For me, trends of the smoky variety include real-time search (or real-time anything, really); mobile as a revolution; the semantic Web; and social marketing.
At the dawn of the "ought" decade, the blogging phenomenon was in its infancy and the first notions of a coherent "social Web" (as we know it today) began to take shape. Blog search engines like Technorati, where I once worked, and social media platforms like Six Apart, WordPress and Flickr gave the phenomenon shape for a crowd well beyond the geekarati in the Valley.
While traditional media was beginning to have its first "holy shit" moments, online publications like Huffington Post began their rise to prominence, together with YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, among many others.
At the same time, Apple was nurturing its coming "i" revolution, first with the iPod and iTunes Store, and then with the iPhone and the App Store. "App" went from being a term used only among geeks to wide, popular common usage. (A guy can't sneeze without someone reminding him "There's an app for that.")
Throughout it all -- over 10 remarkable years of explosive growth and innovation on the Web -- folks kept predicting that the next year would the year of the (take your pick) mobile / real-time / semantic / social Web.
But as I look back on 2009, nearly all these trends reallydid take fire.
For instance, Facebook's growth throughout 2009 is absolutely phenomenal. With each passing month, its membership and user statistics can't help but dazzle. Its fastest growing demographic is the over-40 crowd. Facebook Connect is similarly a huge success and is breaking down some of the walled-gardens of the network's original construction.
Twitter's own meteoric growth, though apparently slowing, has demonstrated perhaps most vividly the power of open APIs and what can happen when people and their information move freely across the Web.
Smart mobile phones have similarly proliferated, even in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
And now that both Twitter updates and Facebook newsfeeds will flow into search results on Google and Bing, we're only just beginning to see the outlines of what "real-time" can mean for all forms of marketing, and search marketing in particular.
What's most exciting for me is that a couple of the big guys with perhaps too much market share for their respective killer products -- Apple and Google -- now face some real and tough competition that seems to be making them innovate even faster. With the combining of forces that is the Microsoft-Yahoo Search deal, Google's been on an innovation tear this year, the most interesting result of which is Wave. And now that Apple will have Droid to contend with, together with its new App Store, it, too is rumored to be working on new, more impressive ways to bring increasing power, choice and versatility to its own products and services.
For the geeks among us, Wolfram Alpha, though losing much of its search traffic after interest following its debut waned, holds out tantalizing prospects for the future of a semantic Web and search that understands context as well as intent. Exciting (though long-delayed) ideas such as Siri, which is a virtual personal assistant that helps its user complete routine tasks like travel planning or pulling together a date night on the town, will change the way we interact with our iPhones and BlackBerries. And news and information aggregation sites like Daylife, that intuit relationships based on the search queries you provide, to deliver both the content you want and suggestions for associated content, are already changing the ways we look for information and entertainment on the Web.
As more and more people worldwide embrace real-time updates, geo-location services, virtual personal assistants, and voice command-enabled gadgets -- search will be at the center of all this change. If you think the last 10 years were heady, get ready for the next 10.Because where there's smoke, there's bound to be fire.