Users will begin to demand three things in more and more online services that will transform the way you interact with these services, and your social network as a result.
Ubiquitous online reputation tools
The most important of these three points will be reputation.
Someone will figure out a way to easily, and powerfully integrate a reputation system into just about everything we do. It will be a system independent of any single service, and it will form the foundation of multi-faceted trust, where different people are trusted for different reasons, on different topics, and at various levels simultaneously.
It will enable big things, like forming a collective banning/flagging of scammers and spammers. It will also do little things, for example, you trust your friend Joe's opinion on gadgets, but you don't like his taste in movies. When you shop for digital cameras Joe's top list of models and places to buy them will be right at the top of the list. However, when you're looking for what movie to go see on Friday night, Joe will be nowhere to be found.
It will be natural and automatic, and a system that you can train and retrain over time to give you customized, real-time recommendations on anything you want.
Let's say you have a bad experience with a company online. You might write a bad review of the company, but the company has no way to write a review of you. Symmetrical accountability means that accountability should go both ways. With symmetrical accountability companies will make use of reputation to find customers that best fit them
So why would you want a company to be able to rate you?
It's simple. If companies can find customers using the same reputation system that you use to find them, they will be able to spend more time serving the customers that fit them well, and building a strong and connected community within that customer base. That means a higher percentage of customers getting great service, and the company spends more time and energy on you.
When we talk about companies avoiding customers don't get too freaked out. We're not talking about companies turning away loyal, paying customers who just have one bad experience. We're talking about the trolls that everyone knows are out there, and who ruin everyone's experience. We're talking about the scammers that post false listings for things for sale. We're talking about people who post fake and misleading pictures of themselves on dating sites. We're talking about people who are dishonest, and make a service less useful for everyone.
Sharing controls will be completely user-centric, and service independent
In the coming years everyone will be able to take privacy into their own hands, and never again need to rely on trusting a 3rd party to manage it for them. Privacy systems, especially when tied to reputation, will allow people to automatically manage what people, groups, and organizations are able to see about them. If this privacy system is in the hands of the open source community, and owned by the people (instead of a company or government), the shared interest of allowing people to be as open or private as they like will put control back into the hands of the individual.
This means all kinds of good things can happen, including not sharing demographic data with advertisers if you don't want to. It can effectively be used to opt-out of advertising from companies you don't like, or advertising altogether.
In short, online communities will be able to shape their own destinies to a greater degree, the same way that a group of neighbors in a housing development can decide to work together to make their neighborhood a place where great people come together for a common purpose, and with similar ideals. It's a great big world out there, but more and more, it'll be possible for the net to become a place where your experience is so highly customized to what you're looking for that no matter who you are, or what you're into, you'll feel right at home socializing with people that you know in what will feel like your own private circle of friends and neighbors.