Futurama::San Francisco Earthquake Coverage, Circa 2016

    by Mark Glaser
    February 3, 2006

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    The year is 2016. President Jeb Bush is running for a third term as U.S. president. There has been major upheaval in the entertainment world, and the Long Tail has come to pass, with each of us gaining global access to all the music, movies and news and information we could ever want.

    After a January morning spent swimming in the warm ocean water off San Francisco at Ocean Beach (thank you, global warming!), I finally settle down for a day of work in my home office. My desk is littered with papers, but there’s no computer in sight, no computer monitor. I pull out a largish cell phone from my pocket, and unfold it on my desk. Out pops a shiny pull-screen that stretches half the length of my desk. I hang the paper-like screen on a hook above my desk, and put on a headset and hear a familiar voice.

    “Hi Mark, how was your swim?”


    “Nice, Myrna. It was even warmer than last January. Can you bring up the news?”

    “Local, national or international?”

    “International, customize for my preferred topics.”


    “Unrest in the Middle East, elections in Spain or downhill skiing competition in the Alps?”

    “Let’s go with skiing first.”

    The screen in front of me transforms into full-screen video of the competition taking place, with downhill skiiers taking turns going downhill at incredibly fast speeds. Ads flash across the bottom of my screen.

    “Can I get the Swiss TV angle on this competition?”

    “Sure, it will only cost you 50 Google cents per minute. Or watch an ad for your preferred topics to get three minutes free.”

    “I’ll take the ad, but can you make it financial advice? I need to make some decisions soon.”

    An ad for a local financial service plays, and I hit the Save button so I can contact them later. Next comes the Swiss TV shots of the competition, with cameras embedded in the helmets and skis of the skiiers. Pushing a button on my screen lets me toggle the angles. Obviously, I am procrastinating for the real work I have to do today.

    “Myrna, can I get a different soundtrack for this race?”

    “Punk metal, gospel hip-hop or electro-country music?”

    “Perhaps something more ambient?”

    Soothing music comes on the headset, and the competition finally ends. I’m startled to feel the floor below me rolling and shaking. Some photos fall off my walls and the ground moves violently. It stops abruptly. Was it an earthquake?

    “Myrna, can you pull up San Francisco breaking news, earthquake?”

    “Mark, USGS reports activity in your area. Looks like a 5.2 on the Richter scale.”

    The display shows a map of the San Francisco Bay Area, and a point on the hills near Fremont is flashing, showing the epicenter. Soon, some choices pop up on my screen: Local Wire, Citizen Wire, National Wire. I choose Local Wire, and see some copy as it is written by a local reporter on what has happened. There is some damage to the 280 highway overpass near where I live.

    Next I choose Citizen Wire, and four faces pop up on the screen in different windows. I choose a guy who is near Highway 280, using his videophone to show the damage to the freeway.

    “One car seems to have gone over the side of the freeway during the earthquake,” he says, showing the place where the freeway guard rail has broken off. “Everyone stopped when they felt the swaying. We’re not sure how safe this road is at the moment. If you are driving on 280, try to avoid the 6th St. onramp.”

    I pause the video.

    “Myrna, can you message my family and close friends to make sure they’re OK?”

    “Sure thing, Mark. Will let you know if there’s trouble.”

    I watch more video of the scene on 280, and now choose the National Wire. This brings up more choices: Hard News, Soft News, with various political slants. I try Hard News Moderate. A news conference is in progress with San Francisco mayor Craig Newmark explaining that help is on the way to people injured on Highway 280 and at other flashpoints throughout the city.

    As the video plays, I can choose to watch ads scrolling below the video, or can pay into my Google line of credit to eliminate ads. I can also choose to put some of the payment toward earthquake relief from the Red Cross, or to fund an investigative report by the Local Wire on earthquake perparedness.

    Windows pop up showing my son is safe at school, and my wife is safe at her work. I breathe a sigh of relief.

    “Myrna, can I see satellite images of San Francisco? Give me a fly-by of the damage zones. Switch to classical music soundtrack, something more dramatic but not melodramatic.”

    After checking out various news sources and judging their work, I’m ready to file my own report as a news jockey for the Citizen Wire. The more people who watch my report, the more money I can make. Or if I reach the right people who are willing to support my work financially, I don’t have to worry about getting a big audience.

    “Myrna, can you record this to my video news blog?” I look into the tiny camera mounted on my wall.

    “Today at 10:46 a.m. Pacific Time, a 5.2 earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area…”

    • Martin Cahn

      I just wanted to say that this was one of the more refreshing and interesting looks ahead to both the future technology, format and interaction both within and between “mainstream” and citizen journalism. 2016’s only 10 years down the road. It’ll be fun to see whether your scenario comes to pass.

      Great piece!

    • Joanna Stern

      This has got to happen sooner than 2016! Or at least before another Bush is in the White House! This absolutely relates back to the USA Today post of a few weeks ago. The USA Today pioneered a new format in print media to deal with the pressures of television. This invention would be convergence at its best…got any venture capitalists?

    • Mark –

      this passage fascinated me:

      The more people who watch my report, the more money I can make.

      can you elaborate on your thoughts here? Does the narrator make more money because advertisers can purchase slots before/during his report? How would this work? An auction system like Google Adwords?

      then, this:

      Or if I reach the right people who are willing to support my work financially, I dont have to worry about getting a big audience.

      Would that be a large news agency/syndicate picking up his report and paying? What would the payment scheme look like? Flat fee, or based on the ad revenue that the syndicator would gain from a broader distribution of the content? Something else entirely?

      very interesting stuff – great post.


    • Steve,
      Good questions. I think that there would be some way to compensate a citizen reporter depending on if he/she reached a larger audience, or if he/she could get someone to help fund it through underwriting or donations. Both of these methods exist to some extent today with donations to blogs, and AdWords and other online ads.

      I can’t say that I can see perfectly clearly into my crystal ball to tell you exactly how it will work. But my best guess is that there will be a much easier, friction-free way to make micropayments for content or get compensated via advertisements that are very, very relevant. All the current trends point to this.

      And there will likely be many syndicators jockeying to get a piece of the action. But note that I don’t name any media companies outside of Google because I don’t know what they’ll look like that far down the line! But I’m curious to hear what you think things will be like in 2016…

    • Mark –

      thanks for the reply.

      The aspect I asked about the creation of an open marketplace of media – is fascinating to me.

      I think the idea of micro-targeted advertising is interesting, but has huge privacy implications. In your future world, you provide personal information (you need financial service help) to some agent, who then matches you to an appropriate advertiser. You better trust that agent completely (and assuming its Google, that trust may be misplaced).

      I guess what I am trying to say is that “relevancy” has two meanings to me:

      1. The Advertisment is relevant to me, my personal situation, my life
      2. The Advertisment is relevant to the content that I am viewing/experiencing.

      The latter is the traditional media advertising model – Budweiser advertises during football games because there’s a high likelihood that people watching a football game will drink beer.

      The former is the brave new world of micro-targeting and even, as in your example, user controlled ads. To me, both micro-payments AND micro-targeted ads absolutely require anonymity in order to be palatable to most people.

      Without anonymity, the same agent processing your micro-payment transactions will also know that you need financial services, or that your car broke down last month, or that you need a divorce attorney (i’m using the editorial “you” :-))

      Also, from a psychological angle, micro-payments require constant assessments of value is this video clip worth 15 cents or is that song worth 99 cents. While I think people enjoy the ease of micro-payments in shopping scenarios (i.e. the iTunes store), the injection of constant evaluation and purchasing (or active ad selection) into media browsing may not be tolerable.

      Some other thoughts:

      The pay to eliminate ads option strikes me as untenable. If you are watching the live, or near live popular feed of a major news event (btw, I love Mayor Craig Newmark I think Im going to make up some bumper stickers), how much would you have to pay to turn off that ad? Im guessing it would have to be near-equivalent to what the entity broadcasting that content would have received in advertising revenue. So, then, what is the value of your attention to that feed? That depends on huge range of factors and is probably impossible to actually compute without providing tons of personal information and transaction history. In a sense, its almost better that the parties involved in this interaction (you, the media publisher, the advertiser) have very little knowledge of each other. This maximizes revenue for the media publisher, since they can raise their rates as viewership increases (or, some automated auction system can raise that rate as demand goes up) without having to evaluate the worth of every one of their viewers. It protects the viewers privacy. The only party inconvenienced is the advertiser, who, frankly, is a mostly unwanted guest sponsoring the conversation.

      I’m also more skeptical that Google will actually be playing this kind of role in 2016, though Google has built a (very large) business out of proving skeptics wrong.

      Here’s why: Google is built from the ground up to abstract meaning from presentation – to pull content out of context.

      For rich, immersive content, such as the information dense citizen news report (combining audio, video, and data feeds), Google (or any mediator) can’t separate meaning from the presentation without ruining the experience. True multimedia the experience derived from the combination of textual, visual, auditory, and other input, is near impossible to separate into its constituent parts without losing the meaning entirely.

      I also like that you called Google a media company a year ago, that would have raised eyebrows, but today it makes perfect sense.

      Sorry for the long-winded and possibly incoherent reply I should probably just put this on my own blog 


    • Hi Mark

      Great piece, very entertaining. And also a kind of forward pointing amalgamate of Epic 2014 and actually a really nice, and perhaps surprising, editorial piece in English music technology magazine Sound on Sound where editor-in-chief Paul White did a spoof of an editorial published in 2016. He was talking about Apples iSlate as the product of choice.
      But I have to agree with the comments before me this is going to happen before 2016. Maybe not the talking Myrna, but definitely a lot of the other stuff.
      Great fun, anyways. As the rest of this gem of a blog.
      Regards from a cold Stockholm
      /Fredrik Strmberg

    • Cool piece.

      Of course, with global warming the ski areas in the Alps are melting away.

    • leonard glaser

      Very forward looking piece but hard for me to imagine since I don’t even own a cell phone. If I live that long I hope there will be other ways to get the news.

    • Iris

      Wow, this is an interesting piece. I find it terrifying and exciting to imagine that we could request video feeds of our firends and family and retrieve them instantaneously. Say goodbye to the cheating spouce or the mischevious children, right? The ability to sort information be relevance is not something new, like the masters of this Google, but the idea that instantley news could be delivered that is automatically customized to everything you want personally is brilliant. The I wonder where this leaves room for network delivered news. The citizen with the video phone had the breaking footage of the interstate damage. The computer, Myrna, is who pinpointed the size of the earthquake and the satallite footage of the city’s damages. How will both major networks and local news channeles be able to compete with this open access to information? There was nmo mention of newpaperr names, like USAtoday.com of NYTimes.com. The news was sorted by topic and location. I wonder if this networkless news age is the real future of news gathering. Will there be a time when we are so interconnected through networks that there will be no more network deleviered news?
      Will this be a world of bloggers, internet ads, and Google?

    • Wow, we may think that this won’t happen for many years, but the truth is that in four years the internet, as we know it has changed. All the technology has evoluted in just a few years, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this would be the real scenario in ten years.

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