10 turn-of-the-century predictions, and 10 lessons learned

As we all attempt to predict the future, we probably should remember that we generally do not predict the future very well.

I received a reminder of this last month.

I spent a long weekend at my childhood home and, amidst catching up with friends and family, was also asked to do some overdue cleaning. As a child I saved virtually every magazine I received, but now those magazines were simply taking up space in my parents’ basement. My parents kindly encouraged me to examine the magazines and throw out which ones I no longer wanted.

(By “kindly encouraged”, I mean that my parents basically said, “Throw out the magazines, or we’ll throw ’em out for you.”)

As I combed through the magazines, most of which went straight to the trash, I noticed a stray section of an old Entertainment Weekly that, for some reason, I had ripped out of the magazine and saved separately. The section was titled “EWinternet: 10 for 2000” and consisted of a Top Ten list of “companies and visionaries leading the electronic charge” at the turn of the millennium.

I was intrigued. I felt as if I had just unearthed a time capsule.

But, like most time capsules, this one wound up being painfully outdated.

As I read this list, I remembered the various 21st-century predictions made about the world of journalism. Some have come true, but some have become laughable — massive misjudgments about a landscape that constantly evolves.

With that spirit is mind, and because you cannot find this article online, I figured I would share EWinternet’s 10 for 2000. It should remind us what we thought the media landscape would look like — and how similar yet different it actually appears today:

1) POP.com
Described then
: “Not only will these Hollywood power players legitimize Web-based content, they’ll define it.”
Still around today? No.
The prediction, and what happened: At the time, this was a massive partnership; Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, and Jeffrey Katzenberger were among the big names behind it. They planned to build a site that, according to the article, “features comedic shorts between 30 seconds and six minutes long, and that showcases unknown talent” as well as bigger-name guests. But less than a year after its creation, POP.com folded in the summer of 2000.
Does its spirit live on? Somewhat. Behind a different set of creators (namely actor Will Ferrell), Funny Or Die basically mimics the idea and continually solicits big-name stars to collaborate on short — and funny — videos. But even there, the “Hollywood power players” typically follow the trends of Web-based content, as opposed to defining it.

2) Oxygen Media (www.oxygen.com)
Described then: “The first network born in the post-Internet era may change the way we’ll see both TV and PCs.”
Still around today? Yes.
The prediction, and what happened: At the turn of the century, the Oxygen network had just begun. Its leaders promised innovation both on TV and online, planning to build an empire to rival that of fellow women’s-based network Lifetime. Today Oxygen stands on its own on the air, but it has not exactly developed an Internet empire. Oxygen’s web site is pretty straightforward; it does not showcase the hoped-for synergy of “live talk and variety shows in which Net audiences influence what happens on screen.”
Does its spirit live on? Absolutely. Think of how many other networks employ shows that involve interactivity, between Twitter comments, Facebook polls, and otherwise. Oxygen may have planned to be an innovator in this area, but it has long since been surpassed.

3) ArtistDirect (www.artistdirect.com)
Described then: “Forget those silly snail-mail fan clubs. ArtistDirect is the best way to keep up with your favorite musicians.”
Still around today? Yes, but not as it was supposed to exist.
The prediction, and what happened: ArtistDirect’s CEO got one thing right. “Most artists today probably don’t understand the power of what the Internet represents,” Marc Geiger told EW back in 1999, “other than that it’s cool and new.” Geiger drew the wrong conclusion, though, assuming that ArtistDirect would become a central location where fans and bands would connect. He did not imagine that bands and musical artists would take control of the process themselves, building their own web sites and learning to communicate directly with their fans.
Does its spirit live on? Somewhat. Artists certainly use centralized platforms to communicate as well (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). But we are so empowered individually now that we rarely require middle men to pass our message. Even social media sites, which everyone uses, offer few rules and generally allow people to display their unfiltered personalities.

4) Gathering of Developers (www.godgames.com)
Described then: “The United Artists of the gaming industry, G.O.D. puts the creatives in control.”
Still around today? No.
The prediction, and what happened: This one, I imagine, must have seemed like an odd Top 10 choice even in 1999. The G.O.D. gaming company wanted a way to separate the wheat from the chaff of video game developers. It planned to do so by judging games on their salability, first creating a game after the Blair Witch Project.
Does its spirit live on? Doubtful. Reading the article today, the developers seem like any other company, trying to decide whether to create a game based on whether it will sell. At least that Blair Witch video game came out.

5) Fatbrain.com
Described then: “It allows anyone to self-publish online.”
Still around today? It redirects to the web site for Barnes & Noble.
The prediction, and what happened: Fatbrain.com offered aspiring publishers to do it themselves, believing this would spur massive revenue. Its leaders were correct, but they failed on a few experiments and eventually got swallowed up.
Does its spirit live on? YES. YES. YES.

6) Kozmo.com & Urbanfetch.com
Described then: “Welcome to online retail’s future.”
Still around today? No and yes. Kozmo.com promises to re-launch soon, while Urbanfetch.com most certainly still exists.
The prediction, and what happened: The CEO of Kozmo.com described the site as “the instant-gratification version of Amazon”, where people would order whatever they wanted or needed for delivery.
Does its spirit live on? Yes — so much so, in fact, that Amazon basically became “the instant-gratification version of Amazon” several years later.

7) Mixed Signals (www.mixedsignals.com)
Described then
: “As TV merges with the Web, they hold the keys to the code.”
Still around today? No.
The prediction, and what happened: Its developers believed it would create interactive TV, mainly for game shows, where viewers would play Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune on their TVs while the show ran live. The idea never really took off.
Does its spirit live on? In a way. As said before, TV has become quite interactive this century, but it has done so in compartmentalized fashion. Viewers interact through their phones, laptops, and iPads, not the TV itself.

8) Tivo (www.tivo.com)
Described then: “Interactive TV that actually works”
Still around today? Yes.
The prediction, and what happened: Here is probably the biggest success story from this list. Tivo, of course, became a household name, offering the initial overtures into interactive TV. This is a different type of “interactive” from the previous entry; Tivo allows a viewer to pause, rewind, and control the show itself.
Does its spirit live on? Absolutely.

9) Liquid Audio (www.liquidaudio.com)
Described then
: “MP3 gets the hype, but Liquid has quietly won the music industry’s trust.”
Still around today? No.
The prediction, and what happened: At a time when college students everywhere had begun downloading music illegally, the music industry needed some legal mechanism to bring everybody back. Liquid Audio promised those results but ultimately did not deliver.
Does its spirit live on? Apple ultimately fulfilled Liquid’s promise through iTunes, but by that point, the music biz had fallen far off its pedestal.

10) garageband.com
Described then
: “A new, direct line to the music industry”
Still around today? No, unless you count the completely unrelated Apple music software.
The prediction, and what happened: The site/record label wanted to give the fans a voice, allowing them to help decide who gets $250,000 record contracts. It even had Beatles impresario George Martin as an adviser. It did not take off.
Does its spirit live on? Not really. Few labels offer the fans that kind of voice anymore, even as fans continue to wield more power.

In fact, looking at this whole list, that is probably the biggest overall change: the fan/viewer/reader has gained more power and control, while the big boys of industry have tried mightily to capitalize on it. Sometimes they succeed; other times, they falter.


Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com.

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