Transforming the world of online media and marketing, technologies that enable a portable identity will soon allow consumers to bring their identities with them across the Web, according to a deep-dive study on the future of social media from Forrester Research.
What’s more, IDs are just the beginning of this transformation, in which the Web will evolve step-by-step from separate social sites into a shared social experience, according to the report’s key author, Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang.
“Consumers will rely on their peers as they make online decisions, whether or not brands choose to participate,” Owyang explains in the report. “Socially connected consumers will strengthen communities and shift power away from brands and CRM systems … eventually this will result in empowered communities defining the next generation of products.”
Brands anxious to exploit the flurry of social activity presently face one key challenge: social information about people, their profiles, and their friends is locked up in separate networks.
But, according to Forrester, the social web is about to evolve from a few social network sites into a consistent backdrop for every online activity. Portable social IDs and the changes they enable will transform how consumers, brands, and social networks interact, according to Owyang.
In the next stage of social evolution, starting later in 2009, technologies like OpenID and Facebook Connect will let individuals traverse the Internet with their social connections along for the ride.
The boundaries of social networks and traditional sites will blur, making every Web site into a social experience.
Next year, meanwhile, as sites begin to recognize people’s personal identities and their social relationships, they will customize visitors’ experiences based on their preferences, their behaviors, and who their friends are.
In addition to enabling more intense social applications, in this stage social networks will absorb features of email and become a base of operations for everyone’s online experiences.
Further into the future — in about two years, Forrester predicts — as social networks become the repository for identities and relationships, they will become more powerful than corporate Web sites and CRM systems.
“Communities will become the driving force for innovation,” according to Owyang. “As a result, brands will cater to communities, resulting in a power shift toward the connected customer.”
Presently, among the U.S. online consumers who visit Facebook, LinkedIn, or MySpace at least monthly, 42% must juggle at least two social network IDs, according to Forrester, while 63% of those in social networks are also logging in to discussion forums — again with a separate ID.
Ultimately, the new browsers and identity technologies will let consumers choose to surf the Web and see what sites their friends have visited — and what they thought of the information there.