All I want for Christmas

by Richard Speigal

It's that time of year when tech wordsmiths are powering up their iMacs to see who can predict the great technological trends of 2013. Mostly they'll get it all wrong and hope nobody remembers.

So I thought I'd take a different tack and write down what I actually want from the online world in 2013. Maybe there are a few opportunities here for brainy types.

I want a solution to information overload

My digital diet defined 2012 and it did a lot to cull my time wasting. The diet was very successful at eliminating social network noise but it was less good at sorting out my reading list.

The thing about being an in touch go-getter is that you need to read lots on the latest stuff; it helps you spot trends and sound clever at dinner parties.

Unfortunately the web has become especially noisy now that scummy SEO is dying in favour of content marketing and that means there's a deluge of articles everywhere on absolutely everything. Post Panda, quality has improved, but it's tough to sort the genuinely useful stuff from a repetition of things you already know.

I'm still heavily using Flipboard to sync my G+, Google Reader and Twitter feeds but it's a far from perfect product and it could do with more personalised filtering. Either Flipboard needs to get better or we need a whole new wave of truly amazing news filters to ensure you skip the noise but don't miss the good stuff.

Anything out there I should try?

I want responsive email

Email is dead.

(Only kidding.)

Responsive email
Email on smartphones isn't all that smart

Online marketers use many weapons; social media is a water pistol, email is a machine gun (and search is a sodding great ICBM). That isn't changing anytime soon.

The popularity of reading email on smartphones has outpaced the toolset and most marketing email now looks like crap on a small screen.

We need responsive email templates.

MailChimp has some responsive templates (if you want to use MailChimp) and Zurb has done some starter templates for free (great work by the way).

Given that real businesses are happy to pay for the templates that power their most important communications, it'd be great to see a really good theme site for these templates.

I haven't got time to learn the black art of making email templates responsive but I'm happy to pay for it?

Come on geeks, show me the way! This is a problem for millions of businesses.

I want better payment providers

Taking online payments is still a pain in the backside. We've used WorldPay for a long time and the best I can say is it's okay. They're fairly reliable, their rates aren't terrible (just crap) and integration is pretty easy. Their new mobile payment pages are a clear winner for 2012.

At the other end of the scale is PayPal which frankly I loathe. All that's good about PayPal is they don't ask you for a 5 year business plan and cash flow forecast when you want to take online payments for a new project (although you do run risk of being shut down for having some success).

We need a super easy in-between, something that's:

  • Quick to set up (I don't mind a firm checking me out, just keep the paperwork minimal)
  • Easy integration developers will love
  • Reasonable rates (<3%)
  • Works on mobile
  • Super safe and reliable (goes without saying)

If Kenya can lead the world in mobile payments, a world superpower of finance like us should be able to do this. Make it happen, Britain!

I want the cloud to be easy

You may have read about my utter disappointment with the very flighty PHP Fog and Spaceglu looks like heading onto some expensive dedicated boxes in 2013. Turns out the cloud is still something of a mirage to non-rocket scientists.

The promise of reliable, easy and truly scalable cloud hosting is some way off and right now the best work is only being done by enthusiastic geeks in garages and bedrooms.

I'd like to see the big hosts get a grip on this and make it work out of the box, without my having to become a systems administrator. I want to ramp up my projects from thousands of customers to millions at the flick of switch.

A better cloud would truly democratise web development. Make it happen please?

I want Apple to do something new

My Apple shares are wobblier than a drunk on a tight rope. Maybe that's because the enormous growth projections are predicated on Apple being a firm that makes groovy new products; the problem is they haven't actually made any groovy new products in 2012.

This year we got iPhone 5 (it's an iPhone 4, but bigger) and then we got the iPad Mini (basically an expensive and very shit copy of the Nexus 7). Yawn.

Did Apple go on holiday? New products please, before you stop being Gucci and turn into Comet.

I don't want Instagram, really

I got a real camera, I took a long time learning to use it and I hate Instagram.

Photo snobbery aside, Instagram also makes me feel very sad: I've spent years nurturing our family photo archive and the best thing (for me) is how good photos get even better with age. My heart bleeds for people who's only photos of their kids are Instagram'd - you'll never get that time back and those images will look seriously bad in 5 years time when photo fashion inevitably moves on. Heartbreaking.

Wouldn't it be great if Instagram never appeared on my Twitter feed ever again? Instagram made my wish come true: They cut off Twitter previews! so I never have to see an Instagram again (unless of course I click, which I won't). Thank you Instagram, you guys really do listen.

I want Twitter to make money

200 million active monthly users! These boys have done extremely well, even Katie Price can use it.

Except of course they still can't crack making any real money, which means while they're useful and cool, they're certainly not a real business I can respect. Tech businesses often have short shelf lives and Twitter needs to secure its future.

Twitter is experimenting with all kinds of ads and they're mostly meeting the same resistance from users as Facebook: People just don't like ads in a space that they consider personal.

The easy answer is to simply start charging. They don't have to charge everyone, just extend the "Verified account" scheme to businesses. It could be purely opt-in but which serious business wouldn't want the cachet of having an official account?

£50 a year? £100? It's pennies to us and a boat load of cash for Twitter. They would go from tech rock star to respectable company that pays tax in about 4 minutes.

In the meantime they should also start charging for more for access to the firehose and API. Twitter data is valuable and serious players are happy to pay for it.

Grow up, little birdie.

I want big tech to pay tax

The perceived wisdom that tech is a driver for economic growth has taken a serious knock this year: Apple, Facebook, Google and co. are all up to their necks in Double Irish tax schemes that leave them paying a lot less tax than the rest of us.

Combined with the fact that they don't create many jobs compared to other industries, tech is losing its lustre. Is it really that useful to society?

As the glue that binds business, I believe it is. But geeks need to understand they have to make jobs, generate wealth and feed that back into the society that nurtures them - just like every other business. We need less Bill Nguyen and more Dyson please.

For once I'm feeling pretty leftie. Fix it geeks - before legislators fix it for you.

I want less government cash for "startups"

Web startups have enviably low barriers to entry. Opening a sandwich shop is about 1000 times more expensive than opening a web business.

So following on from the previous point, Shoreditch et al really doesn't need government cash, especially given rock star tech's poor track record of paying tax and creating jobs (see above). Cambridge is right to laugh at London.

Government can certainly grease the wheels with better broadband infrastructure, clarity on the legal side of online business (especially the libel laws and patent system) and making finance for small business more effective.

But most of this can be achieved by working with existing firms and using some creative thinking. It doesn't need cash that would be better spent on schools and hospitals. Government sops are simply no substitute for good ideas and people with the energy to pursue them.

We really don't need politicians to make things happen, we're better than that, right?

Thank you, Santa. x

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