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Predicting the Future is Too Often a Swing-and-a-Miss

Baseball is a good metaphor for predicting the future. Sometimes you hit a home run, often a single or double, and too frequently a swing-and-a-miss.

This morning I was digging through an old research folder on my computer and came across something I’d downloaded from CompuServe‘s news headlines from March 1, 1996. This “internet forecast” was vague enough to get some things right, but otherwise was wrong on many accounts.

I’d been on CompuServe since the early 1990s and was eager to learn everything I could about this new thing called the “Internet.” I followed every single tidbit of information, leading up to The Big Trip to Germany that I took with my father in the summer of 1997 when, on that trip, publishing to the internet changed the course of my career and life in ways I never expected.

What I think is accurate in the 1995 press release below:

  • Internet had to be mainstream
  • Had to be intuitive and easy to use
  • Connective advertising did grow exponentially

What was missed:

  • Web site consolidation? Um…not really. In 1996 websites began to explode on to the web.
  • Phone companies were NOT a good bet for delivering the internet.
  • Self-regulation almost never works since companies are out for themselves and their shareholders.

Other than that it was a pretty solid vision and worth a read, but it illustrates how any prediction of the future should always be taken with a grain-of-salt. Enjoy and check out the bonus video below.

Headline: INTERNET FORECAST FOR 1996: COMMENTS BY NEW MEDIA …
Wire Service: PR (PR Newswire)
Date: Fri, Mar 1, 1996

INTERNET FORECAST FOR 1996: COMMENTS BY NEW MEDIA VISIONARY AL SIKES

NEW YORK, March 1 /PRNewswire/ — This week, at Jupiter Communications’ Consumer Online Services III, Al Sikes, President, Hearst New Media & Technology, presented his future vision for the Internet. This keynote speech kicks off a briefings campaign between Mr. Sikes and the press regarding the future of the Internet. In his remarks, Mr. Sikes outlined the demise of the World Wide Web as we know it today and predicted the rise of a “sensory-led” medium, one that is driven by creative people who will push multimedia artistry to new heights. His major points are highlighted below.

  • Easy access and customized solutions will drive success. While today’s Internet is primarily populated by techno-savvy “early adopters,” its future depends on attracting mainstream Americans. “Early adopters are prepared to work for what they want,” explained Mr. Sikes. “Later adopters will demand that it be easy.” To survive, companies must hone their editorial vision and provide added value services through “smart” software and personalized applications. “At HomeArts, Hearst’s popular Web network for the home and home life, our challenge is to give every HomeArts user a personal experience. If we are to earn that trust, our evolution must include ‘intuitive software’ that will shape users’ daily package of news, information and entertainment,” explained Mr. Sikes.
  • “Connective” advertising will grow exponentially. The explosion of company Web sites and commercial content providers spells huge opportunities for the advertising community. “In virtually all media, there is a symbiotic relationship between telling stories and advertising; this medium will be no different,” explained Mr. Sikes. In response, advertising agencies must adjust. “The industry will become tiered,” predicted Mr. Sikes. “There will be a tier that ‘gets it’ and a tier that doesn’t.”
  • Web sites will consolidate. In 1995, a handful of commercial content sites built a following. In 1996, there will probably be some consolidation among content providers, with the number of small niche sites dwindling or seeking strategic hot links with the larger ones.
  • Phone companies will deliver digital technology to the home. Spurred by the advent of “cable modems,” the phone companies will begin to deliver on their long but dormant promise to bring digital technology to the home. “While I am rooting for both phone and cable companies to contemporaneously shower us with bandwidth, I am more inclined to bet on the phone companies, or maybe phone-cable combinations,” predicted Mr. Sikes. The eleven largest telephone companies’ 1995 cash flow approached $30 billion. The cable industry’s cash flow, while significant, is small by comparison.
  • Constructive self regulation will override government intervention. In 1995, the top industry debate in Washington was censorship. In 1996, the issue will be privacy. And just as the industry fought censorship initiatives, it too will oppose overarching government restrictions in the privacy domain. “Nothing hurts entrepreneurial industries more than an enforced, day-by-day partnership with the government,” said Mr. Sikes. Instead, the industry will push for constructive self-regulation. “The increasing importance of the Web points to the need for an industry approach.”

About Alfred C. Sikes
Prior to joining Hearst New Media & Technology in 1993, Al Sikes served as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. From 1986 to 1989, Mr. Sikes was Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), responsible for the NTIA TELECOM 2000 report, a seminal U.S. communications policy assessment. Mr. Sikes is a graduate of Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri and the University of Missouri Law School.

About the Company
HomeArts (http://homearts.com) is owned by New York-based Hearst New Media & Technology, a division of Hearst Corporation. In business since 1993, Hearst New Media & Technology builds online networks and multimedia CD-ROM titles. These products leverage the company’s existing brands and expertise to create new audiences valuable to advertisers and other content providers. In addition to the HomeArts network, Hearst’s current releases include In Full Bloom: Great Home Gardens, Country Living Style, Chapman’s Hands-On Powerboating, Popular Mechanics Car Guide, Comic Creator and Multimedia Newsstand (http://mmnewsstand.com).

Hearst New Media & Technology is located at 4 Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10019. Phone: 212-649-2700; fax 212-977-3845. -0- 3/1/96 /
CONTACT: (redacted)
Copyright 1996 PR Newswire. All rights reserved

Bonus

Here is another 1995 vision video from one of those phone companies, AT&T:

About Steve Borsch

I'm CEO of Marketing Directions, Inc., a trend forecasting, consulting and publishing firm in Minnesota. Prior to that I was Vice President, Strategic Alliances at Lawson Software in St. Paul where I was responsible for all partnerships at this major vendor of enterprise resource planning software products and services. Read more about me here unless you're already weary of me telling you how incredible and awesome I am.

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