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For social media, 2010 will be an exciting year

I thought I’d share some reflections on the evolution of social media as we say goodbye to 2009 and head into the year 2010. So, here goes.

There’s no doubt that 2010 will bring heaps more progress and change to the social media space. In just the last few months of 2009, we’ve seen huge changes in the space, from Google’s introduction of real-time search to Twitter’s new Lists feature, a development that seems ingenious and basic at the same time.

Social media’s not new anymore. If you missed the boat, you’ll have to play catch-up; social media is no longer just an exciting new development. Exciting, sure, but not new: The term’s been on the scene for more than five years.

Too few experts

Just because social media isn’t new doesn’t mean there are social media experts. There are plenty of folks out there who claim to be, but beware: Like any form of technology, the social media landscape changes swiftly, and it’s overzealous for anyone to claim to be an expert in such a rapidly evolving field.

Like the journalism industry, social media is in a transitional period, and the fates of both are closely tied. Social media encourages collaboration between content providers and citizen bloggers and journalists. The journalism industry is still learning how to adapt and embrace Web 2.0 and its two-way communication channels, not to mention the additional content creators (and competition) it brings to the table.

Business executives like to talk about taking a 360-degree view of a situation when launching a new product, service or strategy. Social media will solidify its status as a vital part of the conversation, and will be included in marketing decisions for the foreseeable future.

Lessons from ‘Avatar’

Take director James Cameron’s highly anticipated sci-fi flick “Avatar.” Fox partnered with UStream.tv, a YouTube-esque Web site that hosts live broadcasts from individual users, to broadcast from the red carpet at the world premiere. Would that have happened if there hadn’t been so much buzz about the effect of social networking on films’ opening weekends in 2009? Likely not.

Here are some other areas I expect to grow and change dramatically in the coming year:

  • Social gaming. I confess, I don’t get this one — I’ve just never been into video games — but even I can’t deny that this is a huge growth area in social media.

Ever heard of FarmVille? What about Mafia Wars? If you haven’t, you should have; they’re hugely popular. More than 230 million consumers play these games on Facebook, MySpace and mobile phones each month. An investment firm just bought a $180 million stake in their creator, San Francisco-based Zygna, a company whose popularity has skyrocketed to over 100 million unique monthly users. FarmVille, its largest game, has approximately 73 million monthly active users and is approaching 30 million a day.

  • Even more mobile. Apple filed a patent this month that reveals the company’s plans to integrate the ability to control a remote computer from your mobile phone.

This development simply takes current solutions (like Virtual Network Computing, or VNC, programs) one step further. Yet it’s a huge vote of confidence in the growing importance of the mobile smartphone.

And keep in mind that two huge retailers, McDonald’s and Barnes & Noble, recently announced free WiFi in their stores in an attempt to make them a consumer destination rather than a quick stop. Don’t think their decision wasn’t motivated in large part by consumers’ tendency to surf social networks for hours on end (and by Starbucks’ insistence on charging customers to access its WiFi).

  • Big changes in home entertainment. With the flow of consumers to online video Web sites like Hulu, cable providers such as Comcast are looking to provide more content on the Web. Not to be outdone, the Web-based providers are following suit. YouTube, for instance, is reportedly considering a paid subscription model a la iTunes that would replace households’ need for a traditional cable provider.
  • E-readers. The introduction of Barnes & Noble’s Nook has turned this market upside-down; at press time, the expected ship date for a newly ordered Nook is Feb. 1!

The Kindle is still wildly popular, as it was the best-selling product across all categories at Amazon.com over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Will one product emerge the victor, as Blu-ray did, or will a new market introduction throw the e-reader market into chaos again?

I haven’t mentioned Google Wave, in part because I’m not sure anyone fully grasps what the end result will be for the platform, which has debuted to mixed reviews.

One thing’s for sure: New technology tools to boost collaboration and social interaction are on the horizon, and it’s a view that will be markedly different at this time next year.

Jackie Sauter is a Web marketing professional with the Kogod School of Business at American University. Follow her on Twitter @jackiesauter.