New technologies follow a pattern. They start by imitating older technologies before they evolve to their true forms. The first automobiles looked like horseless carriages. It wasn’t until the Vintage Era of the 1920’s that cars evolved to a form that we’d recognize today with features like front-engines, enclosed cabs, and electric starters. Televisions started off copying radios – they looked more like an armoire with a small screen stuck on the front.
In the process of working on my latest piece of research, it became clear that the Web has followed a similar pattern. Early sites imitated a much older medium – paper. And even though ‘web page’ still dominates our thinking, online experiences have begun to evolve away from the page-based metaphor. In the next 5 years, the evolution of online experiences toward their true form is about to take off at a much faster rate than in the previous 5 years.
Consider that today’s default Web platform – a browser running on a PC – is rapidly giving way to diverse online environments. The types of devices we use to connect to the Web are proliferating. In addition to the growth of netbook adoption, there are new devices like the Chumby and the Energy Joule. Portable devices are rapidly getting more powerful – as a result, the tradeoff between mobility and capability is shrinking. And even as the hardware evolves, the interfaces on the devices we use to connect to the Web are becoming more and more customizable. And the reason any of this matters at all is because consumers are already adopting these technologies.
So what are the implications of these trends? What does it mean for the future of online experiences? At Forrester, we’ve concluded that the resulting online customer experiences of the future will be:
- Customized by the end user. Consumers will not only control what they get online, they’ll control the form that they get it in to a much greater degree than they do today.
- Aggregated at the point of use. Content, function, and data will be pulled from different sources and combined at a common destination to create a unique experience.
- Relevant to the moment.This customized, aggregated content will appear on the device that’s best suited to the customer’s context at a given point in time.
- Social as a rule, not an exception. Social content will be integrated into most online experiences, not segregated into today’s blogs, micro blogs, and wikis.
If you like acronyms, then you’ll appreciate the fact that this spells CARS. And if you’re wondering what CARS online experiences will look like, there are already companies which are providing this type of online experience. Take a look at some of the online experiences we’ve identified in our research like: Wikitude, Nationwide’s Accident Tool kit for the iPhone, Livekick, or the ShopSavvy mobile app.
This report provides a framework for customer experience professionals to think about how to build their firms’ online experiences of the future. Over the next few months, Forrester’s Customer experience research team will continue to explore this topic with a series of reports. Next up is a research on the future of Rich Internet applications as well as reports on best practices for each of the elements in the CARS framework. Please let us know your thoughts on the future of online experiences and what you see as your biggest challenges in building them.