Every year, Wall Street eagerly awaits Mary Meeker's Internet Report to see how the virtual world evolved in the previous year. For anyone wanting to make a success of the current financial year and beyond, it is an invaluable report. Here are our biggest takes from the talk, and thoughts on a glaring omission...

Excitingly, the Queen of the Internet, Mary Meeker, recently delivered her lauded annual internet trends report. As always, there was some great stuff here: with astute analysis of growth rates and insightful predictions regarding to where the tech and internet industry is heading, Meeker’s report is one that’s not to be missed.

What makes Meeker so great is that she takes very complex topics and distills them in a way that your non-techie average Joe can easily understand. But with 294 slides to her latest report, there’s a lot here to digest. Here are the points you need to know if your business aims to continue growing online and in digital.

Watch Mary Meeker's annual report for yourself. What do you think? If we've overlooked something you think is invaluable for your business, join our discussion on Twitter.

Growth Is Now Flatlining: We Need to Up Our Game

Smartphone growth continued to plateau in 2017, with more and more users already owning a smartphone. This isn’t a new revelation - since the boom in smartphones following the iPhone’s release, which continued until 2010, smartphone growth has been falling steadily. However, year-on-year growth almost flatlined in 2017.

The same could be said of the internet in general. Now there are 3.6 billion internet users globally, half of the world’s population. As any good marketer will tell you, when you reach 50% market penetration it’s a lot harder to maintain your growth rate.

For a long time, a lot of companies have been able to enjoy continued growth because more and more people were coming online. Now, efforts should be placed not on attracting more new users, but about creating experiences that make users want to use your services. This links neatly to Meeker’s next point.

Increases to Average Time Spent Online & Online Sales

Yet again, the amount of time US adults spent online grew in 2017, by 0.3 hours a day to 5.9 hours a day. Over half of that time was spent on mobile devices. Likewise, online sales grew by 16% in 2017 - that’s a rise of 2% on the previous year. Amazon, of course, enjoys a dominant share of the E-Commerce market, with a 28% market share.

What’s important here is that although people aren’t joining the online world as quickly as in previous years, those already online are spending more time there. The onus, therefore, should be on making this time more valuable for users in order to drive growth in new and exciting ways.

Social Media Played a Greater Role in Product Discovery

We all know that social media is constantly evolving; what isn’t always so clear is exactly how it is evolving. However, one thing is clear: social media has increasingly led to product discovery and purchases.

This means that social media driven E-Commerce has grown from 2% in 2015 to 6% in 2017. This is certainly an area to watch, especially in an age where personalisation and ease of use are some of the biggest contributing factors to growth. Saying that, it leads me on nicely to Meeker’s next point.

Personalisation Continues to Drive Growth

Back in February, I was championing the rise of personalisation - it’s something we’re pushing this year at Cyber-Duck. I claimed that “The more control users have over their experience, the better [...] The trick is knowing what features and content users want, when they need it and why they need it.” If we could learn what our users needed and wanted, or give them the ability to personalise digital products to meet their own needs, we’d see more user uptake.

It was therefore a real pleasure to see Meeker make this point in her internet report. She noted that products which were easy to use are now pervasive, enjoying greater growth and uptake. Take Spotify for instance: it’s exceedingly easy to use and there are now 71 million US users, which is a 48% increase on 2016.

But personalisation has played a major role in this growth too. Users choose to subscribe to platforms like Netflix and Spotify because these companies use data to tailor their services to meet the needs of their users. For instance, take the way Netflix used data to inform what images they displayed to users in their thumbnails - Danny Bluestone talked about this back in August at our event series, the Digital Pond. They also empower users to make changes themselves. All this makes for an engaging and tantalising experience that users don’t just adopt, they recommend it to their friends and family too.

The Privacy Paradox

But to make personalised experiences for users we need data. That’s proving a bit of a paradox for tech companies, and this is something else Meeker highlighted. The problem companies face is that they need to collect data to create better user experiences but must do so without violating user privacy.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes some way to address this - as we’ve discussed elsewhere at Cyber-Duck, in our introductions to the policy and how it impacts consent. However, the GDPR only protects the rights of 500 million EU citizens. As the tech giants continue to push for more data to drive their growth in the future, expect to see greater push back from lawmakers as they work to find a suitable balance between data collection and privacy.

(Interestingly, it seems that the pushback won’t only come from lawmakers: Apple has recently announced that it will jam Facebook’s tracking tools on iOS. Tellingly, Apple knows the backlash against data harvesting is coming so it is positioning itself as a natural champion of privacy - while taking on a major competitor in the process!)

The Speed of Technological Disruption Is Accelerating

Meeker also noted that we are now living in an age of employment flux. Anyone familiar with the stories about the ‘gig economy’ will be well aware of this, but Meeker likens these changes to those we saw during the 20th century, as a majority of workers moved from agriculture to services.

Now, tech companies account for 25% of all US market capitalisation, and they’re continuing to grow. Similarly, how their products disrupt the world is accelerating too. As such, opportunities for capitalising in new areas is immense, and it is this that is driving the employment flux. Be wise with where you invest your time and resources and you could see big rewards further down the line. For instance, how we use mobile devices continues to change, as I’ll discuss next.

How We Use Mobile Devices Is Changing

With the average user spending 3.3 hours a day on mobile devices, it should come as no surprise that there is a huge shift in advertising spend to mobile. However, this shift isn’t complete just yet.

For instance, 29% of consumed content is consumed on mobile devices, but mobile only sees 26% of total advertising spend. That’s a $7 billion shortfall, which savvy marketers could capitalise on by stepping up their game and engaging with users where they consume content most.

But that isn’t the only way that mobile use is changing. Mobile payments saw their biggest year yet in 2017, particularly in China. There were 500 million mobile payments in China alone, which is fast becoming an internet hub in its own right. Our challenge in the West is to keep up with the pace of technological disruption in China, where nine of the biggest internet companies by market cap can now be found.

The Rise of Voice Control & AI

There’s one other major growth area Meeker focussed on: the rise of voice control and AI. She saw that market leaders like Google and Amazon would continue to offer more AI-based services as more resources are pumped into it.

It’s no surprise that the cloud-services providers are those making the most headway with AI: they have so much data to hand that they can use to develop their machine learning algorithms further. And with a corporate market for AI software, hardware and services estimated at $58 billion by 2021, expect to see a great amount of disruption in this field.

A pervasive way that AI is worming its way into our lives is through voice-controlled products. These products are seeing immense growth right now: between Q3 and Q4 of 2017, household uptake of Amazon Echo grew from 20 million to over 30 million. Voice-controlled products and AI go hand in hand, with AI serving to improve the reliability and usability of voice-controlled products as algorithms continue to develop.

The question is: how do you prepare for the encroaching behemoths that are artificial intelligence and voice control? Whatever you do, you’ll need to put the user experience and personalisation at the centre of it all. After all, what good is a product if it isn’t easy to use and benefits users?

Missed Opportunities?

Blockchain & Cryptocurrencies

One glaring omission - or at the very least, a glaring understatement - in Meeker’s report was the roles blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies could play in the future. Here we see huge potential for businesses to create safe, secure and engaging experiences for users. In fact, we are only just scratching the surface regarding what we can do with blockchain.

This omission is particularly worrying given that Meeker even raises the prospect of a privacy paradox facing the biggest tech firms. You need only look at Facebook’s ongoing crisis regarding Cambridge Analytica’s use of user data during the EU Referendum and the 2016 Presidential Election to see that privacy is one of the defining issues of modern times.

But blockchain and crypto projects in general champion individual privacy by decentralising data. (If the mere mention of blockchain has you scratching your head, check out my introduction to blockchain.) The actions of many tech leaders confirm that this is an area to watch, with Mark Zuckerberg creating a blockchain group at Facebook to stay ahead of the game. The likes of Facebook and Google see blockchain as a threat to their services in the long term, namely because they won’t have the monopoly on data they currently do. Power over data will return to users, who will be able to use blockchain technology to protect all of their meaningful data with a public key.

Transforming How We Make Payments

It isn’t just in protecting data that blockchain technology becomes invaluable; it will be play an indispensable role in payments too. It’s almost strange that Meeker highlighted the extent to which mobile payments grew in 2017, but failed to discuss the implications blockchain has for this area. Currently, the infrastructure required to centralise data is very costly, but blockchain technology has the potential to eliminate a majority of the costs needed.

With cryptocurrencies, or token-based systems pegged to a national currency at the least, you can sustain a distributed system by periodically rewarding everyone who connects their computer to the system with tokens. This is far cheaper than in a centralised system, and far more secure. By eradicating the middleman, the costs you incur by making payments could be vastly reduced and benefit everyone.

The possibilities for blockchain are just as huge as the ones for AI - so was Meeker’s mere brief mention of blockchain an oversight? Only time will tell. But with an ever-growing sense of disenfranchisement all over the world, with populist regimes on the rise and backlashes against globalisation - and the centralisation of market share and power in the tech giants’ hands - running rampant, it seems that blockchain technology will play a huge role in the years to come.

Meeting the Future

Success in the future will mean adapting to disruptive technologies and discovering new ways to harness their potential. At Cyber-Duck, we like to see ourselves as the innovators who will bring the technology of tomorrow to users in ways they can easily and usefully understand - just like we did at our last hackathon, where we created a blockchain-based charity platform.

Needless to say, we keep up to date with all the latest digital and internet trends to craft our services to meet the demands of the future. If you think we could help you, be sure to contact our friendly team today.