As we enter 2014, four key trends are going to bring both opportunity and peril for entrepreneurs and investors. Here are the changes you’ll want to keep an eye on in the coming year.

1. The Social Web: Beyond Friends and Social Media

Social media has become an inherent part of how we consume information and interact with each other on the web today. Statistics show that 71% of consumers have reposted content on social media sites in the previous month, and 25% have made online product recommendations.

This makes sense, as we are social creatures who, predictably, gravitate to technologies that enable us to socialize with and have connections to others. In a recent VentureBeat article, the 10 most linked-to web domains today were described as tools that “empower their users to network with each other, create something of their own, and build online communities.”

This fundamental social shift is permanent and increasingly will permeate our lives, as online interaction substitutes for face time, as new platforms emerge to connect us to peers, and as wearable technologies get introduced in tech-savvy markets.

This trend in turn will drive a new era of social experiences around activities that were previously done individually; those experiences will no longer be consumed in isolation, but in a living, breathing network.

2. Connecting Everything: Physical Objects Go Online

A new era of ubiquitous computing is taking root and is a game changer. Clearly, the Internet of Things (IoT) is no longer a buzzword but now starts at our fingertips and extends to our shoes, cars, and homes. The promise of this disruptive trend is to automate and connect everything to bring a new level of convenience to our lives.

The influx of data will be huge. Morgan Stanley predicts that the number of devices connected to the IoT will be four to five billion by 2016 and will reach 75 billion by 2020. According to McKinsey, the IoT will add between $2.7 and $6.2 trillion a year to the global economy by 2025.

There are technical challenges to overcome for devices, however, notably the need for standardization and connectors to enable control and automate the data flow between them. Many large companies are invested in this effort, including Cisco, Intel, IBM, ARM, Xively.

Businesses poised for the greatest success are those able create brand new experiences for consumers across any device, any time, any place.

3. Dynamic Personalization: It’s About You

Three-fourths of online consumers get frustrated with websites that offer content irrelevant to them. The Internet is overwhelming, and consumers are beginning to demand personalized experiences tailored to their interests. The future is moving towards comprehensive and commingled platforms where a simple, streamlined experience prevails with a user’s interest graph at the very center.

Businesses are aware of this trend. A recent survey highlights that a whopping 80% believe the personalized web experience is worth investing, largely due to its ability to create unique engagement — even more than channels like Facebook and Twitter.

But personalization is tricky and requires integrating and simplifying the current experience, preserving the right balance between personal and serendipity. Industry giants and startups alike are beginning to ride the crest of this tsunami.

4. Big Data Meets AI: You – Only Smarter

It’s a Web of Data and it’s growing exponentially due to the rise of mobility, connected devices, and cloud technology. Savvy analysis of that data will help deliver enhanced experiences for consumers and, therefore, will be easier to monetize.

Advanced machine learning and algorithms will help make sense of that body of information and draw insights about consumers and deliver content of interest to them. AI and Big Data are infiltrating our everyday lives and can make us smarter than we ever thought we could be. It’s like learning about a new friend. The more time you spend together, the more information you have about them, the more you learn what they like.

Theneeds, for example, analyzes external signals like how a piece of content is shared on social networks and how much attention it receives, as well as internal data about users and their behaviors. Entity extraction, classification, scoring and advanced analytics mixed with other AI algorithms are then used to understand users’ preferences, build their digital interest DNA, and pair content with their specific interests.

When AI is done well, it seems simple and enjoyable for consumers. The complexity is hidden on the back end, and the ‘push’ content consumers receive is more engaging and enjoyable.

Gabriele Pansa is CEO of Theneeds, a San Francisco-based technology startup. Gabriele worked previously as a strategy consultant and manager at Accenture specializing in the technology industry. He may be reached at

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