that readers were not going to bother to read past the first few bricks of the journalistic pyramid, but would rather assess the very top and move on.
In the wake of the 2016 election, which was so influenced by the fabrications peddled in these headlines, journalists, politicians, and technologists are struggling to figure out how to fight fake fire with real water. One very simple thing they can do is write descriptive headlines that are clear and hard to misunderstand. That will be antithetical to the brilliance of clickbait, which leaves readers wondering more. But that model was a failure. It hasn’t saved digital journalism from the financial implosion of advertising dollars in the Facebook-as-News era, nor has it on the aggregate encouraged deeper reading. Responsible news outlets trying to figure out how to convey facts will streamline their stories, pack the opening paragraphs with objective reporting, and, ultimately, they will need to abandon clever headlines in favor of clear ones—if they’re serious about being understood. —Emily Dreyfuss
Tech Will Get In Bed With Trump
The tech industry didn’t always see eye-to-eye with the Obama administration on surveillance and encryption, but that didn’t stop the industry from developing a remarkably close relationship with the White House during the Obama years. White House staffers like former press secretary Jay Carney and former senior advisor David Plouffe landed high-profile jobs at tech companies like Amazon and Uber, while former Google employees, such as corporate attorney turned patent office director Michelle Lee, found jobs in the federal government. According to information analyzed by The Intercept, Google’s lobbyists met with the White House employees 427 times in between January 2009 and October 2015.
But the election of Donald Trump has called the future of tech’s relationship to government into question. Trump’s campaign promoted a relentlessly regressive social agenda that stoked racial tensions, especially on the topic of immigration. The tech industry, meanwhile, has lobbied aggressively for immigration reform, and tries to project a progressive image when it comes to topics like gay marriage (which Trump’s running mate Mike Pence has a long history of opposing). Few in the tech industry publicly supported Trump, while many—including Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt—openly backed Hillary Clinton.
But don’t expect any of that to stop Silicon Valley from cozying up to Trump. Google is already hiring more conservative lobbyists, Reuters reports. It has long employed former Republican congresswoman Susan Molinari. And, of course, several tech leaders—including Schmidt, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg—agreed to meet with Trump in December.
Not everyone in the Valley is trying to suck up to the president-elect. Investor Chris Sacca criticized those who met with Trump, telling Recode they were “being used to legitimize a fascist.” But Trump’s advisory team already includes Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz, and of course PayPal founder and Facebook board member Peter Thiel, one of the few Valley figures who openly backed Trump before the election.
A few companies have pledged not to help Trump with one of his most frightening campaign promises: building a registry of Muslims. But Silicon Valley’s main interest, ultimately, is business. That’s something they have in common with Trump. The tech industry might not enjoy the level of access it had to the Obama administration. But if you’re looking for someone to stand up to Trump, it’s time to look elsewhere. —Klint Finley