Prediction Consensus: What Experts See Coming in 2020
Through the ages, humans have feared uncertainty. We’ve searched for clues in everything from entrails to tea leaves to the arrangement of heavenly bodies in the night sky.
In the modern era, data and media are the new magic 8-ball. The jury is still out on whether we’ve gotten any better at anticipating the forces that will shape the coming year, but that certainly hasn’t stopped people from trying.
Of the hundreds of forward-looking pieces of content published in the lead-up to 2020, how many of the expert predictions lined up? Was there a consensus on any particular trend, or were predictions all over the map?
During the month of December we analyzed over 100 articles, whitepapers, and interviews to answer that question. While there was no firm consensus on where 2020 will take us, there were a few themes that appeared in multiple publications. Today’s graphic highlights these reappearing predictions, and below, we examine seven of them in more detail.
The Promise and Controversy of 5G
One technology that’s sure to capture the headlines in 2020 is 5G. Broadband speeds of over one gigabit per second will become a reality when 5G technology rolls out across the country, without the cable that currently connects most homes. This prediction is a slam dunk, as some carriers are already testing the technology in select neighborhoods around the United States.
Experts also predict that a wave of 5G-enabled smartphone and IoT products will become commercially available in 2020.
The wild card in this 5G story will be guessing which companies end up building out the new network. Huawei was in a strong position to lead the charge, but the company has been stonewalled in a number countries – most notably the United States, Australia, and Japan. Whether due to national security concerns or protectionism, Chinese companies may continue to face an uphill battle in Western markets.
Fake News 2.0
While many predictions for 2020 were fueled by excitement for new technologies, there was one that was decidedly more ominous – the proliferation of deepfakes. Simply put, deepfakes are videos that harness artificial intelligence to create a convincing likeness of a real person.
With the U.S. presidential election just around the corner, many experts fear that deepfakes are going to do serious damage, manipulating public opinion on both sides of the political spectrum. Unlike fake news, which often comes with obvious visual cues to help determine authenticity, even deepfakes created using free online tools are extremely convincing. If predictions come true, the lead-up to the U.S. election could be a wild ride.
Consumerism in Flux
The late 2010’s were a turbulent time for retail. The rise of ecommerce and shifting consumer preferences combined to cause a “retailpocalypse”, and many brands are still struggling to evolve their brick and mortar strategy to compete in an Amazon Prime world. Experts are predicting new evolutions for physical stores that are powered by technology instead of human employees.
The incarnation of this approach that will likely garner the most attention will be the next wave of cashierless Amazon Go locations opening in cities around the country.
Experts also predict that brands will mimic the example of Amazon’s Whole Foods, and incorporate online order pick-up locations within their physical stores. Increasingly, the line between ecommerce and traditional retail is blurring.
The Cookie Begins to Crumble
In 2019, approximately $330 billion was spent on digital advertising, but privacy regulations such as GDPR and the CCPA – California’s new privacy law – are causing massive disruption and upheaval in this industry.
For many years, the humble internet cookie has done the heavy lifting in collecting your personal data from online activity. This data is what advertisers use to reach you as you scroll Instagram or read articles online. Already, changes to Safari and Firefox wiped out about 40% of all third-party cookies, and in a world where people need to physically click a button on each site to allow cookies, it’s unclear how viable the technology will be as privacy measures are enacted.
The Call of the Picket Fence
One of main predictions going into 2020 is that starter homes will be a leading category in new home builds. For millions of millennials around the country in the rental market, a starter home – the first residence a person or family can afford to purchase, often using a combination of savings and mortgage financing – will begin to look more appealing.
Rent in American cities has been marching upward for nearly a decade, and the promise of more space and entry into the home ownership market may lure more of this generational cohort to the suburbs.
Also on the topic of real estate, a few experts noted that even if there is an economic downturn in 2020, the housing market is unlikely to take a big hit.
All Eyes on IPOs
Despite experiencing a rough patch in 2019, SoftBank and its gargantuan Vision Fund will remain one of the most powerful forces in Silicon Valley this year. Masayoshi Son, Softbank’s enigmatic CEO, appears to have adopted a more pragmatic approach, citing a company’s “ability to turn a profit in the future” as a yardstick of evaluating the value of an investment.
Experts predict that in light of the very public PR disasters of unicorns Uber and WeWork, investors will be much more skeptical of high-valuation IPOs.
In 2020, more companies are predicted to opt for a direct listing to go public.
What Goes Up?
When the ball dropped to usher in 2019, market sentiment was leaning toward an impending recession. A year later, the economic expansion is still underway, and many experts now have a more positive outlook for 2020.
The majority of predictions we analyzed foresaw a year of continued job growth and modest gains in the stock market. Here’s a look at S&P 500 end target predictions from some of Wall Street’s top strategists:
The Elephant in the Oval
One prediction nobody seemed particularly keen to make was on the result of the impending U.S. presidential election.
Experts are likely happy to take a wait-and-see approach until the Democratic nominee is announced. Also looming in the back of people’s minds might be the memory of 2016, which was a powerful reminder that even predictions that seem like a sure thing don’t always pan out as expected.
[Experts] can’t predict the markets with any useful consistency, any more than the gizzard squeezers could tell the Roman emperors when the Huns would attack.
– Peter Lynch
A note on methodology: To make sure we captured a robust cross section of predictions for the coming year, we spent the month of December tracking down and analyzing hundreds of articles, whitepapers, and interviews from respected sources. For this exercise, we chose to focus on four broad, interconnected themes – the economy, consumerism, real estate, and technology. In the end, we analyzed 100+ published pieces, and captured 150+ predictions. We focused on content from media publications in Comscore’s top 100, major banks and consultancies, and brands and agencies with high-quality thought leadership. In the end, we highlighted the 25 predictions that appeared the most often.
Visualizing the World’s Top Social Media and Messaging Apps
From Twitter to TikTok, this infographic compares the universe of social media and messaging platforms by number of monthly active users.
The Social Media Universe in 2022
For a time, life in the social media universe was mostly uneventful. Consider these spicy (at the time) headlines:
- Even President Obama Thinks That Facebook Isn’t Cool Anymore (Techcrunch, 2014)
- Jack Dorsey Returns to Twitter as Chief, to Shrugs and Quips (New York Times, 2015)
- Instagram’s new stories are a near-perfect copy of Snapchat (Mashable, 2016)
In hindsight, the years leading up to 2016 were downright sleepy in comparison with what would follow. Donald Trump’s meteoric, tweet-powered rise to the presidency. The Cambridge Analytica scandal. Congressional hearings on privacy and bias. TikTok at the center of souring U.S.–China relations. Each new day brought a fresh wave of controversy the shores of once infallible social media platforms.
Today, the honeymoon phase is long over and the messiness of running a global social platform is now on full display. Nowhere is this more evident than Twitter during the current Elon Musk transitional period—but more details on that later.
For now, let’s explore the social media universe in 2022.
Mapping the Social Media and Messaging Universe
In 2022, the social universe is looking more crowded than in previous years.
The scale of Meta’s platforms still dominate thanks to their global reach, but there are a number of smaller networks fighting for market share. Here’s a look at popular platforms, organized from largest to smallest active userbase:
Meanwhile, here are the top 10 social media and messaging platforms by publicly-available monthly active users:
|Rank||Platform Name||Parent Company||Primary Function||Monthly Active Users|
|#1||Meta Platforms||Social network||2.9 billion|
|#2||YouTube||Alphabet||Video content||2.3 billion|
|#3||Meta Platforms||Messaging||2.0 billion|
|#4||Messenger||Meta Platforms||Messaging||1.3 billion|
|#5||Meta Platforms||Video content||1.2 billion|
|#7||TikTok||ByteDance||Video content||732 million|
|#9||Douyin||ByteDance||Video content||600 million|
YouTube is the only true competition for Meta’s scale and reach. Alphabet’s video content hub with social features boasts more than two billion monthly active users. YouTube’s embrace of the creator economy is nudging the platform further into pure social media territory with the introduction of “handles”.
As seen in the visualization above, China has its own ecosystem of large social and messaging platforms—the largest of these being WeChat.
The only platform in the top 20 that is not based in either the U.S. or China is the privacy-focused messaging app, Telegram. The Dubai-based company has a unique backstory. It was created after the founders of Russian social network VK left the country after resisting government pressure to release data on the social network’s users in Ukraine.
Today, there are also a number of smaller, special interest platforms. OnlyFans, for example, is focused on adult content creators. Parler and Truth Social appeal to users who want fewer constraints on the content they post and consume. BeReal aims to create more authentic moments by prompting users to post a photo at a random time each day.
Below, we dig into a few of these platforms into more depth.
Big Trouble in Little Metaverse
Having a figurehead CEO is a double-edged sword. When things are going well, the market rallies around the successful leader. Case in point, Mark Zuckerberg was named Time’s Person of the Year in 2010. Even as recently as 2016, Glassdoor named the Facebook founder the “most admired tech CEO”.
On the flip side, when the tide turns, it turns fast. After a series of controversies, Zuckerberg took a multi-billion-dollar gamble by renaming his entire company Meta and pivoting its focus to the burgeoning idea of a metaverse. Meta’s New Horizons platform is rumored to have plateaued at about 200,000 active users, which is underwhelming for a company that still reaches a sizable slice of humanity with its other services.
Part of Meta’s near-term success hinges on VR headsets being a hot gift this holiday season. Meta’s cheapest headset is $400, which could be a tough sell in today’s economic environment.
Of course, it’s too early to know whether Zuckerberg’s gamble will pay off. As always, all is forgiven once a business unit takes off and becomes profitable.
Microblogging with Macro Expectations
Twitter has a complicated history.
The company was launched in the shadow of Facebook’s massive growth, and was saddled with expectations that were tough to meet. Although Twitter has an engaged and influential audience, it hasn’t managed to monetize them at the level of Meta’s platforms (for better or worse). The introduction of Twitter Blue in 2021 did not resonate with users at the scale the company hoped, and “fleets” were essentially written off as a failed experiment.
In addition, Twitter is a magnet for criticism and debate around free speech, in part because of its central place in political discourse.
These issues are directly related to the company’s recent sale to Elon Musk. At the time of this article, Twitter finds itself in the midst of a painful, and very public, internal restructuring.
Social media has always been dominated by Facebook and its related apps. When a new challenger came along, Facebook either acquired it (Instagram, WhatsApp), or “acquired” their features (Snapchat). TikTok is the first challenger to keep its momentum and growth, even as Instagram rolled out very similar features.
TikTok is also a rare case of a Chinese tech product crossing over into Western markets. The ascendancy of TikTok was not without controversy though. Suspicion over Chinese access to user data continues to be an issue both in the U.S., and in other large markets around the world. TikTok has been banned in India since 2020.
Despite these headwinds, TikTok remains wildly popular. The short-form video platform was the number one downloaded app on the planet, and it remains a favorite of the all-important Gen Z demographic.
We Shall Surveil
In recent years, neighborhood-based social networks have sprung up and gained traction. NextDoor used physical letters sent to adjacent addresses to supercharge its growth, while Neighbors piggybacked off the popularity of Ring’s doorbell cameras. Although members post about more benign topics such as lost cats and where to find a good plumber, crime is an increasingly common theme as well.
Apps like Neighbors and Citizen have a more overt focus on crime and safety. While the growth of these apps reflects an obvious interest preventing crime, critics point out that the ubiquity of personal surveillance equipment and forums built purely around public safety promote a culture of suspicion in communities.
This type of social network is still quite new, so it remains to be seen if they remain niche communities, or grow into something bigger.
Chaos and Opportunity
It was Sun Tzu who famously said, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”.
This is the risk and opportunity in the social media universe today. With their massive networks and high switching costs (e.g. personalization, library of existing posts), the largest platforms have created moats that make life hard for upstart brands looking to replace established platforms. On the other hand, controversy on platforms like Twitter and Facebook may cause some users to consider new options.
The multi-billion-dollar question—is dissatisfaction with major platforms temporary, or will emerging networks like Mastodon or BeReal hit critical mass and become new staples for people connecting online. Time will tell.
Visualized: FTX’s Leaked Balance Sheet
As Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto exchange FTX files for bankruptcy, this graphic visualizes FTX’s balance sheet leaked by the Financial Times.
Visualizing FTX’s Balance Sheet Before Bankruptcy
In a difficult year for the crypto space that has been full of hacks, failing funds, and decentralized stablecoins going to zero, nothing has compared to FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried’s (SBF) rapid implosion.
After an astronomical rise in the crypto space over the past three years, crypto exchange FTX and its founder and CEO SBF have come crashing back down to earth, largely unraveled by their misuse of customer funds and illicit relationship with trading firm Alameda Research.
This graphic visualizes FTX’s leaked balance sheet dated to November 10th, and published by the Financial Times on November 12th. The spreadsheet shows nearly $9 billion in liabilities and not nearly enough illiquid cryptocurrency assets to cover the hole.
How did FTX wind up in this position?
How FTX’s Bankruptcy Unfolded
FTX’s eventual bankruptcy was sparked by a report on November 2nd by CoinDesk citing Alameda Research’s balance sheet. The article reported Alameda’s assets to be $14.6 billion, including $3.66 billion worth of unlocked FTT and $2.16 billion of FTT collateral.
With more than one-third of Alameda’s assets tied up in FTX’s exchange token FTT (including loans backed by the token), eyebrows were raised among the crypto community.
Four days later on November 6th, Alameda Research’s CEO, Caroline Ellison, and Sam Bankman-Fried addressed the CoinDesk story as unfounded rumors. However, on the same day, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao (CZ) announced that Binance had decided to liquidate all remaining FTT on their books, kicking off a -7.6% decline in the FTT token on the day.
Back and Forth with Binance’s CZ
While Ellison publicly offered to buy CZ’s FTT directly “over the counter” to avoid further price declines and SBF claimed in a now-deleted tweet that “FTX is fine. Assets are fine.”, FTX users were withdrawing their funds from the exchange.
The next day, the acquisition fell apart as Binance cited corporate due diligence, leaving SBF to face a multi-directional liquidity crunch of users withdrawing funds and rapidly declining token prices that made up large amounts of FTX and Alameda’s assets and collateral for loans.
FTX’s Liabilities and Largely Illiquid Assets
In the final days before declaring bankruptcy, FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried attempted a final fundraising in order restore stability while billions in user funds were being withdrawn from his exchange.
The balance sheet he sent around to prospective investors was leaked by the Financial Times, and reveals the exchange had nearly $9 billion in liabilities while only having just over $1 billion in liquid assets. Alongside the liquid assets were $5.4 billion in assets labeled as “less liquid” and $3.2 billion labeled as “illiquid”.
When examining the assets listed, FTX’s accounting appears to be poorly done at best, and fraudulently deceptive at worst.
Of those “less liquid” assets, many of the largest sums were in assets like FTX’s own exchange token and cryptocurrencies of the Solana ecosystem, which were heavily supported by FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried. On top of this, for many of these coins the liquidity simply wouldn’t have been there if FTX had attempted to redeem these cryptocurrencies for U.S. dollars or stablecoin equivalents.
While the liquid and less liquid assets on the balance sheet amounted to $6.3 billion (still not enough to equal the $8.9 billion in liabilities), many of these “less liquid” assets may as well have been completely illiquid.
Relationship with Alameda Research
When looking at FTX’s financials in isolation, it’s impossible to understand how one of crypto’s largest exchanges ended up with such a lopsided and illiquid balance sheet. Many of the still unfolding details lie in the exchange’s relationship with SBF’s previous venture that he founded, trading firm Alameda Research.
Founded by SBF in 2017, Alameda Research primarily operated as a delta-neutral (a term that describes trading strategies like market making and arbitrage that attempt to avoid taking directional risk) trading firm. In the summer of 2021, SBF stepped down from Alameda Research to focus on FTX, however his influence and connection with the firm was still deeply ingrained.
A report from the Wall Street Journal cites how Alameda was able to amass crypto tokens ahead of their announced public FTX listings, which were often catalysts in price surges. Alongside this, a Reuters story has revealed how SBF secretly moved $10 billion in funds to Alameda, using a bookkeeping “back door” to avoid internal scrutiny at FTX.
While SBF responded to the Reuters story by saying they “had confusing internal labeling and misread it,” there are few doubts that this murky relationship between Alameda Research and FTX was a fatal one for the former billionaire’s empire.
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