Adam Mc

Thoughts on the web.

2011 Digital Review


Sometimes a year is full of huge launches and groundbreaking new ideas – that was not 2011. If I could sum up what happened in digital in one word it would be “transition”. In my first post of 2012 I’d like to take a quick look back at a few areas of transition from 2011.

On Demand Lifestyle

Consumers now live in an on demand world where every media you want to consume, good you want to buy, conversation you want to have or answer you need requires little more effort than a simple search. Those that control the information know this and are consistently introducing new ways to reach those users. As this shift occurs connecting with those consumers will take more effort and ingenuity. While 2011 didn’t see any huge advancements in this category it did have quite a few small transitions that will have lasting impacts to the future of digital behavior.

Video Content Delivery

Last year:

Netflix broke up their DVD and Streaming offerings, announced their own original programming and expanded their content by signing on Dreamworks. At the same time their streaming service has been made available on iOS and Android devices as well as being a staple in almost every web enabled TV, Video game system and BluRay player released.

Comcast changed their OnDemand programming to prohibit fast forwarding through commercials on some programming and adding same day as DVD and theatre content.

HBO launched HBO GO on iOS devices resulting in over 3 million downloads. HBO GO allows existing HBO subscribers to view HBO programming from their devices whenever and wherever they want.

Hulu averaged close to 30 million unique viewers a month in 2011 and their pay service Hulu Plus broke 1 million subscribers. They are the only online streaming service to carry in-season content from 5 out of 6 of the major broadcast networks and their service is available on most mobile devices, gaming systems, Tvs and BluRay players.

YouTube had over 151 million unique viewers in November alone and has dedicated $100 million in 2012 to creating original content.

Apple, Amazon and Facebook all expanded their video on demand services. Adding new content, new ways to subscribe and new ways to connect with other viewers.

Web TV devices like Apple TVGoogle TV and Roku all made significant improvements to their devices and offerings. Adding support for YouTube, Vimeo, sports channels and video services like HBO Go, Netflix, Amazon VOD and Hulu.

According to Nielsen timeshifting in television has become a common occurrence with select shows seeing their audience double when adding in DVR and on demand views.

While none of this represents a huge shift in what users are doing it all builds a foundation for a substantial transition in how people absorb content. The more services that become available and the easier it becomes to get content delivered to you – the more people will adopt that practice.


Traditional Texts go Digital

2011 has also seen the growth of digital books, newspapers and magazines. Thanks to Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook and the iPad for many buying and reading is now electronic.

Amazon sold over 1 million Kindle devices each week in December. Gifting of Kindle books was up 175% between Black Friday and Christmas Day compared to the same period last year. Kindles were the #1 selling item across all of amazon this holiday season. Christmas day was the biggest day ever for Kindle book downloads (They did not share exact numbers.)

Apple‘s Newsstand and iBooks apps have had significant effects on magazine subscription rates (PopSci’s digital sales jumped 13% after newsstand was released) and digital book sales (Penguin, Random House and other publishers have had ebooks sales double over the last year).

Boston Globe introduced a new responsive designed subscription site to connect with their mobile audience and the New York Times introduced a pay wall for it’s content with one very important caveat – if articles were shared in social networks anyone could see them. Both of these changes resulted in positive, but not groundbreaking movement for their subscription rates.

These numbers may not have the widespread impact of other digital trends, but they represent the start of a movement that once again reinforces the idea of “I can get it online when I want it”.

A good indicator of where advertising will go has always been to look at where people get the entertainment and information they want. The online, on demand shift in video and text content means more people are spending time with their devices and online. But it also means people are going to expect that they will find what they are looking for quickly and easily. This generation of web user doesn’t have time to hunt and has unlimited options on where to find what they’re looking for. In order to connect with that consumer it’s going to take great content organized into a well thought out experience.



Social media has been a buzzword for quite sometime and while every company is clamoring to do something in that space most are using this new channel the same one dimensional way they use TV and Print. The power in social media lies with the people who are using it. What a brand or company can do there is far less interesting or impactful as what the users can accomplish. Social media is the most powerful when used for connecting with other people, sharing information and talking about shared experiences. Both major social networks know this and have found a way to help themselves while helping users and brands to connect.

Facebook went from “like” to “life”.

At the F8 conference in September Facebook introduced Open Graph. A shift in their user interaction platform that attempts to add more value and deeper meaning to the interaction users have on their network. The goal is that brands and app developers will build tools that let users share more than just “likes”.

From the September announcement: Open Graph and Custom App Actions will work together to give greater context to a user’s actions. Instead of being limited to just “liking” something, apps can be built to let users show that they’re “reading”, “running”, “cooking”, “watching” or any other verb we can think of. Apps will also be able to have certain actions that post to a users’ feed without the user having to be on Facebook.

Since Open Graph was implemented we’ve seen the release of the Washington Post social reader ( A Facebook app that will post to your wall for you whenever you read an article within the Washington Post site. We’ve also seen music service Spotify ( shift from being an invite only web app to a Facebook enriched music streaming app. I’m sure by now almost all of use have seen our friends Spotify listening activity show up in our feeds. Thanks to this change brands can go from gathering “likes” to building experiences in Facebook that mirror what people do in real life

This transition for Facebook is their attempt to breathe more life into their service. While they work to add more depth to user interactions we can reap the benefits of a more powerful platform on which to build our ideas and a more engaging experience for our users.

Twitter grew up.

For the past few years Twitter has been the little brother to Facebook in the social world. But in 2011 Twitter found it’s place in the world spotlight.

TV shows, news reports, magazines, presidential debates, revolutions and occupations are all using Twitter to communicate and share experiences. Most major news outlets and magazines regularly report on what is being said on Twitter. TV Shows share hashtags on screen during the show with the hopes that people will use them talk about their program. People across the country and the world use twitter to share their thoughts, ideas and opinions leading to robust conversation about politics and social economic issues. The Egyptian and Libyan revolutions owe a lot of their steam to Twitter and the entire Occupy movement has been organized and implemented thanks to it. Most of this activity is happening because of the universal conversation tools on Twitter – Hashtags and Trends. Both of these allow people to easily find those conversations and join in themselves.

In 2011 Twitter turned the power of these tools into a way to make money through the use of promoted trends, hashtags and tweets. Which just helps to reinforce the use of those techniques.

All of those examples highlight the power of that network – but how does this apply to us? It reinforces that social is the most powerful when used for connecting with other people, sharing information and talking about shared experiences. Most brands can not expect to gather a substantial or influential twitter following if they aren’t doing those things. Brands should be carefully considering three key aspects of their twitter strategy: Communication, Conversation and Expectation.

Communication: Talk about what your USERS want to hear about and pay attention to their preferences.

Conversation: Participate in your followers conversations and empower them to talk about you by providing value – not just promoting.

Expectation: Twitter is a two-way engagement channel, closer to a discussion board or customer hotline than a promotion/sales channel. Treat it accordingly.

Google+, Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest

2011 has also seen the rise and/or launch of many more “social” services. While none of those are quite ready to be as mainstream as Facebook and Twitter they all deserve a look. Because anyone of them may be the next service everyone is buzzing about. The best way to understand the appeal or value of any of them is to use them.

Google+: Google’s own version of Facebook. (

Tumblr: Microblogging platform that feels like Twitter but looks like WordPress. (

Instagram: iPhone + photos + retro filters + twitter-like feed. (

Pinterest: Digital image boards with grouping, categorizing and user comments. (



For years the promise of mobile greatly outweighed it’s actual ability. That is no longer the case. Today almost anything you can do with a web browser on your computer can be done with a mobile device and users now realize this.

In 2011 70% of US mobile subscribers used SMS, the US penetration of smartphones reached 45% and the tablet market exploded with over 73 million sold in 2011. Mobile web usage grew just as fast in 2011: 50% of local searches were mobile, 50% of traffic to Facebook and Twitter was from mobile devices and 87% of all smartphone users are using the web.

And people aren’t just using the mobile web when they are on the go. A study in Nov of 2011 by Google-Ipsos found that while 87% of users are using mobile we while on-the-go a whopping 93% are using it while at home. Along with 72% at work, 77% in store, 73% at a restaurant and 66% at social gatherings. On top of that 80% of smartphone users multitask while watching TV. Using their phone for communication (94%), searching (82%) and web browsing (60%). For 25% of US web users – mobile is their preferred browsing method.

All of this adds up to a huge shift in how people interact with the internet. Going forward mobile isn’t an option – it’s a necessity. In 2011 consumers have transitioned to a mobile friendly lifestyle and with it have an expectation that they can accomplish any task on their smartphone or tablet. For us this means that any idea that lives on the web needs to work regardless of screen size or device.

Here are some great articles that talk about this shift in a little more detail:

Mashable: Smartphone Multitasking –

Adage: Value of Mobile Ad Placements –

SearchEngineLand: Smartphones over 50% –

PEW: 25% prefer smartphone for web access –

LukeW Data Monday entries on Mobile: News on Mobile –, Holiday Shopping Mobile –, and Mobile Transition:

All in all 2011 wasn’t a year for huge leaps but rather – behaviour adjustments. People are still using the web just as much – if not a little more – than they were before. But how they’re using it is shifting their attitude and expectation. These adjustments that will have a profound affect on how we communicate with people in 2012 and beyond.

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