Here’s Lab columnist and Newsonomics author Ken Doctor, weighing in on what 2011 developments will become 2012 trends. (Just don’t look for these fanciful products in stores any time soon — we couldn’t find any of them listed in Amazon or the App Store, for some reason.)
The pages of the Lab have been filled this week with wondrous predictions about 2012. Some of them will prove true. Yet I think we’ve been missing some of the most important technologies, so far unreported, that may drive the realities of journalistic practice next year. Here are my top nine to watch (some still in the labs, some in beta, and some ready to go mass) in the coming year:
Rubik’s Cube Home Design Set: The tablet, when vertical looks like a magazine. When horizontal, it looks like a magazine. It’s neither, of course, and both, and it’s a newspaper, a book, a radio, and a CD player. So it’s lots of fun to see how designers are playing with their fingers, swiping for fun and profit, creating conveyor belts and doing flips. The latest New York Times tablet app is something of a Rubik’s Cube. Go up, go down, go sideways, as if we’re playing with a set of content and refiguring how to fit it into some kind of intuitive order that makes sense to us. Perhaps the perfect last-minute present for that special designer on your Christmas list.
The Infinity Stopper: The Internet has just gotten too big for its britches. It is spilling over into our bedrooms, through tablets and smartphones. It assaults us in elevators. It even threatens the passivity of our living-room TV experience, a particular hazard to our culture as Americans lead the world (save Serbia and Macedonia) in couch potatohood. The Infinity Stopper, though, handily offers to put a plug in some of that content, boundaries you know that any media psychologist will tell you are the must-have for 2012. Somehow, The Economist (“Yet Another Reason the Economist is Trouncing Competitors“) got one of the beta Infinity Stoppers and has been going to town with it, extending its limited print franchise into a limited (and quite successful) digital franchise. The simple secret of the Infinity Stopper: a beginning, a middle — and ta-da — an end to the stream of content. As infinity-loving tablet aggregator products now profliferate (Google Currents and Yahoo Livestand joining Flipboard, Pulse and Zite), both The Daily and AOL’s Editions test out their own versions of the Infinity Stopper, offering a daily snapshot for infinity sufferers. Expect the sale of Infinity Stoppers to mushroom, as publishers just say “no.”
The Socializer: Let’s face it, most journalists fall off the I spectrum on the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. So the idea of fully participating in the social swim gives them hives. Yet, now the social world is introducing new and younger audiences to traditional news. The Socializer, a patented pharmaceutical developed in the wilds of the Humboldt coast, allows editors and reports to become familiar with Facebook and try out Twitter. While it’s rumored that LinkedIn is a known gateway drug here, no empirical proof has yet been published.
Billionaire Bingo App (iOS only, HTML5 in development): Finally, we’ve found a new use for the .0001%. They’re the 412 U.S. billionaires. They can buy up incredibly cheap U.S. newspapers. With prices falling below Filene’s Basement and perhaps copying its business model (“… every article is marked with a tag showing the price and the date the article was first put on sale. Twelve days later, if it has not been sold, it is reduced by 25 percent. Six selling days later, it is cut by 50 percent and after an additional six days, it is offered at 75 percent off the original price. After six more days — or a total of 30 — if it is not sold, it is given to charity,” New York Times, 1982 via Wikipedia), newspapers are beginning to sell to an assortment of new buyers. Warren Buffett buys the Omaha paper for $200 million, Michael Ferro and John Canning snatch the Chicago Sun-Times for $20 million or so, and Doug Manchester buys the San Diego daily for about $130 million. Billionaire Phillip Anschutz swaps out the San Francisco Examiner for the Oklahoman. Whether your interests are community service, political pulpits, and plain-old profit-seeking, the Billionaire Bingo App offers you fast-moving bingo matching of money, interests, and newspapers. Bonus: Got a billionaire buddy who has the app? Play and swap in real time!
Kred Kurrency: In a world that measures Klout, why can’t real news companies that do real reporting, which gets mentioned throughout the web and fills the vats of aggregator coffers, get some new currency, even virtual currency? Maybe they could exchange the Kred Kurrency for even better SEO rankings, or buy fake bricks to build digital paywalls.
MP11 Remover: Forget MP3s and 4s. The secret chemical compound, concocted by Friends of Murdoch in an Asian country with loose manufacturing standards, is the perfect antidote of choice for bothersome Parliamentarians. The British Parliament’s 11-member Special Committee on Culture, Media and Sport — and who couldn’t love Tom Watson — may be vanished overnight, launched Skyward. And what would those pinkos at the Guardian have to livecast then?
I Ching Hourglass: This melding of two technologies may be first tested by Boston Globe publisher Chris Mayer. What will the sudden departure of New York Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson and the divestment of the flagship Times’ other non-Times newspaper holdings, its regional newspaper group, mean to the Globe? Only the contemporary blending of ancient Chinese hexagrams and the old standby hourglass (it’s reversible and non-digital!) tell the future.
Tebowing the Tablet: In recent years, with no great new business model in sight and the old one fading ever faster, publishers searched for the “Hail Mary.” Now, the modern publisher can Tebow the tablet. The power of the tablet — with the power to both save the news industry or destroy it more quickly — may only be harnessed by Tim Tebow-like injunctions of the Almighty. iPad 2 sold separately.
The Missing Paper Finder: For the confused newspaper subscriber, especially in Michigan or northern California, who has trouble finding the daily newspaper that only arrives sporadically these days. The Missing Paper Finder app redirects calls self-doubting seniors make to their family physicians to the new centralized customer service centers (Bangalore or Bangor), where they can be upsold into new all-access subscriptions.
Crystal ball photo by Melanie Cook used under a Creative Commons license.