Back in the year 2000, futurist Frank Feather looked into his crystal ball and predicted that Quixtar would be one of the biggest retail websites of 2010. Needless to say, it wasn't. But Feather's predictions weren't all bad. Especially when it came to the future of news.
Feather's 2000 book, FutureConsumer.com: The webolution of shopping to 2010, is jam-packed with predictions. Some were wildly off-base, but when it came to looking at the future of the news industry, Feather foresaw a lot of the radical changes we're witnessing today. The decline of print newspapers? Check. The rise of tablets? Check. The evolution of media from mass consumption to niche? Double check.
In fact, his predictions for the five most popular news sites of 2010 weren't half bad:
Aside from Knight Ridder (which was purchased by the McClatchy Company in 2006) his news sites are all incredibly popular in the year 2010. If you're wondering why Gawker Media isn't on the list, well, that innovative news organization wasn't founded until 2002. And if you're of the opinion that the real news sites these days are Facebook, Twitter, and other social aggregators, well... you have a good point!
As for other predictions, Feather was a bit optimistic on his tablet timeline (and pricing), but there's no denying that he got a lot right. Indeed, his visions of pushing updated news to your device feels even more accurate than Spielberg's Minority Report, a film that wouldn't be released until a couple years later and is itself fairly prescient.
By 2005, I predict that such a "news-tablet" will cost less than $50, will hold more than a year's worth of "papers," and will be easier to read than newsprint. It will have variable type size (for aging eyes) and thumb-touch page forwarding — no more thrashing through broadsheets in search of the rest of the story "Continued on Page B6, Column 5." Content will be downloadable wirelessly, will be able to be read out loud to you, and will be instantly erasable. If you want a hard-copy print-out, zap the story to your home printer — which every home will have. Imagine, every home with its own full-color printing press! Indeed, today's tech-savvy family buys a full-color, high-definition printer for less than $100.
Even today, rather than continuing to squirt ink on paper and then dump it in my driveway, newspapers can zap my customized edition to my always-on printer by 5 AM— with an updated version ready for me after supper. Indeed, newspapers could send me a full multimedia update every ten minutes; if CNN can do it, why can't they?
Feather even predicted that every printed newspaper would disappear by about 2020, a prediction that hasn't yet come to pass, but certainly looks like a plausible reality with each new day.
The biggest question that remains to be answered here in the 2010s seems to be the question of device. Back in 1994, Knight Ridder imagined that news would be delivered via dedicated news-reader tablet. There's no room for Angry Birds on something like that. What device will you be reading Paleofuture on twenty years hence? I dare say it will be a multi-purpose device rather than a dedicated blog reader. In fact, that would probably best-describe what you're reading this on right now.
I think the easier question to answer is whether Paleofuture will be the number one website in America. Because the answer to that is most certainly no.
Image: Screenshot from a 1994 Knight Ridder concept video imagining tablets of the future