2019 Tech Trends: 3 Factors Associations Should Watch

After what feels like a decade of aggressive innovation, things are starting to slow down a bit—which might make tech a little easier for associations to manage in 2019.

I have a lot to live up to with this year-beginning column.

See, 12 months ago, my first blog post of the year predicted that there would be, and I quote, “Tough Headwinds for Personalization in 2018.” Oh, how right I was.

Admittedly, I had some hints that we’d be looking at a tough year going forward, thanks to a certain European regulation I feel like I’ve referenced in many of my blog posts and articles over the past 365 days.

But there was no way I could have known, for example, that data-privacy scandals would repeatedly catch the owners of the world’s largest social network flat-footed, that the operator of another social network would have to announce they were shutting down after a data scandal of their own, or that data privacy would become a key political issue and even a major concern for business travelers.

All that trickles down to the way associations serve their own members, and creates apprehension that isn’t easy to handle. It’s one prediction I don’t necessarily wish was right, but here we are.

Considering my record, I figure now’s a good time to make a few more predictions as we go into 2019. Here’s what I’ve got:

1. The latest and greatest is becoming a commodity again. Finally. Remember how, around 2005 or so, it seemed like PCs (at least on the Windows side) were starting to stagnate, leading to longer upgrade cycles in offices, as much of the existing tech “just worked”?

People are willing to stick with their old phones and laptops a little longer. It’s like 2005 all over again.

Of course, the smartphone and tablet then happened—and associations had to upgrade their office and learn lots of new technologies, all at once. (Remember when every website you read couldn’t stop talking about responsive design?)

But things are starting to slow back down again. You might have heard the news about Apple offering guidance to investors about declining sales, with one reason being consumers repairing batteries in existing devices rather than upgrading to new phones. Apple chose to price high at a time when people were willing to stick with their old phones and laptops a little longer. It’s like 2005 all over again.

We’re bound to see innovation pick up again, with technologies like augmented reality and artificial intelligence (hey Alexa) seen as driving factors, but if you’ve been feeling challenged to keep up with all the changes, 2019 might offer a bit of breathing room—because phones, PCs, and tablets are in the zone of “just good enough” once again, and that’s a good enough place to be for associations that have to budget for all that stuff.

2. 2019 is going to be a good year for private communities. After years of social media seemingly forcing many organizations to compete with themselves for their members’ attention on public social media platforms, 2018 highlighted what can happen when those big, open platforms lose some of their luster.

Which, of course, is good for organizations that run private communities. At a time when it’s not uncommon among a circle of friends to hear chatter about quitting Facebook, people will want to connect with their industry peers through something a little less cold than LinkedIn. Which is good for “owned” resources, like email marketing. But it also means that, if you’re thinking of increasing resources toward your private community, now might be a good year for it.

One notable trend in community tools that association pros should be aware of: Open-source community software is on the rise. After years of mediocre or outdated community solutions in the open-source space, highly sophisticated solutions such as Discourse, Vanilla Forums, and NodeBB are helping to give the field a swift kick in the pants.

And the community pros have taken notice. According to an in-depth crowdsourced review roundup done by the online community consultancy FeverBee, Discourse and Vanilla Forums are better rated among respondents than many of their closed-source peers, including some that specifically target the association space.

Notably, their models are structured along the lines of Drupal or WordPress, perhaps the most widely used open-source tools among associations—and like those, you can maintain your own service, but if you need the help, many full-service turnkey options are ready to go.

3. Overhyped tech is going to come down to earth. This time a year ago, bitcoin was trading at around $16,000 per coin, and was just starting to make its wild descent down to reality—which is where it sits now.

Obviously, associations probably didn’t get that much of a benefit from bitcoin last year (unless they got contacted by a certain anonymous donor), but it nonetheless clouded the legitimate business uses of the blockchain.

In the midst of all that hype, you might have missed one of the most interesting membership experiments I’ve ever seen—the Government Blockchain Association has been giving its members tokens, providing them a stake in the organization over time, with more tokens given to more engaged members. Despite coming from a blockchain organization, the idea offers some interesting points for other associations looking for new ways to reach their membership.

The problem is, all that hype has a way of drowning out what could be potentially realistic use cases. But the good news is there’s a pretty consistent mathematical model to follow on the issue, in the form of Gartner’s Hype Cycle, which implies that buzzy new technologies lose their initial luster over time (putting them into the “trough of disillusionment”), but then regain most of that interest as the technology falls into everyday use.

Last year was full of hyped things. While I’m sure new things will crop up in 2019, there’s reason to feel optimistic that we might get a breather from some of the more over-the-top tech trends—which might help your association better assess what’s good and what’s irrelevant.

Whether my predictions are right, may your 2019 be full of relevance.

(St_Aurora72/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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