The year 2017 saw both social media and hackers much in the spotlight. Fake news posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc, fake user accounts on all platforms, fake news websites, real news reporting on fake news, and multi-billion dollar companies such as Google and Facebook often the inter-medium through which fake advertisers advertised fake content. The only sure winners from the fake news seem to be Google (Alphabet) and Facebook. Their stocks are up 20% and 50% respectively.
2018 Prediction: fake news will continue because people are dumb and believe what they want to believe.
“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” ~ Thomas Jefferson
Everything is now AI this, AI that, it’s going to replace all our jobs and eventually take over the world, like Skynet in the movie Terminator. Yes, it is going to take some jobs, alongside roboticization. A great example of this is how Goldman Sachs just put into production an AI program that has cut their legal departments billing load by a whopping 360,000 hours a year. Those lawyers may disagree but AI isn’t taking over humanity, yet.
Sci-fi aside, AI is real and really cool. Everyone is getting into the game, trying to catch up to Amazon, Google, IBM and Baidu are probably the biggest investors, but practically all tech companies are investing in the technoloty. AI isn’t just for the big boys. I’ve begun using it to analyze client data and fine tune my advertising algorithms with sometimes amazing results – and sometimes no results because you need a substantial amount of data to begin using AI.
Before I transition to hacks and security, and why it’s a growing problem, I must tie in AI. Hacking and security flaws are often exploits of the humble password, and AI allows computers to “guess” better than ever based on what is known about a user’s previous/existing passwords, combined with data on millions of stolen passwords. Computers can learn to guess passwords very effectively. Don’t reuse passwords, and don’t use any dictionary words. Use a password manager, like Lastpass!
2018 Prediction: More Goldman Sachs-like revolutionary AI programs will transfer jobs to computers, and more passwords will get hacked.
Security was much in the news in 2017. We learned of a lot of hacks: Experian, the CIA (Wwikileaks), The UK’s National Health Service (WannaCry), the city of Dallas, Virgin America, Verifone, almost 200 US million voter records, French President Macron, X-Box, Arbys, D&B, Sacs 5th Ave, United Healthcare, the IRS data retreval tool (FAFSA), Chipotle, Brooks Brothers, Docusign, One Login, Kmart (are they still in business?!), University of Oklahoma, Washington State University, NYU, Oxford, Campbridge, Blue Cross, Verizon, SEC, Deloitte, Whole Foods, Disques, Yahoo! (again), Hyatt, Forever 21, Uber, eBay, to name a few. These are just the household names. The entire list would fill pages.
I manage a lot of websites across many sectors and universally the amount of “bad traffic” every website gets is astonishing. When I say bad traffic I mean users (human or otherwise) with malicious intent. Just like Fake News is a thing, fake website visitors is a problem. It takes continued work to filter out the bad guys from website analytics so that the real picture of a website’s traffic and usage can be actionable. And much of this bad traffic is trying to hack the website, so you must have a backup plan ready to go. It’s probably not an if, but a when, that your website will be hacked. Plan for it.
2018 Prediction: You, your website, or people you know will be hacked. (Call me to discuss your backup plan)
On the advertising theme, Google has finally, finally threatened to begin rolling out the mobile-first index. This is a long time in the making, with many false starts. They continue to advise websites owners to focus on the mobile experience, page-speed, and user intent. Maybe Google has such great “secret sauce” coming with the new mobile-first index that it will be worth the wait.
2018 Prediction: I think (hope) it’s likely to hurt any website that is slow and not mobile-friendly.
Google also continues to craft the SERP (search engine results page) toward mobile usability, local results, and user intent. User intent is based on you. The more Google learns about you, the more likely Google is to get your search results right. To further this, Google now has always-on, always-listening Google Home and also Google Assistant baked into Google phones.
Personally, always-listening devices are too intrusive for me. Do I really want Google (or Amazon Echo & Alexa, or Apple’s phones and new home device) listening to my every word and deed, always? Every private rant or passion? If you think that data is not saved you need to know that it is saved; it doesn’t go away.
2018 Prediction: There will be more cases like the one in which Amazon handed over their saved voice records from an Alexa customer to Arkansas authorities in a murder investigation.
Browsers & Security
Security at the browser and website level also changed significantly in 2017. The major browsers are increasingly giving warnings in the address bar if a website is insecure. All websites should have an SSL certificate for this reason alone. Why scare your visitors? And if a website accepts any user inputs such as logins or other sensitive information it MUST be SSL. No more excuses people. Https, not http.
Many web hosts are now partnered with Let’s Encrypt, which offers free (and fast and easy) SSL. One of my favorite budget web hosts is Siteground, which offers Let’s Encrypt, and good overall performance. Bluehost also has free SSL for WordPress sites. Make 2018 the year you convert your website to HTTPS.
Best Browser Award
At the browser level, there was a big change in the best browser category quite recently. In November, the formerly beleaguered Firefox released a totally new version of its browser and man is it fast! In all my tests and usage it smokes both Chrome and Safari on Mac.
2018 Prediction: Chrome and Safari will catch up to Firefox, thus making the internet a better, faster place.
Browser Extension Awards
I have a few favorite browser extensions from 2017. I could not live without:
- LastPass, which manages all my passwords, credit card form fills, and secure personal and business notes. If you are not using a password manager then you are almost certainly managing your passwords in a manner that will cost you in the end. Are you reusing passwords, or making just small variations on passwords so you can remember them? If so, you are begging for trouble.
- Grammarly, which offers superior spellcheck and grammar suggestions. It can be a little buggy but when it works it’s superior to all other spell checks.
- Adblock Plus, which blocks ads on websites, thus speeding up browsing because the browser isn’t working to load a bunch of ads. I know this is ironic since I do web advertising, but it speeds up my day.
2018 Prediction: If you try the above browser extensions you will be happy and productive.
Virtual Private Networks
A VPN secures (and hides from ISPs or bad guys) your connection’s content, and gives you a different IP address than your ISP endpoint. I use VPN programs for a few reasons:
- While on a public wifi, because public wifis (with or without a required login) are dirtier than public restrooms
- I want to watch geo-blocked content such as the BBC or a European sporting event (namely, professional cycling). With a VPN I can “trick” the BBC into seeing me as a local London visitor so the let me watch their geo-blocked content
- Bit Torrents
- If I’m doing recon on a client’s competitor and I don’t want them knowing where I am or that I’m a return visitor (because I can change IP addresses for each visit)
My favorite VPNs are VyperVPN and Private Internet Access. Both products have desktop and phone applications. The phone application gets used a lot, to secure my connection on public wifis. Vyper is more stable and user-friendly with the internet than Private Internet Access, so I use that the majority of the time. PIA, on the other hand, doesn’t save server logs so it is preferable for Bit Torrenting, or if you are doing anything nefarious.
2018 Prediction: More devices will bake-in VPNs.
The dominant website platform continues to be greater and greater. It can scale to the device (presuming a modern theme), it can integrate with almost any third party service, and the non-developer can create and edit content.
For the past couple years I’ve been using the Jupiter framework to build all my custom themes. The flexibility of Jupiter is top shelf, and the speed performance is excellent.
2018 Prediction: Your next website will be WordPress if it isn’t already.
Google has redone the Adwords interface and I’m not happy. I’m sure that over time I will get used to it but I’m having to relearn how to use a product that I can use with my eyes closed (on the old version). I need to take a couple days to just learn and set up my workflows. (Note to self: do this and embrace the change!)
Other than that complaint, Adwords is still the most reliable way to deliver MEASURABLE results for clients selling goods or services. The operative word is measurable. Organic strategies and social marketing get a lot of hype but have real limitations in attribution. That which cannot be measured, cannot be improved.
2018 Prediction: I will learn to love the new Adwords interface.