Us­ing re­search to ‘time travel’

Newspapers & Technology Magazine - - Contents - MARC WIL­SON COLUM­NIST


I once trav­eled back through time — 10 years to be ex­act — a trip that helped me make crit­i­cal busi­ness de­ci­sions.

In 1973, when I joined e As­so­ci­ated Press in Den­ver, re­porters used type­writ­ers, ed­i­tors made changes on pa­per, and Tele­type op­er­a­tors “punched tape” and posted the sto­ries on var­i­ous AP wires.

Within my rst year at AP, we were told that we were get­ting com­put­ers in place of type­writ­ers, and that the Tele­type op­er­a­tors were go­ing to be laid o .

We were all ner­vous about the change, and sad that our friends, the op­er­a­tors, were los­ing their jobs. We feared that a cat­a­strophic fail­ure would oc­cur.

In­stead of dis­as­ter, the change proved to be a huge suc­cess. Re­porters and ed­i­tors quickly learned to work with word pro­ces­sors that had mem­o­ries and dig­i­tal edit­ing tools.

Ten years later, my wife and I and a part­ner bought a weekly news­pa­per in north­west­ern Mon­tana. When I ar­rived in Big­fork, Mont., it was as if I had trav­eled back in time to the type­writer age. Our pa­per had ve type­writ­ers, each with one bro­ken key. We had an old-fash­ioned dark­room, used old-style type­set­ting, and bought lm in ex­pen­sive bulk rolls. Can you imag­ine: type­writ­ers, lm, and a wet dark­room?

Hav­ing had a decade of ex­pe­ri­ence with the AP, I knew that sto­ries could be writ­ten on com­put­ers, that pho­tos could be taken dig­i­tally, and that wet dark­rooms could be con­verted to dig­i­tal dark­rooms.

My new peers in the com­mu­nity news­pa­per world may have thought I was a bit touched in the head when I be­gan to evan­ge­lize for what shortly be­came known as desk­top pub­lish­ing, but I was 99 per­cent con dent in my e orts — be­cause I had “time trav­eled.” How can we “time travel” now? Re­search can be one of the best al­ter­na­tives to ac­tual “time travel.”

Bor­rell As­so­ciates uses the Del­phi method — pan­els of ex­perts — to try to fore­cast fu­ture de­vel­op­ments.

I just served on such a panel, and the pre­lim­i­nary re­sults, and even just the ques­tions, were in­trigu­ing.

Here’s a con­densed run­down of the re­search ( based on 10 state­ments):

State­ment 1: “More than half of Prime Time tele­vi­sion pro­gram­ming is watched via stream­ing on com­put­ers, hand-held de­vices, and other de­vices than by tra­di­tional ca­ble or broad­cast TV.” Well over half of the pan­elists be­lieved this would hap­pen, with 57 per­cent pre­dict­ing a three-year time frame.

State­ment 2: “More than half of con­sumer pur­chases are han­dled via mo­bile pay­ments rather than cash or credit cards.” Twenty-four per­cent of the pan­elists (the largest group) said there was a 41-50 per­cent prob­a­bil­ity, with 54 per­cent say­ing the timeline for this to hap­pen would be within four to ve years.

State­ment 3: “ e rst per­son­al­ized out­door dig­i­tal bill­board is un­veiled, dis­play­ing mes­sages keyed to the de­mo­graph­ics of a pass­ing crowd, gleaned through read­ing their smart­phone data.” e panel was evenly split on this, with 17 per­cent giv­ing this event

hap­pen­ing at be­tween zero and 10 per­cent, and 20 per­cent pre­dict­ing a 91-100 per­cent prob­a­bil­ity. (I was in the more skep­ti­cal cat­e­gory.) e time to oc­cur­rence (as­sum­ing it hap­pens at all) was set at four to ve years by 43 per­cent of the pan­elists.

State­ment 4: “ e U.S. Postal Ser­vices de­clares bank­ruptcy.” irty-seven per­cent gave this a zero to 10 per­cent prob­a­bil­ity, while a cu­mu­la­tive to­tal of nearly 50 per­cent said it was more than a 50-50 prob­a­bil­ity. e high­est time to oc­cur­rence was four to ve years, at 38 per­cent.

State­ment 5: “Stream­ing au­dio pro­grams are so preva­lent that less than half of the AM and FM ra­dio sta­tions that ex­isted in 2014 are still in busi­ness. e pan­elists were pretty evenly split on the prob­a­bil­ity of this hap­pen­ing. Seven­teen per­cent put the prob­a­bil­ity at 0-10 per­cent, 23 per­cent (the largest seg­ment) pre­dicted a 21-30 per­cent prob­a­bil­ity, and more than half the pan­elists (in cu­mu­la­tive cat­e­gories) said the prob­a­bil­ity was over 50 per­cent. Forty-three per­cent of the pan­elists pre­dicted a time of oc­cur­rence of four to ve years, while 31 per­cent said it would take 10 to 14 years.

State­ment 6: “News­pa­per on­line read­er­ship us­ing read­ers, com­put­ers and mo­bile de­vices sur­passes print read­er­ship.” A whop­ping 74 per­cent of the pan­elists said there was a 91-100 per­cent prob­a­bil­ity of this hap­pen­ing, and only one per­cent put the prob­a­bil­ity at less than 20 per­cent. Time of oc­cur­rence was put at one year by 15 per­cent of the pan­elists; two years 28 per­cent; three to ve years, 42 per­cent. Five per­cent pre­dicted a timeline of eight to nine years, while three per­cent pre­dict 15 to 19 years.

State­ment 7: “Vir­tu­ally all lo­cal me­dia web­sites look more like in­ter­ac­tive TV screens, lead­ing with video footage in­stead of pho­tos and writ­ten copy.” e largest seg­ment, 26 per­cent, gave this a 41-50 per­cent prob­a­bil­ity, with the largest seg­ment, 54, pre­dict­ing a four to ve year time of oc­cur­rence.

State­ment 8: “Nearly all dig­i­tal ads are bought and man­aged pro­gram­mat­i­cally rather than by man­ual in­ser­tion.” e largest seg­ment of pan­elists, 36 per­cent, gave this a prob­a­bil- ity of 71-80 per­cent. e largest seg­ment, 54 per­cent, pre­dicted a time to oc­cur­rence of three years.

State­ment 9: “Print coupons no longer ex­ist.” e panel doubted this would hap­pen; 31 per­cent gave it a zero-10 per­cent prob­a­bil­ity, while 23 per­cent gave it an 11-20 per­cent chance. If coupons did go away, it won’t hap­pen for at least four to ve years, the panel pre­dicted.

State­ment 10: “So­cial me­dia su ers ma­jor back­lash, send­ing Face­book into a tail­spin.” e panel re­sults skewed to­ward this not hap­pen­ing, and if it did hap­pen the time to oc­cur­rence would be three to ve years out.

Are the pan­elists are pre­scient? Only time will tell.

But the ques­tions them­selves are thought pro­vok­ing as we hur­tle into an ever-chang­ing tech­no­log­i­cal fu­ture.

Marc Wil­son is CEO of He can be reached at mar­

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