And just like that
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.