Archive for June, 2006

For three days last week (June 19th through the 21st) the MuniWireless organization held their show in Santa Clara California. Attendance was (once again) up from their previous show in Atlanta and there is a reason for that – a well produced show, excellent topics and a list of great speakers that I was proud to be a part of.

By focusing in on the specific niche that this show targets it is possible to entice an interesting mix of attendees that span the spectrum from free community wireless groups, non-profit organizations trying to better the world like Green-WiFi and to some of the largest corporations in the world, like IBM, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics as well as representative of some of the larger cities that are considering building municipal networks.

It is exactly this mix of people that makes for the kind of cross-educational exchange that many of us find so valuable. While the sessions covered a wide range of interesting topics most of my time was spent networking with people outside of the sessions. It is really difficult to fully take in any exceptionally well put together show so we are all forced to make decisions as to what we will participate in and what we will have for forgo in order to get what we believe will deliver the best experience for us on an individual basis. In this particular case, I made the decision to not attend many excellent sessions that I am sure I would have learned an incredible amount in so I could interact with people, quite literally, from all over the world. In all honesty, if the show had been scheduled for an entire week I am not sure I would have had enough time to take in everything that was offered.

This show also had a larger selection of vendors than the previous show. While many of the names that were there are well known to us all, there were a few interesting additions that I had not seen before. I am hoping to do a dedicated piece on a few of these manufacturers like Netistix and Wavion in the near future as both of these companies offer products that are outside of the norm.

There is a deeper issue that I would like to bring up, one that should be discussed more often but is often overlooked when we discuss an event like MuniWireless, one that has a benefit that I am not sure many people in attendance understand is what kind of alliances are formed, what kind of ideas are spawned and can we really even begin to understand what dramatic effects a gathering of minds like this show creates has on the longer term benefit to society. In different discussions that I was part of I heard plans to help connect people in India, plans to integrate automobiles into the communications platforms as well as serious concepts at fixing communications after disasters. The diverse brain power coupled with an incredible energy that resonated at this show was unmistakable. One very important point was made clear, individuals, businesses both small as well as huge, organizations and governments are looking at problems – real problems – and doing something about them.

If we amplify this thought, we see that no longer is profit solely the motivator in this case, many of the people there were representing non-profit organizations. What we are seeing is a melding of business and private groups coming together to address problems so as to provide solutions that the majority can accept. We see the Electronic Frontier Foundation discussing privacy issues with Google in an attempt to find a way that both sides can live with. We get introduced to organizations such as Wireless Harlem presenting their vision along with groups like Seakay working to find the right mix of partnership to make their corner of the world a better place. Perhaps, most of all, in the center of this all, is one woman, Esme Vos whose vision, energy and determination has driven this once unheard of slice of the wireless industry straight into the public spotlight and we can now all clearly see what she has know for quite some time now, that this is only a start.

The best is yet to come.

Over the last week a couple of news articles caught my eye with respect to the distribution of video across the Internet. In the past few articles I have written I have primarily focused on the aspect of what the network operators might be looking at as a real impact due to video becoming a dominant use of the connectivity infrastructure.

Take, for a specific example, the cell phone providers as they struggle to build out/upgrade the necessary infrastructure so they can supply LiveTV to their users as just one way we can see the push to accommodate user demand for this application.

The same holds true for cable or DSL as we move towards an all HDTV video standard and the user does not want to wait for …Buffering…Buffering…Buffering…Buffering… content to be viewable or have their viewing experience interrupted as they are just starting to enjoy themselves – not that it has ever happened to me or anything.

While all of that is certainly true and important to our discussions there is a slightly deeper impact that seems to be crawling out into the light, one that is going to profoundly impact the way our society moves forward, one that will change the way we learn and communicate. There is a time in the not too distant future where we will no longer have to settle for average.

What do I specifically mean when I say that we will no longer have to settle for average?

If we were to look at any given profession we would find that the overwhelming majority of time we are dealing with the average performance – as they say DUH, that is the definition of average. However, what happens when we have a communications based society where only the very best see the mass distribution of their work. I am not talking about the very best in the sense of people, even thought that will undoubtedly have an impact but rather only the cream of the crop ever making the mainstream distribution channels. What happens to this society when only the most inspired lectures be granted the right to be distributed across the Internet? Even more important, how do we define the best? Will there be a user feedback section where if 99% of the viewers leave excellent ratings will the next group of people only view that one particular video out of all the choices?

If we were to use the example of an on-line class on any given subject we could envision a scenario where many professors would record their course and release it for viewing. I would suggest that as time progresses the students that watched the course would then rate the content for ease of understanding, charisma and organization among other criteria. Even though we would have several excellent people all trying to present this course material the one or perhaps two that were most effective (as rated by the students) would eventually become the “standard” until someone else managed to produce a “better” video assuming they could overcome the momentum built up from several thousands positive feedback ratings on the standard.

The implication is that professionally produced content with an eye toward capturing the audience’s attention and conveying the message will at some point displace the rest of the people in the field that are involved in providing the same subject material. At that point there will be only one option left for the content providers that are deemed less than the best of category and that would be for them to release their material into the public domain. This also creates an interesting problem because if there is a parity in the quality of the material the viewing audience will almost always gravitate toward the free content (or advertising supported content, as long as it doesn’t degrade from the viewing experience) leaving less of a paying audience for the previous provider.

What does this say if we apply this scenario to the education industry? Are we moving towards a society that doesn’t need hundreds of thousands of educators? Will we at some point reach a time where only a few very professional content producers will manufacturer every lecture we will need to see to continually keep up with our education? Will we reach a point where teachers will be reduced to content writers and the face on the screen will only read the content possibly without even fully comprehending what is being said?

Even more important, what will be the overall effect on a society that only sees one perspective or one presentation of any given subject? Could this happen in such a technological future as we might possibly foresee or will this very mechanism allow for the rapid distribution of content and since we now have an almost instantaneous communications infrastructure to get the message across we will now have the ability to comment and produce even better content to displace the previous content?

To be honest with you, I don’t know. At the same time I do see a time in the not too distant future where the mechanism of how we learn (or exchange our information, news and entertainment) will morph into a very different stream. As TV shows like The Daily Show start to displace the Evening News one has to wonder if education, entertainment and news will all become one as we move forward.

I do know that no longer will we have to settle for an average day by the average speaker as being acceptable and I, for one, welcome that change.

Some interesting opinions and information delivered to me courtesy of the Internet has driven me to take a stab at where we might be headed and what impact we may see in the coming years.

First off, Cringley released an interesting perspective that discusses where TV (if you can even call it that) might be headed. Whether you think these opinions are off base or right on the money probably depends on your perspective. At the same time, it is pretty evident to everyone (with the possible exception of the Incumbents) that video entertainment has evolved past the channel/time selection process.

One thing I can say for sure is the list of video on demand sites has grown substantially over the last year or two. Heck, even the definition of video on demand has changed. There was a time when VoD was defined as being able to choose whatever TV show or movie you wanted to view being able to be delivered to you on your schedule – not necessarily when the television station, movie theater or distributor said you could watch it.

Whether we look at sites like YouTube, Google Video, IFilm, Sputnik7 or many of the sites that cover that other kind of video that we won’t mention, video is now becoming one of the main forms of entertainment Internet surfers are going after.

But that is only looking at the content download side of the equation, where does this content come from? Strangely, from the general public – and this trend is about to really take off as the combination of inexpensive digital video cameras combines with video editing software to allow anyone with the time, money and desire to produce video content.

I see this trend as putting a stake right through the heart of the traditional distribution avenues. Let’s face it, Napster forever changed the way music is not only distributed but allowed to find its way into the mainstream. It is now possible for bands that have never been signed to have listeners all over the globe without ever once seeing the inside of a Music Industry controlled studio. And now the same is about to happen to the TV and movie industry.

This also has ramifications all the way down the line. It isn’t just the television and movie studios that will see serious changes, it is the video rental stores, music stores as well as cable and satellite TV distribution networks. The same holds true for radio stations as well as local TV stations – except for this last group who will now see new opportunities open up for them based solely on talent and content.

Instead of some plastic Barbie doll talking head being the star of the hour, now we actually might seen people from God knows where being piped into our homes across IPTV or Internet radio stations that we choose based solely on content and talent. Imagine, I can now get rid of the bimbo and have someone with brains and a sense of humor deliver me my news! There is also the very real chance (as Cringley mentioned) that this could be the rebirth of local content. You might recall that I wrote about a gentleman I met from Montreal who was using off-the-shelf SANS storage boxes in conjunction with hot spot locations to distribute local content very inexpensively. It is this kind of innovation that will create the necessary capsizing of these entrenched industries and allow for the innovation we really need to see to happen.

Where the handwriting seems to be pointing is somewhere deliberate – somewhere we cannot undo or shy away from, a place where the status quo will not remain but instead evolve into something unrecognizable.

It will also be a very different world, one very foreign to people who aren’t keeping track of the changes.

On a somewhat related note, let’s take a look at this study about teenagers and their Net usage patterns.

If what is being documented in this study is correct, our kids (early adopters of technology that they are) will have several streams of media coming at them concurrently and “ubertask” until the break of dawn.

There’s a fourteen year old that lives in this house, one that I get to watch. At any given moment he has a half dozen chat windows open, a forum where he is casually posting to, a voxel editor open designing bits and pieces for game modding as well as watching a video at different times. When he gets bored of that he’ll open up a game and attach to a server where he will play with other people from all over the world while chatting with them at the same time.

One the other hand, I have finally learned that doing two things at the same time for me is the definition of half-assed.

But I watch very well, I learn and I try to bring you all here what I pick up.

Good luck keeping up with it all, forewarned is prepared only if you take notice and do something about it.