Mobilegeddon: Long-range predictions sometimes work out

Thinking Ahead

Staring into the crystal ball and working out what’s coming down the track is fraught with risks, but also has some fantastic “I told you so” moments. Here are a couple that worked out well but with different outcomes.

Back in 1998, the world was using “Gash” to create crummy splash pages and even crummier navigation layers. Note: it’s actually called Flash, but we liked to call it gash because it was, well, gash.

We predicted the death of flash before the end of the decade and refused to use it anywhere. We were convinced it was going to fail and we were right – the only problem was that we were 12 years too early. In the 12 years we losts lots of clients, many more arguments and maybe some credibility.

Were we right? Of course we were and anyone who really understood the web actually agreed. What we missed in our prediction was the power of traditional design and the big agencies that backed Adobe’s hateful web platform. We won, eventually, but at a cost of lost business and opportunity.

Roll forward to 2008 and we were similarly convinced that the traditional desktop was going to die and be replaced with smaller, smart-devices that bridges PDAs and the newly appearing smarter phones.

It’s fair to say that without the drive of Google we could well have been in the same “Gash Boat” as last time. The big boys of the industry were, it seems, blissfully unaware of smart devices until about 2013 – despite Google hammering on about mobile and the doubling of usage every year since 2010.

April 2015 was the watershed for us, 5 years after we adopted “mobile-first” for every new client, as Google brought down the drama of mobilegeddon. Even then, it was surprising how many corporate and agency web-sites still didn’t work very well on mobile.

We had a similar experience when we moved to WordPress in 2008. We had a development team of about 5 hard-core programmers and all of them hated the “kiddy approach” that WordPress took, despite the fact that the simple approach was the power of WordPress.

By 2010, everything we built was, oddly, built in WordPress and was fully mobile-responsive. I suppose you could say we struck gold, or won the lottery twice. Either way, if we’d stayed an old-fashioned agency in the handbuilt world we would have died by now, or had a very painful and expensive pivot.

Does that make us strategic wizards? No, not at all. The art of good prediction is not what will happen but the far more important when it will happen.

Lessons to learn

It’s admirable to try to predict the future, and it’s even possible to get a good insight into what’s happening a decade or so down the road. But we’ll be a little more pragmatic in the future and we’ll also keep an eye on the bigger early adopters as they’re the ones to follow.

Learning and reading about what’s coming down the line is a big part of what we do – it’s core to our ability to offer long-term solutions and I still spend one third of my week reading (or more recently Blinkisting) and learning about what’s new. After all, operational web-delivery and support is not rocket science and rapidly becoming a highly-commoditised skill so agencies will have to start offering brains rather than brawn.

Want to know the future? Polish your crystal ball, or buy us a beer.

By Martin Dower

Martin Dower