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What Will Be in 2003

The future of blogs, AOL and tablet PCs

I'm not a psychic. I can't predict the future. My sixth sense makes no sense. All I see is schmutz when I look into a crystal ball. Be that as it may, I have a sacred duty as pundit to tally up ridiculous awards for the year that was, and to make outrageous predictions for what will happen in the year that will be -- in this case, 2003.

This year, I reserve the right to hedge, because I wouldn't want any of you wagering your hard-earned money on my knowledgeable predictions (say, by going out and buying up all the tablet PCs before the coming boom). You might call me a ninny, but I don't want to spend the year defending myself against libel in Australia. So as I describe in precise detail each future online media happening in 2003, I will list both the best-case scenario and worst-case scenario. That way, you can feel properly prepared for the year ahead -- and I can say I'm right no matter what happens.

Blogs Really Go Mainstream

Weblogs have been all the rage in online media, but 2003 will be the real breakout year for blogs, as more journalists use them, more regular Joes and Janes use them, and more celebrities use them (and charge money for access). After a team of journalism professors does a comprehensive study on all the blogs in existence, they conclude that 99.9 percent of them have no value to the general populace, with the most popular topic being "what I ate for breakfast this morning."

Best-Case Scenario: Smart bloggers get their due, become famous, and can get paid for what they do. Media companies get it, and start assigning blogs as real jobs and not just extra-curricular activities.
Worst-Case Scenario: Eminem starts a blog. His mother starts a counter-blog.

Web Advertising Really Grabs You

Thanks to new technology, visitors to news sites will be welcomed with "interactive superstitial" ads they must experience before they can read the news. A computer-generated pitch man will appear, and will ask the visitor pointed questions until the proper answer is achieved. Sample conversation:

Pitch Man: What do you think of Budweiser beer?
Visitor: It tastes like artesian waste water.
Pitch Man: But doesn't it taste good while you are watching a televised sporting event?
Visitor: Not really.
Pitch Man: But if you were literally dying of thirst in the desert, would you drink a Bud?
Visitor: I guess.
Pitch Man: You are granted access to washingtonpost.com!

Best-Case Scenario: Advertising would have a face we could literally jeer at.
Worst-Case Scenario: We would enjoy our witty repartee with the Max Headroom pitch men so much, we would have more fun doing that than reading about the crummy economy and start of World War III.

AOL Creates Gated Community

In an effort to keep subscribers from switching to broadband, AOL Time Warner announces that customers must subscribe to AOL or they cannot read Time Warner magazines, watch Time Warner cable channels and syndicated shows, go to Warner Bros. movies, or say the trademarked Bugs Bunny phrase, "What's up doc?"

Best-Case Scenario: The company comes to its senses and splits off AOL from Time Warner.
Worst-Case Scenario: People named "Case" are finally run out of the company.

Hype, Prices Drop for Tablet PCs

After years and billions of dollars in research and development, Microsoft unveils a new technology that's too pricey, has failed a dozen times before, and basically let's you take notes at a meeting for 2 trillion times the price of a notebook and pen. Wait, that's what happened in 2002. For 2003, the much hyped tablet PC will fade into the background, and the price will go from $2,000 down to $1,899 by next fall.

Best-Case Scenario: Someone will come out with an even more shockingly useless technology that we can make fun of. Or maybe something useful that's affordable. Nah, that'll never happen.
Worst-Case Scenario: Technical innovation will continue to be spotty and incremental, and journalists will have to keep hitting up experts to find out what the Next Big Thing will be.

The U.S. Wins the War on Terror

Thanks to new implanted brainstem technology, the U.S. government can literally watch exactly where you surf when you go online, which will help it hunt down sleeper terror cells within the country. As an added bonus, the government will start a file on you if you visit communist sites, TalkingPointsMemo.com, any site that questions the war with Iraq, or send an email with the phrase "think different."

Best-Case Scenario: Civil libertarians will finally stop sitting idly by and raise a real protest against the erosion of personal freedoms.
Worst-Case Scenario: This pretty much is the worst-case scenario.

Hope you all enjoy the holiday season, and have a happy new year filled with free Web news and blogging for all!


Mark Glaser currently writes technology features for The New York Times, travel stories for the San Jose Mercury News, and a bi-weekly e-mail newsletter for the Online Publishers Association, whose membership includes most major media companies online. That won't stop him from taking cheap potshots at these outlets, when necessary. You can contact him with any juicy tidbits about online journalism at glaze@sprintmail.com.

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