The world of digital and online is ever-changing, so we can expect 2019 to bring with it all manner of disruptions, transformations and fluctuations. Here are five of the big trends to keep an eye on in the coming year.

Privacy presents as opportunity

The ongoing travails of Facebook, the continued occurence of data breaches, and the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) this year by the EU have all highlighted the problems of maintaining privacy online. Of course, where there is a problem, you can expect smart entrepreneurs to be looking for solutions.

One sign the thirst for privacy is growing is in the user growth for DuckDuckGo, a search engine alternative to Google whose main selling point is that it doesn’t track user activity. DuckDuckGo is still very much a minor player in online search, but the fact its daily search figures have gone up a full 50% in a year, from 20 million to 30 million, shows there are people out there who value their privacy. Maybe not enough people to truly challenge Google’s dominance, but enough to indicate there is a market for privacy-focused online services.

Blockchain to transcend the crypto crisis 

Blockchain’s big PR problem might be that it has become so closely associated with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin that many people can’t see its potential for broader applications. But much like the internet as a technology and communications platform transcended the dotcom bubble of the early 2000s, blockchain has the potential (and will among its devotees, developers and investors) to transcend the fluctuating fortunes of cryptocurrencies. 

Blockchain is already being trialled and used in applications for social media networks (Steemit) through to transport and logistics (DHL), as well as the more commonly associated use cases in the finance and legal sectors. In fact, blockchain is seen by many as being one of the potential answers to a lot of the privacy and data breach problems besetting the online world in its current incarnation. Expect to see blockchain emerge in 2019 as more than just the tech base for cryptocurrencies.

Voice search to get more vocal

The voice search trend has been strong in 2018 and you can expect it to continue in 2019, especially as the likes of Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant continue to develop and improve. However, voice search is still in its infancy as a consumer tool. The technology is not at the maturity level yet to be all pervasive and, consequently, mainstream consumers have yet to fully integrate voice search into their daily lives.

But as with other elements of eCommerce, this will come in time, and we’ll see more advances over 2019 towards voice search becoming an increasingly trusted and able consumer technology. With the major (as well as some smaller) tech companies all putting plenty of resources into improving the voice search experience, expect to see it blossom in 2019.

The influencer bubble burst

Influencer marketing has grown substantially as a marketing strategy over the past five years, but it’s influence appears to be on the wane. In essence, influencer marketing has been used by brands and marketers as a way to get in front of consumers via the reach of the likes of ‘insta-stars’ and popular ‘YouTubers’ - people with big followings on certain social media channels.

The idea has been that these people, often amateur enthusiasts in a specific area like makeup tutorials, etc, have big follower counts and an authentic connection with their audience. However, plenty of brands are now starting to question the reach, influence and authenticity of these influencers, and are instead searching for better validated methods of reaching a target audience. 

Data to become more useful

We’ve got used to hearing about the wonders of ‘data-driven’ this and ‘big data’ that, but the thing with data is that an awful lot of it is being collected without being effectively turned into useful and actionable information. Machine learning is the key to turning all that data from useless to useful. It’s best thought of as a subset of artifical intelligence.

Jeff Bezos says “it will empower and improve every business, every government organization, every philanthropy, basically there is no institution in the world that cannot be improved with Machine Learning.” As a simple example, think about the recoomendations you might currently get from the algorithms that power Google, Facebook, Netflix or Amazon and then imagine those algorithms being 10x, 100x, 1000x more powerful over the next few years in being able to predict what you want.