FutureWire Predictions for 2005
The war in Iraq, energy prices, terrorism and (as we've seen this past couple of weeks) natural disasters will be the big variables for the coming year, with the power to change or negate anyone's forecasts for 2005.
So here goes. Have a safe and happy new year, don't drink and drive, and all that good stuff...
Blogs will continue to proliferate and shape public opinion. Like the Web in the mid-'90s, blogs are in their toddlerhood; we're chasing them around making sure they don't pull a bookcase down on themselves. But they're maturing rapidly, especially with established news organizations embracing the blog format.
Audio and video blogging (a.k.a. podcasting) will increase as well, but their growth will depend on the adoption of high-speed Internet access in the home. Ultimately, anyone so inclined can create their own "radio" or "TV" show, and, through viral PR, could emerge as the next big media personality (think JibJab). Conversely, the creative potential of audio and video blogs will bring more world-class talent (and more dollars) into the blogosphere.
Personal media players that hold photos and play audio and video files will be the must-have gadgets for next holiday season. Recordable DVD players that interact with personal media devices will also be hot.
Concerns about privacy and identity theft will increase. A movement will emerge that will seek to place limits on employers' use of technology to monitor employees. We may even see the rumblings of an anti-technology backlash.
Interest in RFID tags will continue to spread. Standards will be codified, and prices will fall low enough to make tags attractive to even low-end retailers.
The use of cell phones in public will become an increasingly contentious issue. Public places will establish "cell-free" zones where making or receiving phone calls or text messages is prohibited.
Social networking will increase in popularity, with virtual communities becoming just as important to people's lives as real ones. People will belong to many different professional and social networks. Capitalizing on snob appeal, highly exclusive social networks will appear, charging exorbitant entry fees and requiring references from the "right" people for membership.
File sharing will continue to stymie the music and movie industries, as users develop new technologies to circumvent crackdowns. In response, independent music labels and film producers will pioneer new business models that balance access with compensation for artists. Coupled with Internet-based distribution, their reach could pose a real threat to major labels and studios.
Municipalities looking to establish their own wireless networks will run afoul of phone carriers, cable companies and ISPs, who (correctly) perceive such initiatives as threats to their business. The whole thing will probably end up in court, unless partnership arrangements can be worked out.
Hiring will increase, creating a seller's market that will be the most lucrative for workers in years... though nothing like the dot-com boom of the late '90s.
Much of the prosperity of the developed world will hinge on energy costs. If they hold steady (or better yet, fall), all will be well. But a disruption in oil supply could slow or even stall the global economy.
Entrepreneurs will attempt to build new business models around blogs, though few will succeed outright. One possibility is a talent market for freelance bloggers; another is an investment market for blogs that, unlike BlogShares, uses real money.
Telecommuting will become increasingly common. As the labor market tightens, more employers will offer it when possible, and more workers will demand it. In the event of an energy shortage, businesses and even individuals might be offered tax incentives for telecommuting.
Though not quite ready to retire, Baby Boomers who feel time is more important than money will choose to "downshift" their careers -- working fewer hours for less pay, but with more free time and less stress. Employers facing hard times may encourage downshifting as an alternative to layoffs.
The "culture wars" will continue to be fought on a variety of fronts, and at a grass-roots level. Evangelical Christians will continue to assert themseves... ultimately ushering in a backlash from other, non-Christian groups.
Liberals in "red" areas will migrate to "blue" communities, and vice versa, further sharpeining regional divides. People who never before thought of themselves as liberals or conservatives will more closely identify with political and cultural labels.
In a non-election year, news from Washington will take a back seat to other events -- but not if, for instance, President Bush has an opportunity to nominate a new Supreme Court justice.
In the event of an energy crisis, the Bush Administration will take heat for not making alternative energy a national priority. If a crisis is severe enough, a new national political figure could emerge who places energy at the top of his/her agenda.
As the culture wars divide the population more sharply, and the dominant voices become those of the extremes, media outlets will be forced to choose sides. Instead of valuing the media for its objectivity, audiences will choose media based on political and cultural preferences (or what in the old days they used to call "bias").
The FCC will face pressure to impose more stringent "decency" standards on network television, while Congress will seek to censor cable TV and satellite radio. The Internet will remain the last bastion of unregulated media -- only because so much of it can originate and be mirrored outside the US. Look for a rise in offshore Internet hosting firms if this scenario plays out.
Expect to see at least one major news personality break away from their current employer and strike out independently with a text, audio or video blog. Already, we've seen a precedent with Howard Stern abandoning traditional media for satellite radio. Any breakout blogging star will be a highly controversial figure who is "too hot" for regular TV or radio; pornography will almost certainly gain a foothold here as well.
As cable TV, satellite radio and the Internet eclipse traditional broadcast media, a "media divide" will appear as those who are unable or unwilling to pay subscription fees face fewer news and entertainment options. Though traditional broadcasting isn't going away anytime soon, the perception will be that the "best" material is on pay services or online.
Games will continue to become an important part of the media mix. Writers looking to market manuscripts will opt to sell their work to game developers rather than movie studios or book publishers.
Advertisers will need to develop alternatives to the traditional 30-second TV commercial, as more people use DVRs to zap commercial spots. Product placements, Web tie-ins and ticker-tape ads are candidates.