With a 2016 revenue of $1.7 billion, companies like Lyft emulating their business model, and about 40 million monthly riders, Uber is one of the most revolutionary unicorns of our time. Its name has even become a staple for startup elevator pitches, denoting its role in the sharing economy: We call our companies the "Uber of" our respective industries.
How did we get here?
Uber specifically sought out pain points in the transit industry, and set out to fill the cracks. Taxis too expensive? Lower the price. Too hard to drive for a taxi company? Drive your own car. Too hard to hail a taxi? Build an app. Everything about Uber that works is in response to something in the preexisting industry that doesn't, and that strategy is working like gangbusters.
So, how do you predict the next Uber? Follow the gaps. That next space of inefficiency in utility is surprisingly social media.
By now, it's no secret that Facebook has some pain points. What was supposed to be a playground to share moments with family and friends has largely become a never-ending slog of political commentary and meme minutiae. Some findings indicate Facebook has a net effect of unhappiness on us. Following the 2016 election, the most social media-centric election of all time, people are leaving and unfriending in droves, NPR reports.
Instagram has its own set of issues. A recent study indicated Instagram is among the worst social-media platforms for self-esteem, especially among teens and young adults, because of the emphasis on appearance that leads to body image issues, bullying, and fear of missing out.
Of course, these pain points or Congressional scrutiny over the role of social media in media and politics aren't going to kill social media. Facebook alone has over 1.86 billion monthly active users and 1.15 billion daily active users, and these numbers increase every year. However, the door is open for a company to capitalize on the pain points of Facebook and other social media outlets, appealing to privacy or content issues.
Here are three places ripe for targeting:
1. The price of privacy.
Privacy concerns have been a major issue in today's social-media landscape, and users are beginning to understand the price of "free" content. What happened with Equifax is just the first in a series of moments where people fully realize that when we use services like Facebook and Google, the service is free, but we are the product.
Several anecdotes suggest Facebook may be using access to mobile microphones for ad targeting (Facebook denies this), and the dialogue is so consistent that a Forbes contributor recently explored the notion in depth. A recent Gizmodo article calls Facebook out for identifying family secrets, unknown even to the user.
2. Creating new utility.
Gary Vaynerchuk wrote last year about Musical.ly--more than just a place for tweens to lip sync. It's increasingly difficult to create something new in social media. Somewhere between Vine and Snapchat, Musical.ly carved out its niche by allowing its users to create quick videos. It's still in the darling phase of social media, full of potential and little scrutiny.
The real question is: Where will the next utility come from?
My guess: Somewhere between live-streaming and augmented reality. The ability to make any mundane Tuesday experience look magical--or, better yet, the ability to plant augmented reality experiences for our friends in real-life locations--is exciting. The next big thing could look and feel like actual magic.
3. Socializing like we do in real life.
There's a lack of sociability in current social networks. It may sound strange, but it is a real gap. We share external content so pervasively now that social networks can actually make users feel less connected.
Capsure, which deemphasizes broadcasting, has gained traction recently for facilitating more authentic human interactions online. Don't want your boss to see you at a party? Share those pictures in a private group with relevant friends. Don't want to inundate those friends with pictures of your baby? Share with family.
You don't have to see everything at once. Others don't have to see your everything at once. We don't share everything on a megaphone all the time with everyone we know in real life, so why would we in virtual life?
Finally, look for the first big Blockchain social network in 2018. It seems inevitable as people may look to socialize with groups and function like any other social media with less visibility. The same principles that apply to Bitcoin--a desire for open but closed networks--could facilitate this.