2019 Year in Review: It Should Just Work

By Gene Carr, Founder

This year, my annual review of all things tech and the arts mirrors what I wrote a year ago, with some new insights. Last year’s message was that we’re between chapters. The hardware devices most of us use to access the internet — tablets, smartphones, desktops — all work pretty well and are ubiquitous. And although we can already begin to see the contours of another generation of technology, it’s not here yet.  

Yes, voice-enabled technology, as popularized by Amazon’s Echo (aka Alexa), is making everyone more comfortable talking to machines and expecting a reasonable answer. That trend will continue as more and more devices (like your car and your toaster) offer that capacity. And yet, you aren’t able to have a complex conversation and accomplish something that involves many steps (like, say, buying a reserved seat ticket). This will come … but we’re not there yet.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are also waiting in the wings. In August, Google began rolling out an AR-assisted map feature that allows you to point your phone straight ahead and see directions imposed on your surroundings, rather than having to look down at a map. And Apple leaked to tech bloggers that it would put a lightweight AR/VR headset on the market in 2022, followed by AR glasses in 2023. Again, this is all on the horizon … but we’re not there yet.

Perhaps the most important but mostly overlooked technology is the idea of much faster internet speed, called 5G. Some wireless companies are getting ahead of themselves by selling “5G-enabled” devices and offering somewhat deceptive marketing about how useful these devices are right now. But when 5G is truly here, you will know it — reports I’ve read say it’s 100 times faster than the current fastest 4G connections! This 5G connectivity is what will power self-driving cars, real-time immersive online gaming, and things we’ve never conceived of … but we’re not there yet.

Given this in-between state we’re in now, what’s the most important thing to focus on? Well, I suggest it’s this: Your patrons’ online experience with your organization has to work — and work as well as other really good online experiences they are used to. 

Your patrons have daily interactions online with lots of sites that are smartly built and easy to use. For instance, as a frequent traveler, I’m delighted that I can book and/or change a flight (something that used to require a complex phone call or a desktop computer) on the Fly Delta mobile app — and it simply works. And shockingly, this week I had an online experience with my cable company, Verizon, that offered a clean, clear, well-designed, and completely logical path through a complicated adjustment to my service. Now, when I engage with a website or service I’ve not used before, my expectation is that basic things will just work.  

Therefore, while we all wait for the next chapter of the internet, your organization ought to be buttoned up, because your patrons expect it. No longer will your patrons give you a pass if your site is not updated or if your ticketing experience is cumbersome, or if they can’t get fast customer service online. As the year comes to an end, I urge you to take a hard look at your organization’s online user experience. Do a round of user testing; get feedback and make sure you are doing the basics flawlessly.  

I can’t finish this post without commenting on another big conversation going on about technology: the one about personal data and trust. This year, in particular, we’ve reached a tipping point where it’s become public knowledge that most big tech companies have been using (and/or abusing) their users’ personal data for their own benefit. These tech giants have sold your data when they shouldn’t have, collected your data without telling you, and now that this is well-documented in the press, users are rightfully suspicious. 

The darkest cloud hangs over Facebook, which has tarnished its image (probably forever) by underhandedly manipulating and selling user data. While I myself am still checking Facebook for a few minutes a day, I assume that everything I do on it will be exploited without my consent, even with all the knobs and controls Facebook has installed.

How this manifests itself in the arts is pretty simple: Keeping the trust of your patrons is about both your internal process (make sure your data is secure) and communication. There is no downside to being clear and transparent with your patrons about how you are using their data — and they will continue to trust you with it. After all, who would donate to an organization that they don’t trust?

Finally, as 2019 comes to an end, this post also represents an end for me as it’s my last regularly scheduled blog post. I started this blog way back in 2007, and I have written just under 500 posts to date. Starting several years ago, my colleagues on the PatronManager staff have jumped in, and I always find their contributions amazing and insightful. If you’re interested in reading the archives of just my posts, you can click here to read them.

In 2020, I’m off on my next adventure building a technology company that helps teams communicate and coordinate more effectively and provides better patron safety at live events. When I have more details, I’ll come back as a guest blogger to write more about it once we’re a bit further along.   

In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and I wish all the best for you in 2020.

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