The Internet at 40

From an article on Physorg.com from AP: “Key milestones in the development of Internet” .. some highlights (commentary in italics):

  • 1969: On Sept. 2, two computers at University of California, Los Angeles, exchange meaningless data in first test of ARPANet, an experimental military network. One could argue that this exchange is now performed billions of times daily on sites like Facebook, MySpace, and others .. the meaningless part, at least.
  • 1972: Ray Tomlinson brings e-mail to the network, choosing "at" symbol as way to specify e-mail addresses belonging to other systems. And to suggest that I only respect the “@” symbol as a means to represent the letter “A” when concocting a strong password. Or as a pair of surprised eyes: @@ .. who knew it could be so useful?
  • 1983: Domain name system is proposed. Creation of suffixes such as ".com," ".gov" and ".edu" comes a year later. While a noble effort, .com (for companies) rapidly fell to porn sites .. promise me you’ll NEVER visit ‘whitehouse.com’ on one of my systems. While on the subject, we need the “.xxx” TLD for ‘that’ stuff.
  • 1989: Quantum Computer Services, now AOL, introduces America Online service .. introducing 22 million users to a walled garden .. but a reasonable place to find dial-up in a pinch.
  • 1995: Amazon.com Inc. opens its virtual doors. And promptly starts sucking cash from everyone’s wallet for stuff we simply cannot live without.
  • 1999: World Internet population surpasses 250 million. If I had a dollar for every Internet user in 1999 ..
  • 2002: World Internet population surpasses 500 million. If I had a dollar for every Internet user in 2002 ..
  • 2006: World Internet population surpasses 1 billion. If I had a fifty cents for every Internet user in 2006 ..

Sadly, the article doesn’t include milestones for HTML versions, Flash, CSS, SSL or a variety of supporting technologies that make the Web what it is today. I think there’s a timeline project in there for me.

My Live Mesh Use Cases

I’ve been talking about this with colleagues of late, and realized that beyond repeating myself .. there’s more than enough goo here for a few blog posts.

Bear in mind, my Live Mesh usage is not fancy; in fact, it’s quite rudimentary. I am not running any Mesh applications on my Live Desktop, nor have I written any code. I am using only the folder synchronization and remote access features of the platform at the moment.

That said, once I see all the cool things these guys are doing .. I get the itch to write code. Some talcum powder, and it (almost) goes away. 😛

Okay. On that, here’s how I use Live Mesh today:

  • Mobile Phone Camera DCIM Folder Synchronization: You take a picture with your mobile device and then what? You can upload to a variety of services (I’m guilty of publishing the “Pancake Shape of the Day” (among other things) on TwitPic). That said, a good amount of the time, I’d like to work on the image before I toss it to the cloud. Thanks to Live Mesh, I have my DCIM folder synchronized to a folder beneath my “Pictures” folder on my laptop. I capture images, synchronize and the files are available to me when / where my image editor is available to tweak it. The end result? The ability to generate a higher-quality image and push it out to the appropriate places for my audiences to access. The best part: Live Mesh synchronizes your My Pictures folder on your phone when you first install it. It’s a simple matter to synch the DCIM folder from here (this is an annoyance for me .. I store my DCIM folder on my storage card, but: write me if I may assist).
  • Windows Live Writer Drafts Synchronization: I use Windows Live Writer for the posts on my blog. I work on multiple PCs .. the most common scenario for me is riding my bicycle to work and leaving my main laptop at home. I may find myself having time to finish a post I started the night before. Before Mesh, I’d have to push files to SkyDrive or onto a USB key. As you can guess, the latter options create a synchronization / version nightmare. Thanks to Live Mesh, I can “Sync Your Live Writer Drafts With Mesh”, ensuring the multiple PCs on which I work have my draft blog posts in sync.
  • Microsoft Office OneNote Synchronization: As with Live Writer above, I keep my OneNote notebook in sync across multiple PCs. I posted “Use Live Mesh to Synchronize OneNote to Multiple PCs”(hyperlink removed: OneNote 2011 supports cloud synch) with step-by-step operations on how to set this up. I am deliriously happy about this one, btw. Makes my life so much simpler, as I’ve a plethora of content in OneNote.
  • Offline Consumption: I have been known to be offline (bus, train and plane) now and again (and again and again). I receive email and content of interest constantly. Thanks to Live Mesh, I have a folder on my PCs and my phone into which I can drop the files. After sync, they’re available from wherever I find myself with spare time to catch up.
  • Offline Printing: I’ll am constantly away from a printer and having the need to print a receipt for an event, a boarding pass, my cell bill .. or something. I print to an .XPS file into a folder called “print” in my Mesh, and it’s waiting for me when get to a machine with a printer.

Some random thoughts about synchronization:

  • Outlook has an amazing set of synchronization features built in. My mail is available to me on a laptop client, over the web and on my mobile device. Anything I read on one device shows up as read on another. If Live Mesh had existed when Outlook was building out their synchronization features, the team could have offloaded these functions to the Mesh.
  • Ditto for FeedDemon and the NewsGator services. My feeds are available across multiple PCs and on my mobile phone. Their teams went to great effort to synchronize reliably across platforms .. with Live Mesh, they could also have avoided building their synchronization framework.

While not the end-all-be-all, the concept of synchronization has come a long way. The convergence of bandwidth, hardware and capable devices has created the opportunity for some powerful on-line / off-line / “Cloud-Line” experiences using the synch framework to improve the user experience.

Web 3.0? Are you kidding? Web .Next, please.

I’m already seeing a large number of references to "Web 3.0"; the purported ‘next web’.

Kids: the web is version-less, completely hackable, mashable and unfinished (but in good ways) .. do you really think that Web 2.0 isn’t any more than Web 1.999?

To refer to improved user experience (UX), including better interfaces and heavy media integration, I’ve been referring to the "next-generation web". But even this pales in comparison to the bigger picture

At one point in the future, we might be able to say things like:

  • xyzzy is a Web 2.0 company, because they (something that other Web 2.0 companies do).
  • yzzyx is a Web 3.0 company, because they (something that other Web 3.0 companies do).

However, without the "other Web x.0 companies do" means to differentiate, can we really identify a 2.0 / 3.0 company out of the crowd? Who can say that some of the companies might just "grow" into another version?

I believe the web to be version-less. We may eventually have historical references, but for now, anarchy (but with a profit motive) is king.

So: for the present, I think I’ll stick with Web .Next.

Traffic Data Collection via Cell Phone Signals

Traffic monitoring is nothing new. The passive collection of data using cameras, radar and other devices has been going on for years.

Mapping services from Microsoft  (Bing Maps), Yahoo! (Yahoo Maps) and Google (Google Maps) even provide convenient overlays for the state of traffic atop their maps.

Oh. Bing Maps and Google Maps also shows traffic on secondary roads, giving you a true opportunity to select a different route.

I posted “Tracking Movement and Progress via Bluetooth” back in May, citing the intent of the Indiana DOT to track vehicles and pedestrians using Bluetooth transmissions. Even though Bluetooth is a very close-range signal (less than 10 meters in most low-power situations), sensors could be placed to collect information from passing vehicles (or people).

This kind of crowdsourcing is very powerful; big globs of data collected by ambient means (sensors listening for signals) can be presented to a system ready to aggregate and report status in real time.

Note that I didn’t say “analyze”. Real-time analysis is left to the user (you need to look at the roads you might travel and decide which routes to avoid). Ideal use of mobile device, I’d say.

Analysts and engineers could rehydrate and create models with the collected data after the fact. Performing BI and data mining operations, they could advance some hypotheses to improve traffic.

Long story short: the better the data (quality and quantity), the higher the likelihood analysts the opportunity to evaluate current patterns and applying this knowledge, make improvements to the traffic systems.

  • To improve quality, we want reasonable accuracy (over time) of a signal’s direction and location. From this, we can calculate average speed over distance. Knowing this speed will help analysts decide if there are enough lanes based on volume and average speed.
  • Applying ambient and environmental data will also improve data quality: the time of day, weather conditions and events / activity at the traffic endpoints will help analysts identify anomalies that may affect overall averages.
  • To improve quantity, we want more signals. We can improve this with more sensors and with collecting multiple types of signals. Rather than limiting collection to Bluetooth signals, add GPS and Cell signals to the dataset.

Comparing improved quality and quantity metrics to existing data collection methodologies will improve the ability of analysts and engineers to design better solutions and speed us on our way.

Tracking Movement and Progress via Bluetooth

Bluetooth signals emanating from laptops and cell phones could provide an opportunity to monitor how long it takes vehicles and pedestrians to travel from one point to another. The information would be most useful in tracking the speed of a commute, or progress through airport security lines.

Once tracked, a real-time feedback could be established to respond to delays:

  • TSA personnel could be reassigned to trouble spots to improve traveler progress through security.
  • Additional entry gates could be opened to handle unexpected loads in an airport.
  • Police or tow trucks could be dispatched to delayed regions on highways.

The monitoring would likely require a disclaimer in our litigious society ("The xyzzy org is monitoring your radio transmissions to improve service. At no time is your cell phone or wireless device data compromised."). A system need not glean any more than a unique ID of the transmission (versus actually accessing data) and track the location of that ID through a facility / traffic flow.

Of course, over-responsive wireless devices (those set in ‘discovery mode’) might alert their user, creating nothing less than a security panic for the (rightfully, in these digital daze) paranoid.

Information Snacking on Your Mobile?

I’ve been talking and posting about the concept of “Information Snacking” for some time now. I want to be at the center of my data consumption, instead of trapped in an application, site or a specific device. We want to call up our data whenever, wherever we want it.

I envision a site that lets you customize multiple views of your data:

  • The PC / Browser view
  • The Mobile view
  • The 10-foot view

.. and maybe more variants.

Seems simple, right? Pick your content; your stocks, your MySpace  or Facebook summary, your team scores, your weather, your mail. Assemble these widgets onto the pages for each view and voila! Information Snacking.

The rub: making money. Will one site allow other sites’ ads on their pages? Or will they pay a fee for the content and try to charge for it? Or something else?

Seems Yahoo! is opening this Pandora’s box a bit with their Yahoo! Mobile product; a starting point on your mobile device that includes the stuff you want (maps, email, etc.), plus the ability to add third-party content via Mobile Widgets. The site is boasting eBay, MySpace and MTV News widgets, along with a ton of other widgets in their widget gallery.

Update: As I point out in “The next thing: Mobiles, Minis, Flakes, et. al”, a mobile device is, an Information Snacking device .. a composite application, with you, the data consumer at the center.

Information Snacking, Content and the Digital Daze

Record labels survived Kazaa, Napster and the ‘for myself’ digitization of media content (i.e., ‘ripping’). No, they’re not happy about it: piracy is still at an all-time high, they’re suffering severe online competition and CD sales have not improved of late. The ‘old’ model is at severe risk.

RadioHead adds a new wrinkle to the equation: download the album from their site and pay what you want for the download. Not only have they bypassed the recording industry by offering the CD (and a $80, you can get a cool boxed set) they’re also turning the pricing model of entertainment on an ear.

Note that these guys likely don’t have the need for day jobs anymore, so they can certainly afford to do this.

To make matters more interesting, the ‘for me’ generation is not so much delineated by age, but rather by the enabling technologies that drive the mentality. We (myself included) want our entertainment (okay, and our data) when and where we want it:

  • We don’t want it limited to specific devices.
  • We don’t want in hamstrung by DRM.
  • We don’t want to be limited to particular types of our data.

I’m a big proponent of “Information Snacking“, the term I’ve assigned to the paradigm of universal access to my data:

  • I want my stock quotes.
  • I want my sports scores.
  • I want my media. I’ll accept it in a less-than-optimal format (small screen / headphones) if my current environment (plane / train / unicycle) dictate.

I don’t always have an Internet connection and accept there are environments where certain data simply cannot be available in real time. As I accept this, I won’t blame my device of choice for gaps, but will seek out the best device to feed my digital habits. Note: this is my problem and I accept it; I will optimize digital capacity to my lifestyle.

Guess what? I’m not alone. Many of us ‘make do’, and yet, achieve an absolutely-unheard of level of digital consumption:

  • Do I have video content on my phone? Yes, I do. On a storage card I can plug into an higher-quality environment. In a pinch, the phone screen and speaker suffices just handily, thank you.
  • Do I have music content on my phone? Yes, I do. In an effort to re-take my belt, I found a cool little headphone adapter for my mobile device that lets me leave my old music player at home when I go to the gym (I still take it on flights).
  • Naturally, I use my headphones with my music player on flights, and in the hotel room, the media cable comes in very handy with most televisions.
  • In the car, you say? Yes. I carry a goofy little, foot-long, RCA-male-to-RCA-male cable that lets me plug my music player into the AUX plug of my car.

My music is my music: I want it when and where I want it. My player can carry my entire album connection and I can truly enjoy it anywhere, anytime.

I am looking ahead now, noting that my mobile lifestyle has me wanting all of the above and the ability to produce content, as well as consume it. I do this on my laptop very easily, and my phone is almost there. I can email posts to a blog (unhappily, not this one; though not the fault of my phone). I can shoot pictures and videos on my cell phone and share them in the cloud as well.

Is it 100%? Not yet. I see incremental progress though. Until we get there, I’ll keep banging out these thoughts and keep trying new things.

Is iGoogle the uber customizable / personalizable portal?

Well, when I was working at Microsoft, I hoped not. I wanted us to get there first.  😉

It’s not any more functional than MyMSN, but is a logical next step; but what’s next-next?  At what point is will this extend to other devices and include data from outside a walled garden?

I referred to this paradigm in “What do you call the uber personalized site for information snacking?“, “The next thing: Minis, Flakes, et. al“, “The User at the Center” and most recently “Information Snacking in the real world“.

In these posts, I’m guessing this concept would emerge as the next big thing on the web: a ‘blank slate’ where users could connect to the data that matters to them, no matter the source.

I christened the concept “Information Snacking“, describing a user-centric view of a user’s own data, aggregated from multiple sources; likely outside the sources’ native interfaces.  Data that is available on multiple devices through layers of abstraction.

Heh.  See why I call it “Information Snacking”?  The description is practically a thesis.

In a few words, your data, when and where you want it:

  • You might use Yahoo! mail as your primary email account.
  • You might have oft-traveled cities and want to monitor weather.
  • You might use Flickr for your online photo storage (I use Live Spaces).
  • You might have a few favorite RSS feeds.

The page that can pull all these sources together will win the much-coveted Home Page position on all my browsers.  It might also net a blog post or twenty-two.

Information Snacking in the real world

I’ve been talking and posting about my concept of “Information Snacking” for some time now; this is where the user is finally at the center of their data consumption, instead of trapped in an application or a specific device. We want to call up our data whenever, wherever we want it. I called this out explicitly in “The next thing: Minis, Flakes, et. al” some time ago.

The battle is continuing: whatever you call them; widgets, gadgets, blocks, panels, slabs, stickies or foos, a user’s data will be exposed in a manner that it can be hosted on their start page, and viewed on their PC, phone or other device.

The user is elbowing their way to the center, and the site(s) that facilitate this action with a framework will ‘win’ the next great set of eyeballs on the Web.

Some posts in the news:

From sound bites to bits and bytes, we’re all grabbing what we want, when we want it from the Web. We are choosing the timing and our venue to suit our needs and wants.

The next thing: Mobiles, Minis, Flakes, et. al

I’ve been seeing this coming and talking about it internally for the past few months, driving my co-workers nuts. I have even posted about the concept a number of times.

Well, it’s here: the concept of a ‘universal landing page’ that users can own and add the content that suits them.

While I don’t have a name for the landing page myself (I’m sure there is one out there somewhere; ‘uber personalized site’ is so clumsy), I’ve been calling the consumption of these data “Information Snacking“.

Information Snacking is how users consume their data; whenever, wherever they please. It’s stock quotes on the run, email on a bus and alerts / notifications anytime. The convergence of broadband, content and devices makes this possible, and users will demand this, with a vengeance.

Among the other things they’ll demand:

  • Absolute control over the data they choose to snack upon.
  • Absolute control over the venue when they snack.
  • Freedom to grab content from a variety of sources.

While I’m not declaring the world of web portals dead, the landing page concept provides users the flexibility to select the data they want from a variety of competitive sources.

Here’s the concept. Imagine a single page that supports:

Let’s look at the list.

  • News and the latest bits from Slashdot are pretty obvious. But, if the user has Yahoo Finance, why the link to Schwab? Perhaps this user (okay, it’s me) has an account at Schwab and can get real-time quotes by passing credentials to the feed, instead of the standard 20-minute delay.
  • Same with email: why would the user need two email accounts on this page? First of all, convenience: avoiding the need to log in to separate web pages when, at a glance, they can see if they’ve mail. They’re one-click away from their inbox.

So, what’s wrong with the current portals? Nothing. I enjoy http://my.msn.com/ and http://my.yahoo.com/. However, I cannot do cross-pollination between the mail services at present, or add MSNBC to Yahoo, and so on (and so on, and so on).

“What a great idea!”, you might say. “Why isn’t anyone doing this?”, you might ask. Well, there are a few sites out there that provided these types of landing pages, including services from the majors (and lots and lots of minors) are appearing every day. However, the smaller sites couldn’t make the numbers work, and one by many, disappeared. I can verify that PageFlakes is still up and running if you want to see the concept for yourself.

You’ll see that each of these offers a variety of ways to link to content that is acquired off the landing page. Users WILL create accounts on one (or more) of these sites, and customize to their hearts’ content. These sites will eventually be ‘smart’ enough to provide the rich personalization experience even on a mobile phone or the 10′ experience enjoyed by Windows Media Center.

Speaking of mobile .. it’s quite possible that mobile devices are torpedoing these pages on the web. The mobile device is, by it’s very nature, an Information Snacking device .. a composite application, with you as the center.

Pick your landing page or your device, connect your data and snack away!

%d bloggers like this: