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Verticals, reality TV, and Donnie Darko social

“It’s a miracle: People pay for things they love.”

Apple. Okay, fine, you finally get your iTV in 2013. It won’t “disrupt television” in the way that annoying quasi-pundits predict, but it will create new tantalizing screen experiences. Just as an iPhone is only nominally a phone, iTV will only occasionally be a television. Through gaming, voice and gesture inputs, and video communications, it will create new social experiences for group interaction. By the end of the year, you start to see iTVs in unexpected places — restaurants, karaoke clubs, airports. More than a television, it becomes a “social screen,” causing the app economy to erupt with innovation again. On the downside, people start using the phrase “the app economy” again.

“Homeland.” In a horrific moment of vengeance, writers from the show are inexplicably taken hostage by their Twitter followers. The Twitter terrorists demand rewrites of the show, which Showtime eventually succumbs to, but only after Carrie completely loses her shit.

Netflix. After all that cord-cutting bombast about unbundling HBO from subscription cable, someone observes that Netflix is adopting that exact strategy: A high-quality cable network minus cables. “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development” shockingly become must-see-tv. Steve Holt!

Rupert Murdoch. “Bloody hell,” tweets @rupertmurdoch, while announcing he’s stepping down from News Corp. Rather than hand the company down to one of his kids, Murdoch executes a complicated land-for-news swap with Ted Turner, who become the new CEO of News Corp. while Murdoch retires to Turner’s ranch in Montana. While Turner tinkers with Fox News, someone shows Murdoch the new Apple iTV and, in a dream, he becomes inspired to relaunch The Daily as an interactive cable news network. “HAS RUPERT MURDOCH NEVER HEARD OF CURRENT TV?” screeches a headline from Business Insider.

Online publishing. We continue to see the surprising emergence of broad lifestyle brands springing forth from vertical categories. Like the way Grantland is ostensibly about sports but is really about a broader pop ideology, or the way The Verge is seemingly about gadgets but is really about a lifestyle, or the way that BuzzFeed seems like it’s about everything but is actually only about everything on the Internet. In a think piece for this publication, this very pundit clumsily tries to call the publishing trend “the magazinification of verticals.” But then Alexis Madrigal, writing for The Atlantic, mysteriously dubs it “Donnie Darko Social,” which sticks because it sounds cool.

Consumer web. Finally, some new consumer web products are released that don’t rely on massive overvaluations (Tumblr, Twitter), problematic buyouts (Instagram, Skype), or contorted native advertising schemes (Facebook, Foursquare). Instead, a bunch of small- and medium-sized companies emerge whose services — hang on, this one is radical! — people are willing to pay for. It’s a miracle: People pay for things they love.

Twitter. While the chatter about disavowing the open web will go unrecognized by its peers, Twitter, a company that actually has a conscience, continues the internal battle to federalize their platform without pissing people off. Luckily for them, every other over-capitalized social media company pisses off their users more, so they win by default.

“Silicon Alley.” Bravo announces “Silicon Alley,” a new reality show about the NYC tech scene. Nielsen reports 49 total viewers, all of whom recently moved from San Francisco to New York to launch fashion startups.

“Amphetamine Logic.” On the same day, Bravo also announces a new show starring Cat Marnell. But rather than condensing her juicy life into one hour of pseudo-reality per week, they instead just hand over the whole network to livestream her entire life, 24/7. When asked about the reasoning, Andy Cohen cites what MTV2 did with Courtney Love a decade ago. Bravo vows to keep the show on until Marnell falls asleep. She last 27 days.

The New York Times. The Old Gray Lady adopts a form of so-called native advertising in which people pay for space to write op-ed pieces. Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times’ ombudswoman, has a seizure reminiscent of Claire Danes Cryface.

Tumblr. Absolutely nothing. It ends 2013 looking the same as it did in 2008.

Google. Google Glass is here! But yeah, it bombs. “[Something, something] Microsoft [something, something],” writes Anil Dash in Wired. Meanwhile, Google Fiber begins creeping into public consciousness, and by the end of the year, there’s a public outcry to get the service in more cities — but it takes a half decade to roll out to most of America.

Lena Dunham. Among her many known accomplishments, we also see: a McSweeneys-published graphic novel titled Boxed; an advice column in Glamour called “About a Girl”; a high-end line of low-thread-count sheets in Target called “Bedded”; something at Sephora called “Ick”; and an impromptu mic-dropping karaoke rap that Taylor Swift incorporates into her next album, Boys Are Dumb.

Foursquare. Nope, Apple doesn’t buy it, but they become long-term partners in data exchange and product integration, thereby alleviating monetization concerns for a couple years. Everyone is happy that Facebook doesn’t buy it and therefore destroy it. Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg claims that holding the Foursquare mayorship of Gracie Mansion entitles him to a fourth term. A SurveyMonkey poll of New Yorkers agrees.

Yahoo. The things you expect to happen — announcing major new products, buying large startups, releasing major redesigns — don’t happen. Instead, Marissa Mayer implements incremental tweaking from the inside, which surprisingly works, and the stock climbs 30 percent by the end of the year. “It all makes sense,” observes Kara Swisher, who has run out of memos to leak. “It’s the Google Way.”

Aol. After Aol’s stock price doubles again (as it did in 2012), an “investigative report” co-authored by jealousy-engorged reporters at Business Insider and Forbes tries to determine why. They best reason anyone can supply is changing the name from AOL to Aol.

BuzzFeed. The publishing empire that seems impervious to criticism finally starts to show cracks after Jonah Peretti buys The Onion and The New York Times on the same day.

YouTube. It’s still, sadly, not the year that YouTube creates a breakthrough hit that enters in public consciousness. They continue to fund niche shows, which report incremental growth, but no one really notices. Finally, in 2014, it begins to experiment with high-quality programming, after first trying to buy HBO.

Hulu. Sad days ahead. Without the support of its owner to break free, and without the capital to innovate itself out the box, Amazon finally buys it for cheap, mostly as a massive licensing deal to combat iTV.

Gawker Media. Nick Denton releases a major standalone technology product based upon its commenting system, Kinja. When it flops, an anonymous commenter from inside the house says, “Nick has gone soft. His heart just wasn’t in it.” He fires everyone and moves to a Hungarian expat enclave in Nairobi with Nate Silver.

Facebook. On December 31, 2013, the stock closes at an all-time high of $38.01, exactly one penny above its opening day price. “Victory,” writes @peterthiel in his first tweet ever. It is quickly retweeted by @sparker, adding “w00t.”

Rex Sorgatz is a media and technology consultant who lives in New York.