Saturday, December 29, 2007

Earth View, a cool astronomy service

We discuss both mashups and location-based applications. This image shows the earth from a 1,000 kilometers above our campus. It will be dark or light depending upon the time of day.

It was generated using Earth Viewer, which can display various views of the Earth from various vantage points, for example, from the Sun or Moon. I used Geocoder to get our campus coordinates.

With the coming of low cost, location-aware cell phones and other portable devices, people predict that we will see a lot of location-based advertising. Can you think of other location-based applications? Can you think of applications you could build on top of Earth Viewer?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

An excellent computer history course

We cover the history of technology and networks, and the University of Washington, UCSD and UC Berkeley offered an excellent course on the history of computing in fall 2006.

The course material is online, and includes short essays by the faculty, links to original material, and presentations by faculty and prestigious guest speakers, including many computing and networking pioneers.

Many of the presentations include photos of historic equipment and events. For example, the photo shown here was taken behind the scene of Doug Engelbart's historic 1968 demonstration of his work on personal and collaborative computing.

Note that the course material is organized using a wiki. It illustrates the use of a wiki as a simple, flexible platform for creating a Web site to support an ad-hoc project or organization.

Historic prototypes look old fashioned to us, like early cars or the Wright Brother's first plane. How will we see today's technology in the future? Is technology changing as fast today as in the past?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

SlideShare.net, a service for making and hosting narrated slide show presentations

Intellectual property expert Larry Lessig became known for presentations built around narrated slide shows delivered as Flash files. This well-known presentation on US copyright law illustrates his style. Doug Kaye and Paul Figgiani used the same technique in narrating a presentation on recording telephone calls during interviews.

Kaye and Figianni used SlideShare.net to convert a Keynote presentation into a Flash movie (PowerPoint also works). The presentations are also hosted at SlideShare.net, and the user can watch straight through, pause the presentation or skip forward or backward.

What do you think of the narrated slide show as a presentation format? What are its pros and cons? Are there topics you would like to present using this technique?

A terrific how-to on recording broadcast quality telephone interviews with Skype

We cover audio processing, and Doug Kaye and Paul Figgiani have put together a terrific 22.5 minute presentation on recording interviews using Skype. You no longer need expensive equipment to make broadcast quality recordings of phone calls. A Mac or PC running Skype, a USB head set, a low-cost audio capture program, and this presentation are all you need. (Even if you are not recording telephone interviews, much of what they say applies to audio recording and processing in general).

For discussion of the presentation and more on audio recording and editing, see Kaye's Conversations Network forums.

Are there people you would be interested in interviewing?

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Web 2.0 book

Susan Kelley spotted Dive Into® Web 2.0, a book by Deitel & Associates. The book covers many of the same topics we do, and there is also an extensive online resource center -- you should check it out.

Like other publishers we have discussed, Deitel offers electronic and print versions of the book. You can read the HTML version free online or order a PDF file or a hard copy from on-demand publisher lulu.com. It will be interesting to see if they are able to keep the HTML and PDF versions synchronized.

This 81 page book is $19.95 in hard copy, $9.95 as a PDF file and the HTML version is free. Assuming you want a book, which version would you select at those prices? Would you like to read it on a portable device?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Google and the opening of the cellular network

We discuss the open architecture of the Internet, a "dumb" network, that connects smart devices. Users, not the network operators, decide what hardware to use and which applications to develop. As such, we see rapid innovation and massive investment. We have contrasted this with the cellular telephone network in which the network operators control the hardware and applications that are developed.

The cellular network is beginning to open. New spectrum is being auctioned off and Google is lobbying the to open the cellular network. They are dominant in desktop Internet services and advertising, and would like to exploit an open cellular network to dominate mobile Internet services and advertising.

During the last month, the New York times has published four articles on the opening of the cell network and Google's role in it.

Individuals, organizations and the economy would benefit from an open cellular network, but do you worry that Google, if successful, may become too powerful?

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Internet and urban migration in developing nations

We have discussed the digital divide between rich and poor nations and proposals for closing it. We have argued that closing the digital divide would improve the quality of rural life in developing nations, thereby reducing the impetus for migration from rural areas to urban slums.

A recent estimate holds that half of the world population now lives in urban areas, and the UN predicts that will grow to 59.9 % by 2030.



This will lead to increased crowding and the growth of megacities. For a description of one such megacity, Bombay, see this book by Suketu Mehta, or listen to this interview.

Do you believe the Internet could improve life in rural areas of developing nations? Do you believe that would cut migration to cities?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Running applications from flash drives

We have been able to use the limited-function computers in campus labs by running applications like Filezilla and GIMP from flash drives. Fred Langa has published a two part series on the topic: Part 1 and Part 2.

The articles review available flash drives, sources of portable software (like PortableApps), and operating concerns like security, privacy and backups.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Portable devices -- innovation and form factors

In discussing mobile and portable connectivity, we talked about competing device form factors and innovation. We have also discussed new devices which may influence future form factors and user interfaces: the One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC) laptop, the Apple iPhone, and, most recently, Amazon's Kindle.

Each has hardware and user interface innovations that may become standard fare on future portable devices. For example, the Kindle and OLPC laptop have low power displays that are legible in daylight, and the iPhone has an elegant touch screen interface and can be programmed to automatically switch between displaying documents in landscape or portrait mode if it is rotated. The OLPC laptop automatically forms a mesh network with nearby machines; the Kindle is directly connected to Amazon via Sprint's cellular network; and the iPhone can move between WiFi and AT&T's cellular network. The list goes on.

They each deliver different functions. The Kindle is a book reader, period. The iPhone a phone, Internet browser, email client, camera, etc., and it is now open to third party developers. The OLPC laptop is a PC running Linux. It comes preloaded with applications and there are tools for what I hope will become a vibrant developer community. It was conceived of as a computer for school children in developing nations, but in many ways it is more attractive than a "serious" compact laptop like a Sony Vaio for a business traveler.

Each is physically different:

 iPhoneKindleOLPC
Height (in)4.57.59.5
Width (in)2.45.39
Depth (in).46.71.25
Weight (oz)4.810.351
Pixels/inch183167200
Resolution 420x320  600x800  1200x900
Screen diag (in)3.567.5

The iPhone is a smart phone with a bright and large enough screen to browse the Web and read email fairly comfortably. The Kindle is designed for easy reading, and the OLPC laptop's high resolution display may be even better.

Which form factor do you favor? Are you willing to carry around a 3 pound OLPC laptop? Is the iPhone screen large enough for your portable applications? Would you rather carry a Kindle or a paperback book and a magazine when you board a plane?

Portable devices -- the Kindle book reader

Over the years a number of vendors have marketed portable devices for reading books, magazines and other material, but none have caught on. The latest attempt is Amazon's Kindle. Kindle is both hardware -- the portable reader -- and a service. The service includes an online store with 90,000 books, magazine and blog subscription and free downloading using Sprint's cellular network. It also includes a backup copy of everything you buy or transfer to your Kindle in case it is lost or damaged. That is the good news.

The bad news is that the Kindle service is a "walled garden." It is like having a cell phone that can only call one number -- the Amazon book store. Furthermore, the cost of downloading and backup must be covered, so a subscription to a blog which is free on the Internet might cost $1 per month, and you must pay to put your own Word files or other documents on your Kindle. The charges cover the backup and downloading service.

Would you be willing to have a specialized book reader or would insist upon a portable device capable of other functions like listening to music, Web browsing and email? Would you want a portable device that was tied to a single vendor, Amazon?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Who needs the broadcast television networks?

The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times both ran recent stories on entertainment programs being produced for the Internet by successful, mainline TV producers and writers. They are attracted to the new medium by creative control and cost savings on distribution. You can check episodes of two of them at The Fantastic Two and Qarterlife.

For more insight into the background of TV production and what is motivating these successful men to move their talents from television to the Internet, see the companion LA Times article Are Corporate Suits Ruining TV?". (You can guess the answer to that question).

Watch a couple episodes from one or both of these programs. How do they compare to TV? How do you think they could be improved?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Will open WiMax disrupt the closed cellular networks?

As we have seen, WiFi and 3rd generation cellular networks are the primary options for mobile and portable connectivity today. But, WiFi covers only limited areas (though there are millions of them), and cell networks are closed to innovation and focused on a business model of selling voice and other expensive services rather than pure Internet connectivity.

One day, Google and others may force the cellular networks to open up, but it will be a struggle. Another possibility is that a new standard, WiMax, will provide viable wireless Internet access.

We have spoken of WiMax earlier, and the WiMax leader at this time seems to be Clearwire Communication led by industry veteran Craig McCaw. You can read of McCaw, Clearwire, and their possibly foundering negotiations to combine WiMax networks with Sprint in this Wall Street Journal article.

If WiMax sounds promising, you can follow standards and industry progress in blogs written by Glenn Fleishman and Steve Stroh both of whom know a lot about wireless technology and business. Fleishman has just written a positive review of Clearwire's test deployment of pre-standard mobile WiMax in its home city of Seattle.

Do you plan to subscribe to either Stroh's or Fleishman's blog? What industry blogs do you subscribe to?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New notes on mashups and rating, identity and reputation

I posted three new class notes with assignments today. Two are on mashups between Blogger blogs and Talkr, a nifty text-to-speech service. Talkr essentially converts your blog into an audio podcast using a one-line API. Users also have the option of listening to rather than reading individual posts.

The other new note is on rating, identity and reputation. It gives several examples, and the accompanying assignment has the students add a rating widget from Outbrain.com to their blogs.

The notes and accompanying assignments are listed under Applications in this list of notes and assignments.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Can Google open the celllular network?

As we have seen, the cellular network is closed. On the Internet, anyone can deploy an application, but most cellular operators control applications. This problem was highlighted by John O’Rourke, general manager of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile business, who pointed out that it had taken Microsoft more than half a decade to get to its current level -- doing business with 160 mobile operators in 55 countries. Even Microsoft has to negotiate with mobile operators one at a time.

Mr. O'Rourke was quoted in a New York Times article on Google's plan to provide open-source telephone software and application development tools. They have formed a coalition to develop and promote this software. The coalition, called The Open Handset Alliance, includes a number of large telephone manufacturers and network operators, but others, like Apple, Verizon and AT&T are noticeably missing.

Columnist Robert Cringely predicts that Google will go further and become a cellular operator by bidding in the FCC auction of 700 MHz spectrum which will be freed up by the switch to digital television broadcast. If that happens, he expects them to offer free, ad-supported cell phone service.

Given the Apple iPhone and Google's plans, what do you expect your cell phone and service to be like in five years?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Using a wiki for a presentation

Raquel Mireles built a presentation for another class on a wiki. She included videos (stored on Youtube, a Web service) as well as links and notes.

How does using a wiki for a presentation compare to using Powerpoint? How does it compare to using a specialized online presentation service like Thinkfree Show or Zoho Show?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Terrorists use Google Earth

The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades fires rockets into Israeli cities. In this video, al-Aqsa's commander in Gaza shows how he uses Google Earth to search for targets inside of Israel. He states "We obtain the details from Google Earth and we check them against our maps of the city centre and sensitive areas."

Do you think any Internet applications or information should be banned? If so, can they be as a practical matter?

-----
Update 7/11/2016

An Israeli organization, Shurat Hadin, has filed a $1 billion suit against Facebook on behalf of the families of four people who were stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist. They say Facebook violates the US Anti-Terrorism Act by allowing militant groups such as Hamas a platform for spreading violence. This was not the first such case and it raises difficult questions of freedom of speech.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

An early WiMAX deployment

We have talked about mobile and portable connectivity. The two choices today in the US are WiFi hotspots and third generation cellular service, but WiMAX service is just beginning and may become competitive.

Clearwire just led off with early WiMAX deployment in their 44 local markets. With their PC card in a laptop, one will have portable (not mobile) connectivity for $59.99 a month for speeds of up to 1.5 megabits per second down and 256 kilobits up. (Mobile WiMAX will be available when the standard is soldified).

How do those speeds compare to what you have at home today? Who might be interested in this service?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Internet is the platform -- a Cringley quote

We have talked about the evolution of application development platforms from the batch operating systems of the 1950s to the Internet today. (See this note and this chapter). Does this quote from a column by Robert Cringley ring true?

The importance of all our digital stuff along with our fear of losing it will shift us more and more toward central backup and storage. And once you have your life sitting on some company's server, are you going to move it on a whim? No, and that means there will be a LOT of money to be made providing these services. Storage and automated backup and probably some form of netboot with a fresh OS image every time is the future of computing whether we're talking about desktops or notebooks or mobile phones.
What are the pros and cons of keeping your digital material on the Internet? If you get a fresh OS image every time you reboot, is it likely to come from Microsoft?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Politcal pressure yields a tiny step toward an open wireless network

Apple has opened the iPhone to third party developers, but a problem remains. The iPhone is restricted to the AT&T network in the US and O2 in Great Britain. Cell phone manufacturers and network operators offer bundles in which the phone price is reduced in return for a long contract and high monthly bills.

This sort of bundling restricts the marketplace and consumer choice, but it is not inevitable. Some nations, for example, Singapore and France, require manufacturers to offer open versions of their phones.

We are starting to see some political reaction to the heavy handed lobbying of the cell companies in the US. In the face of threatened legislation, Verizon and AT&T have loosened some restrictions in their cell phone contracts. That is a small step in the right direction -- toward open, competitive, end-to-end Internet connectivity over wireless networks.

How would the Internet and market be changed if, for example, Dell PCs could only connect to the Internet through one ISP and Hewlett Packard PCs through another ISP?

A step toward an open wireless network: Apple opens the iPhone

When Apple released the iPhone, Steve Jobs claimed third party applications might damage the phone and even the AT&T network, so they were blocked. Apple has reversed that decision, and will now provide a software development kit in support of third party developers.

This is a step forward. The iPhone hardware and touch screen user interface are new to the marketplace and well designed. Consumers will benefit and our expectation levels will rise. Historically, Apple third party developers are enthusiastic and innovative, and Apple will learn from them.

Like the PC, the iPhone now seems to be a smart platform on the edge of the Internet. As we have seen, Internet applications, content, hardware, and even helpful users are all at the edge of the network. This has facilitated explosive growth, innovation and investment since everyone is free to participate.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Crescent Heights -- the future of television?

Proctor and Gamble, which makes Tide laundry soap and pioneered radio and television soap operas, has an Internet soap opera called Crescent Heights. The three minute episodes are designed to be seen on a mobile device or a computer, and there are no commercials. The Tide logo appears at the end of an episode and, as you see in this screen shot, the characters use it for their wash. The key advertising value is in a set of forums where members can discuss the characters, the story, and household topics like stain removal and washing. The discussion site mentions Tide products and has a Tide logo.

You can read more on Crescent Heights and the business proposition here.

In this case, the Internet lets the advertiser produce and distribute their own content rather than sponsoring a show produced by someone else and distributed by a cable or broadcast network. Would this cut cost? Is this a rough, early glimpse at the future of television?

As mobile and home connectivity improve, how will a program like Crescent Heights improve? Would you be willing to watch a football game sponsored by Budweiser on the Internet? Do you think people would be more likely to purchase Tide soap after watching Crescent Heights and looking at the online forums?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The value of Internet services

Every post on this blog is a testimony to the leveraging of Internet services. I am able to create the posts in a few minutes using the Blogger editor, and creating and configuring the blog took only a few hours. Furthermore, the footer of each post has a link to a text-to-speech service at Talkr.com which can read the post aloud. Again, creating this composite application or "mashup" took only a short time.

Writing a program to create a blog with text and optional speech would have been impossible when I first started out as an assembly language programmer. A few years ago, it might have taken years to create a site with the features of this blog -- designing and creating Web pages, writing server-side code, acquiring and integrating a text-to-speech package, etc. Today it takes a few hours. As levels of abstraction rise, infrastructure improves, and the Internet "ecosystem" proliferates, programmer productivity will increase still faster.

Public and private infrastructure has clear value. The US Interstate Highway System is a valuable asset that increases economic productivity. Equipment, buildings, and other assets owned by organizations also make them more productive. We have also spoken of the value of open source contributions, the gross contributed product, to the world economy.

What is the value of an Internet service? What is the value and economic contribution of, say, Google Maps? Is there a line on the Google balance sheet that states a value for Google Maps? What is the value to the world economy of all the Web sites that leverage Google Maps?

Individual firms could begin to answer such questions today -- how do they show Internet services on their books? How much revenue do those services generate? We will have to leave the task of estimating their value at the national or global level to future economists.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Challenges to Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office applications are ubiquitous, but they are being challenged on two fronts: the Open Office application suite and network-based suites from companies like Thinkfree.com, Zoho.com, and Google.

Open Office has been maturing for years, and it got a recent boost when IBM released a version with their own user interface. (Since Open Office is open source software, IBM or others can modify it).

As Nicholas Carr points out, Microsoft is responding by extending Office to use the Internet.

You can see a video on the advantages of online suites here, and a comparison of nine Office competitors here.

What are the pros and cons of Microsoft Office versus Open Office or an online suite for a student? For a small company? For a university? A large enterprise?

If you were running Microsoft, how would you respond to these challenges?

Looking to the future -- do technology trends tend to favor one approach over the others?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The cellular network is broken -- two examples

As we discuss, the Internet was designed to be an end-to-end, dumb network. The large ISPs would like to break that principle in order to give higher priority to certain users and applications, and, as we have seen, the cell phone network is even more restricted.

Developers cannot create and use cell phone applications without permission from cell phone carriers. We had a graphic example of this recently when Verizon would not permit an abortion rights organization to use their text messaging service. They later reversed the decision, but this illustrates how badly broken the cell phone network is.

Along the same lines, a software upgrade to Apple's iPhone renders phones with third party applications installed inoperable. This was not inadvertent. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said it was done to protect carrier networks and to make sure the phone was not damaged.

His first reason -- protecting the network -- was what AT&T claimed before the 1968 Carterphone decision that allowed people to connect equipment to their network as long as it did no harm. His second reason -- protecting the phone from damage -- is exactly what he has done -- turned them into worthless "bricks."

People are working on an open cell phone, and perhaps Wimax will lead to open network access one day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Off shoring -- who are the big winners?

We talk about off shoring and its impact on individual careers, organizations and national economies. A UC Irvine study analyzed the iPod, asking where the 451 parts that go into it are made and who makes them. IPods are assembled in Asia by companies you have probably never heard of, but Apple is the big winner. Most value is added by companies with brand names that conceive of products and do user-interface and engineering design, marketing, distribution and sales. Those involved in manufacturing and assembly add less value.

UC Berkeley professor Hal Varian discusses the report in this New York Times article. (This is a very good article, but I would not mention and link to it while the Times charged a subscription fee).

Do you think US firms will have the same advantage as Apple does today in the future? Why?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The value of free: NY Times drops subscription fee

Internet sites generate revenue by charging directly for items (Amazon), subscription fees (Wall Street Journal, premium versions of services) or advertising. Until recently, the New York Times had a mixed revenue strategy -- current news was supported by advertising and they charged a subscription fee for opinion columns and archived articles. They have now dropped their subscription service in favor of advertising.

Times executives may have felt ad revenue would be greater than subscription revenue, but, even if that were not the case, there is a compelling reason to make information free. If access to information is restricted in any way, people will be less likely to refer to it. For example, I would not have linked to a New York Times article on this blog because students would not be able to read the article without paying a subscription fee. By charging a fee, the New York Times had removed itself from the Internet "conversation."

Doug Kaye of the Conversations Network pointed this out some time ago. The New York Times should have listened to his talk on "value of free."

Or, the Times could have read the Internet business classic The Cluetrain Manifesto, which states

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

These markets are conversations.

People also "pay" for information by registering on a site. Does having to register stop you from entering sites or using services?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Freebase -- Wikipedia for structured data?

We have discussed varying degrees of data structure on the Internet, ranging from free-text pages like Wikipedia to rigidly structured relational databases.

Freebase is like a structured Wikipedia, combining the advantages of free text and relational databases. Like Wikipedia, Freebase is open -- any user can create and change content. Unlike Wikipedia, Freebase data is structured so users can query it as they would a relational database.

This example illustrates Freebase. "Topics" are instances of formally defined "types." Here the type is person, and persons have formally defined properties like height, weight, and place of birth.

I am adding a new person (a new topic) to Freebase, myself. I was born in Pasadena, California, and when I began typing a value for place of birth, the system quickly showed the "Pasadenas" in its database with their structured descriptions. It knew that the value of the property had to be a location, and immediately displayed names and property values of locations named "Pasadena." This mechanism both saves time and assures that users have a common vocabulary.

Any Freebase user can create a new topic or change the property values of existing topic. For example, you could add yourself (a new person) to Freebase, and you could also change my place of birth from Pasadena, California to Santiago, Chile.

Thus far, Freebase sounds like a fancy relational database. However, qualified users can also change the structure itself. If one is qualified to be a "type administrator," he or she can create new types and modify the definitions of existing types. For example, one could add the property eye color to the definition of a person.

The developers of Freebase hope that, like Wikipedia, it will attract many users, some of whom are motivated to become type administrators. That way, both the content and structure of a domain of knowledge will evolve over time.

If this sounds interesting, listen to this wide ranging interveiw on Freebase and Metaweb, the system used to create it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fully networked (program and data) applications

Some networked applications use the Internet for communication and data storage. Others go further and use network-based programs accessed through a Web browser. Hotmail and other Web-based email applications were among the first of these fully-networked applications. There are now hundreds, perhaps thousands of them.

This database of fully-networked applications gives a brief description and has reviews of each. New entries are probably added (and others removed as companies fail) daily.

If you find the full list overwhelming, check out the list of applications used by Ismael ChangGhalimi who maintains the full database. Ghalimi is a true aficionado who has only one application -- a Web browser -- installed on his laptop.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

VOIP in US and Europe


We cover voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP). VOIP is widely used for phone systems within organizations, and is taking off in the consumer market. A recent market research report compares VOIP growth in the United States with that in Europe. Note that growth is faster in Europe and that independent companies like Vonage are growing more slowly than the VOIP offerings of cable companies in the US. Unlike their US counterparts, European telephone companies are active participants in the VOIP market.

Google's Mountain View network

We have talked about municipal WiFi networks. Many municipal networks were oversold and have been disappointing. Still, the technology is evolving, and Google has operated a network in their headquarters city, Mountain View, California for a year. The network covers 12 square miles and 25,000 homes and serves approximately 15,000 unique users each month. This is a research project for Google, and perhaps the most interesting thing Google has learned is that over 100 distinct types of portable WiFi devices have been used -- not only laptops. Google applications on Apple's touchscreen portable devices also shows their interest in portable service. You can get a feeling for the Mountain View network at this support site.

Update, 8/2/12. Google's Fiber rollout in Kansas City reminded me of Google's WiFi trial in Mountain View, California (coverage map shown here).

I did not check with Google, but, based on the sparse Web site with a broken link, I would guess that the network was not a great success. Let's hope the KC rollout is!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Network-based image editors

We do most of our image editing using stand alone applications like Photoshop, but there are also network-based image editors. TechCrunch surveyed several recently and FotoFlexer has come out subsequently.

What are the pros and cons of using a network-based image editor compared to a desktop program?

Why connectivity is fast and cheap in Japan and is not in the US

We have seen that US Internet connectivity is rapidly falling behind other nations. This Washington Post article on Japanese connectivity sheds some light on the physical and policy differences that have led to their success. Japan has newer telephone infrastructure and is more densely populated than the US, but. more importantly, their policy makers have created competition where the United States has left control in the hands of powerful telephone and cable companies.

The US Congress sought to introduce competition by passing the 1996 Telecommunication Act. William Kennard, chairman of the United States Federal Communication from 1997-2001 was frustrated in implementing the Act. Near the end of his term he said “all too often companies work to change the regulations, instead of working to change the market,” and spoke of “regulatory capitalism” in which “companies invest in lawyers, lobbyists and politicians, instead of plant, people and customer service." He went on to remark that regulation is “too often used as a shield, to protect the status quo from new competition - often in the form of smaller, hungrier competitors -- and too infrequently as a sword -- to cut a pathway for new competitors to compete by creating new networks and services.”

The telephone and cable companies succeeded in stopping the intended competition, and now the US is falling behind. What are the implications of that failure?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Truveo -- specialized, programmable video search

The first search engines simply looked for key terms in Web pages. Searches quickly became "smarter" -- giving more weight if a term was used in a first line or heading, looking at the proximity of search terms, etc. (These techniques were developed and tested by people like H. P. Luhn in the late 1950s). Google rose to prominence by using the number of links to a page as a measure of its popularity and hence relevance. Search engines are becoming ever more sophisticated.

We are also seeing the rise of specialized search engines. A good example is Truveo. Truveo only searches for video clips, but it is comprehensive with searches of given categories, channels (like CNN or ESPN), tags, etc. Perhaps more important, the application programming interface allows developers to incorporate Truveo searches into their Web sites.

Can you find other, specialized search engines? If so, do they have application programming interfaces that allow them to be used by others?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Desktop-Internet integration

We have seen the evolution of development platforms from batch processing systems through timesharing, personal computers, local area networks and now the Internet. In a recent Dr. Dobb's Journal article, Michael Swaine discusses the return to the desktop.

Swaine outlines four phases of development on the Internet platform:

  1. Static HTML pages
  2. Dynamic behavior exemplified by AJAX and Flash
  3. Application integration -- mashups
  4. Integration of the desktop with network applications
He gives capsule descriptions of development tools that are facilitating network-desktop integration: the dojo Javascript toolkit, Adobe AIR, Google Gears, Microsoft Silverlight, and Joyent Slingshot. With these tools, one can build applications that can store data on either the server or desktop, enabling users to work on-line or off-line.

You can experience this today using Google's RSS Reader. Reader uses a beta version of Gears to transparently store 2,000 items on your desktop for access when you are off-line. The premier version of ThinkFree, built using Slingshot, let's you work with Word, Excel or PowerPoint documents whether they are stored on locally or on the Internet. The beta test is currently closed, but will open shortly.

Is anything wrong with this picture? Since these applications save information locally, a bug or malicious program might cause harm. (As you see here, Gears warns the user). Performance might also be a problem. (Synchronizing for off-line operation with Google Reader takes just over a minute over my slow DSL link even if I made no changes while on-line). But, if your network connection and the speed of your desktop PC were fast enough, you would see equal performance performance regardless of where a file was stored. (That is not the case today for most of us, but what about ten years from now)?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Synchronous collaboration in virtual worlds

Virtual worlds like Secondlife.com are used for synchronous communication. Here we see a panel discussion in a virtual classroom belonging to the Harvard University Berkman Center. Each panelist and attendee designs an avatar, which they control and move around in the virtual space. We see the panelists’ avatars seated at the front of the room and those of the attendees are seated around them. There are also shared spaces like the “flipchart” to the right of the panel. Organizations are experimenting with meetings, press conferences, concerts, and other synchronous events in Second Life.

Second Life is one of many virtual worlds. Some are geared toward a particular user group like children and others are focused on a game. Techcrunch.com tracks such developments and has lists 18 virtual worlds in this post.

Ning, a high-level development tool for social networks

We have spoken of varying levels of abstraction in a development platform, and seen that white-label social networking systems provide a high level of abstraction.

Ning.com is a good example. I used Ning to create a demonstration site. As you see, the site has a typical three column layout. I selected the color scheme and layout by clicking on one of several templates. The left column has links to threaded discussion forums and audio, video and photo libraries. I added them by dragging and dropping four icons. I added the blog in the center with another drag and drop. Note the Google Map mashups showing the locations of the photo and video. A single click could change the menu language from English to Spanish.

Creating the site, selecting the template and features to include, and uploading the library material took less than 30 minutes. There was no learning curve -- a wizard lead me through the steps.

I created this test site using the free version of Ning. I could have turned off the ads and used my own domain name for an additional $25 per month.

Ning is one of several white label social network tools. TechCrunch has published an excellent comparison of Ning and eight others.

Tools like Ning enable you to create complex Web sites with a few mouse clicks. Is there still a need to learn HTML and Web development tools?

An excellent review of white-label platforms for social networking

We have seen the evolution of development platforms from batch processing systems through timesharing, personal computers, local area networks and now the Internet.

Of course, there are varying levels of abstraction within a platform. One could program a batch processing application in assembly language or one could use a high level report generator like FARGO which gave you less control, but made application development much easier.

Today, the Internet is emerging as a first class development platform, and there are high and low-level tools. White-label social networking systems represent a high level of abstraction -- they are the FARGO's of today's Internet. "White-label" is a term taken from retailing, where, for example, a PC manufacuter places the retailer's brand name on their generic PCs. There are several vendors of general purpose social networking programs that allow the user customization.

An excellent review and discussion of these programs is available at TechCrunch.com. Be sure to check out the feature chart accompanying the review. The list of features is a good planning checklist for any Web site.

I kicked the tires on one of Ning, one of the white-label programs, by creating a demonstration site with a blog, forums and audio, video and image libraries. Building the site took under 30 minutes. That illustrates what I mean by a high level of abstraction. (Read more and see the demo site here).

Have you seen other high level tools that enable you to create complex applications without programming?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Quick eye candy for Web page images

swFIR is a simple tool that let's you transform images and render them in Flash. You can easily rotate an image, frame it, have it grow and shrink as the user resizes type, etc.

A hand-held projector -- for your cell phone?

Explay has demonstrated a hand-held projector that they plan to market in 2008. If the images are as bright as the one shown here, and the price is low, they will become ubiquitous. The display electronics fit on one chip, so your next cell phone (or the one after that, or ... ) might contain one of these projectors.

How could you use one of these projectors?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One Laptop per Child hardware ships

I previously posted a link to a presentation by Nicholas Negroponte on the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project. OLPC chairman Negroponte downplays focus on the laptop hardware, stressing that this is primarily an education project. However, the laptop has now gone into production, and the BBC has published an article highlighting its engineering innovations.

This is without doubt a significant project. At the very least, it will put a nifty PC and e-book reader in the hands of millions of poor children. Some of the engineering innovations, like a monochrome display mode suitable for use in bright light, may influence mainstream laptop manufacturers (as the new iPhone may inspire cell phone manufacturers).

Built-in mesh networking will be used for connecting to a local server or other laptops. (It will be interesting to see how well the network performs when a laptop is several hops from the server).

But the biggest win will occur if those village servers are Internet gateways connecting to the rest of the world. Connectivity in developing nations is very poor, and we can only hope that backbone infrastructure projects will match the audacity of the OLPC.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Chiniese Internet and the dictator's dilemma

We have discussed the "dictator's dilemma" -- the desire to have the benefits of the Internet without the threat of political instability. How do you give people access to information for health care, education, science, entertainment, commerce, etc. while blocking political and culturally sensitive information? In this interview excerpt, former NPR China Correspondent Rob Gifford describes the Chinese Internet. Gifford feels the people who are economically well enough off to use the Internet are unlikely to use it against the regime.

This excerpt was taken from an Moira Gunn's interview of Gifford.

An excellent interview on outsourcing

Scott Lemon runs an outsourcing firm called HumanXtensions. He discussed his firm in a recent interview with Phil Windley. They talk about Scott's services, the differences between India and the Philippines, the management of oursource projects, the implications of globalization and outsourcing for today's students, etc. (18 minutes 32 seconds). This is an excerpt from a longer interview. This class note shows leading outsourcing nations.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Google wants the FCC to bring the entire Internet to your cell phone

We have contrasted a "dumb," end-to-end network like the Internet, where services are provided by network users, with a "smart" network, where services are provided by the network operator. In two earlier posts, we saw that Tim Wu and business customers have argued that the cellular networks should move to the open, Internet model.

Google has now joined the fray, saying they would bid on the spectrum that will be made available for auction by the FCC when the US converts to all digital television transmission in 2009 if the following were mandated by the FCC:

  • Users should be able to install any software on their phones and PDAs
  • Users should be able to connect any technically compatible device to the network
  • Auction winners should be able to resell bandwidth to third parties
  • The wireless network should connect to other networks
Of course cell phone companies are opposed to this sort of thing. Holy cow -- someone might install Skype on their smart phone and make VOIP calls or download a video from a Web site that was not paying the cell carrier a commission. The cell system is like the early telephone system. Before the 1968 Carterphone decision, we could not connect things to the telephone network -- not modems or computers or even answering machines.

Respected columnist Robert Cringley agrees with Google's goals, but thinks they will fail and have made a serious business mistake. What do you say?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Japanese cell phone service is better than in the US

Someone who moved from the US to Japan compared cell phone service in the two nations in a post on Slashdot. He wrote:

Before I left for Japan about a year ago, I was using a Nokia 3160. It cost me $40 US and I had to sign a one year contract that Cingular later decided was a two-year contract. I was paying about $40 a month for service and had extra fees for SMS messages.

After I got to Kyoto, I quickly ended up at an AU shop and landed a Casio W41CA. It does email, music, pc web browsing, gps, fm radio, tv, phone-wallet, pictures (2megapixel), videos, calculator etc. I walked out of the store for less than ¥5000 (about $41) including activation fees, and I was only paying slightly over ¥4000 (about $33) per month. That included ¥3000 for a voice plan I rarely used and ¥1000 for effectively unlimited data (emails and internet).

Perhaps someone with more knowledge of the costs facing American mobile providers can explain the huge technology and cost gap between the US and Japan. Why are we paying so much for such basic features?
For some answers to his final question, see the discussion below the post on Slashdot. Note that Slashdot has been an excellent source for discussion of networking for many years.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Scientific collaboration -- the first application

During World War II, President Roosevelt's science adviser Vannevar Bush imagined ways a network could facilitate scientific communication and collaboration. His 1945 Atlantic Monthly article As We May Think inspired internetworking pioneers like Doug Engelbart and J. C. R. Licklider. (See our Internet history notes).

Today, when we think of Internet applications, goofy movies on Youtube or downloading music come to mind -- not scientific collaboration. But the Internet is shaping and facilitating science.

John Udell discussed the role of the Internet in science in an interview of Timo Hannay, Director of Web Publishing, Nature Publishing Group. Nature is a leading scientific journal, and Hannay is looking for ways the Internet can facilitate science. For instance, he is interested in publishing data sets as well as articles and producing videos showing how experiments have been done. (See The Journal of Visualized Experiments). Some current examples of Nature's services are:

  • Connotea.org (bookmarks for scientists -- like del.icio.us)
  • Nature Network (A social network for scientists -- like MySpace)
  • Nature Precedings (Preliminary publication and discussion -- like blogs with comments and a rating system)
Hannay is interested in helping scientists communicate with lay people as well as each other, and they are using Podcasts to that end. Check this short excerpt from the interview for their discussion of the advantages of podcasts.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Soundsnap -- free sound effects and loops

I've added a link to Soundsnap.com to our class notes on audio processing. Soundsnap, a growing library of free, user-contributed sound effects and loops, was established by 25 year old Tasos Frantzolas, a Greek sound designer.

Go to Soundsnap for the barking dog, meowing cat or explosion you need for your podcast, and, while you are at it, how about contributing a sound effect of your own to the collection?

Municipal networks and federal apathy in the US

We have seen that access networks in the United States have fallen behind those of many European and Asian nations. There is no federal government effort or planning, and the ISP industry is dominated by telephone and cable companies which were able to defeat Congress' attempt to generate competition in the 1996 Telecommunication Act.

William Kennard, who, as chairman of the United States Federal Communication from 1997-2001 was charged with implementing the Telecommunications Act, stated near the end of his term that “all too often companies work to change the regulations, instead of working to change the market,” and spoke of “regulatory capitalism” in which “companies invest in lawyers, lobbyists and politicians, instead of plant, people and customer service." He went on to remark that regulation is “too often used as a shield, to protect the status quo from new competition - often in the form of smaller, hungrier competitors -- and too infrequently as a sword -- to cut a pathway for new competitors to compete by creating new networks and services.”

In many cases, municpal governments have tried to close the access gap by developing and contracting for Internet access networks. They have a mix of motivations -- use by city employees, narrowing the digital divide, economic stimulation, providing a service to citizens, etc. and a mix of public-private funding and business models.

W2i organizes conferences on municipal networks, and they have compiled a database with 91 case studies. The case studies include an overview, contact information, and presentations on the projects as delivered at W2i conferences.

Muni-Wireless is another excellent source of information on these networks. They also organize conferences, have an excellent blog, and a Web site with sections on technology, applications, initiatives, and other topics.



What are the implications of the US falling behind in access networks?

Monday, July 16, 2007

New design ... content unchanged

I made a minor design and color change in order to take advantage of Blogger's new layout tools. Note that the content has not changed at all -- the Blogger developers have kept content and presentation independent.

One of the trends we highlight is the falling cost of creating and publishing content. The new Blogger layout tools provide an example. With them, creating and modifying a blog like this is quicker and requires less skill than before.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A closer look at HTTP

We have talked about HTTP being a client-server protocol in which clients retrieve Web pages from servers. A page may contain many objects -- text, images, scripts, flash movies, etc. and therefore require many requests. Three simple tools:

break down a page request, showing the retrieval time of each object on the page. These programs can help us understand the HTTP protocol and tune our Web pages for fast download.

Here we see the analysis of the retrieval of our class home page:



It requires three requests:
  1. retrieval of the page
  2. a call on Google Analytics to record the access
  3. a call on Creative Commons to retrieve the small image at the bottom of the page
The entire page takes around 430 milliseconds to load. The yellow bar shows the time to establish a connection to the server, the green shows the time to request the object, and the blue the time to download it.

Note that these programs treat a script file as a single object without analyzing its content. Therefore, it does not give an accurate picture of a site like www.yahoo.com which uses an extensive Javascript.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Small, quick investments in network-based applications -- venture capital 2.0?

Using the Internet as your development platform drastically reduces the cost, time and risk of building an application and starting a company. For an example, check out Techcrunch's discussion of venture firm Bay Partners' investment fund for people building applications on top of the Facebook platform.

Bay Partners is targeting tens of investments from $25,000 to $250,000 using a flexible, fast-track approval process. There will be many folks applying for this funding -- Facebook says 40,000 developers have requested keys to create applications, and over 1,600 have already launched. Many of those 40,000 are just playing around with the platform, but Bay Partners is hoping to find around ten investment-worthy applications.

Is this venture capital 2.0? What are some of the drawbacks to using Facebook as your development platform?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Using Zoho's cool form-creation service

We illustrated a three-tier application using a simple class roster file. It took me a day to develop, debug and document that application using Active Server Pages (ASP). It consists of six ASP pages, and I needed some knowledge of ASP, Visual Basic, and SQL to develop it.

I implemented the class roster application using the form-creation service at Zoho.com. It took me less than an hour to learn to use the service and implement the application. I needed no knowledge of programming -- it was similar to building the application using a simple database management system like Microsoft Access. Note also that the service-based application has powerful features like data export, access control and report sorting that are missing in the bare-bones ASP version.

The advantages of using a service to create this application are abundantly clear, but there are still questions. Will it scale -- how would it perform if we had an application with thousands of records and dozens of forms and views? Will Zoho continue offering this service -- can I count on it as part of my course curriculum? What will they charge for large databases? Would they be better off implementing their service using a file service like Amazon S3?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Micropayment for storage service


I just received a bill for the very small amount of storage I had used on Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) during the month of July. The charge for my storage and data transfer was 4 cents!

We have talked about micropayments for years, but, until now, I had never made one.

This is a terrific example of Web services. S3 is the base service -- offering reliable, infinitely scalable storage in Amazon's data centers. But, I do not deal directly with Amazon. Jungledisk has virtual disk software that makes my S3 store look like a standard disk drive on my computer. They insulate me from S3, pay Amazon, and bill me. My payment is automatic through another service, Paypal.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Organizational uses of wiki technology

Conference panel discussion are usually pretty lame, but this panel on the use of wikis inside organizations is an exception. The panel has both academic and experienced industrial members who give plenty of practical advice and examples. They note that engaging users can be difficult, and find that additive applications like compiling a list of resources are easier than compiling a knowledge base -- a collection of coauthored documents.

The conference audio is here. The panel was at the the 2006 Wikimania Conference. The other conference session recordings are here

The university is an organization -- how might we use wiki technology in our class? For example, might we coauthor a summary of this panel discussion using a wiki?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Imagining the future

Futuristic videos are a way of imagining the future. Apple's 1987 Knowledge Navigator, which showed how a professor might one day use a networked computer, was one of the earliest and most influential. A more recent one is Prometeus - The Media Revolution, which depicts the Google-owned virtual world of the year 2050.

We have collected links to some works that "imagine the future" at the bottom of our class home page. They include other videos, an excerpt from the talk given by Lyndon Johnson when the US Public Broadcast System was announced, and early visions by important computer scientists.

Can you find other examples of visions of the future?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Audio editing at National Public Radio

This segment of the NPR radio show On The Media illustrates the behind the scenes editing that NPR uses to make their shows sound so smooth and articulate. Listen to the segment (just over ten minutes long) or read a transcript -- it may help with your editing skills.

Web services at Arizona State and Northwestern


Universities are growing rapidly and per-student budgets are falling. Arizona State University is using Gmail and other Google services to cope with this dilemma. In doing so, they hope to exploit Google's accelerating IT technology improvement trajectory and the increasing efficiency of the Internet as an application platform.

For more on the Arizona State project see:

Northwestern has also gone with Gmail and Google Apps for students.

Should our university be utilizing Google services? For what applications? What other services might we use to advantage?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Picnik, an excellent Internet-based photo editor

We talk about the increasing viability of applications that are hosted on the Internet as connectivity spreads and improves. The Picnik photo editor provides a good example. Once loaded, it is a fast photo editor with a very simple user interface. It cannot do everything a high-end editor like Photoshop can do, but it can do most of what an amateur photographer wants. Your photos are online and sharable, and they can easily be imported from other online photo-sharing sites. The basic program is free, and there will be a subscription-based professional version.

What are some of the key features of Photoshop or your favorite desktop editing program that are missing from Picnik? Yahoo allows Picnik users to import photos from their online photo service Flickr. If you were a Yahoo executive, would you allow users to export their photos?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Will business customers force cell network neutrality?

A recent Information Week article criticizes the US cell phone industry for disabling phone features, restricting phones to one network, restricting Internet access, using incompatible communication technologies, and poor quality of service and coverage. For example, the article says that "by some estimates, nine out of ten cell phones in the US are sold by carriers, nearly reverse the ratio in other countries." Compared to the cell companies, wired Internet service providers are good guys and network neutrality advocates.

That is all bad news, but the article maintains that since mobile access is becoming very important in business, the cell companies might be pressured into reform. Consumers take whatever the operators offer, but business will not.

We spoke of this topic in an earlier post on Tim Wu and efforts to obtain wireless net neutrality.

In some nations, cell phones and cell service must be sold separately -- can you find which ones?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Will rising gasoline prices lead to more telecommuning?

Rising gasoline prices have led to reduced driving in the US, and may also lead to increased telecommuting.

We have looked at the case of an hypothetical teleworker. Would you like to telecommute? What are some of the pros and cons from the standpoint of the society, the organization and the worker?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

PRAM -- future memory and electronic storage technology

Our class notes cover progress in electronic, storage and communication technology. Russell Kay has written a short introduction to an emerging technology, phase change random access memory (PRAM). PRAM records ones and zeros by changing the electrical resistance of a microscopic spot. High resistance = 0, low resistance = 1. Intel expects to ship product in 2008, and PRAM may one day replace flash storage and RAM memory.

Hosted versus in-house CRM

As networking technology improves, the alternative of using a software service improves relative to the alternative of running software in house. Still, there are pros and cons for both alternatives, some of which are covered in our class note on software as a service. Network World asked the question "is on-demand CRM better than an on-premises solution?" and published a short debate. You can read the Yes and No arguments online.

Monday, May 14, 2007

How Internet search works

Consultant Mike Moran tells how search works in this four minute audio clip. He describes both organic search, based on page content and link frequency, and paid advertising search. This is an excerpt from a longer interview on his "how to" book on search engine marketing.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Using the Web for customer feedback

Dell solicits product requests from customers on their Ideastorm site. That is fairly common, but they have added a voting mechanism. If a user likes a posted suggestion, he or she can endorse it with a single click. Dell decsion makers (and customers) can query the site to see which requests are most popular and take appropriate action.

37 Signals also makes excellent use of Web forums for customer feedback using threaded discussion forums. Here is the forum for their Basecamp project management service. They accept and discuss feature requests, tips and tricks, how-to questions, bug reports, and examples of Basecamp use along with making announcements.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Home connectivity is lagging in the US

One measure of a nation's home connectivity is the rate of household broadband connections. A recent survey showed that 89% of South Korean homes have broadband connections while the United States has fallen to 25th in the world with 50% penetration. The situation is even worse than these statistics indicate, since US broadband speeds are lower than most nations and costs are higher.

With increasing demand for video content, homes, organizations and other fixed locations will eventually have fiber connections -- our DSL and cable modem connections will one day seem as slow as dial-up connections do today. South-east Asia, led by densely populated nations like China, Japan and South Korea, is deploying fiber faster than the rest of the world. As we see, 47 percent of the broadband connections use fiber:



Why is the US falling behind the rest of the world? What are the implications for a nation of falling behind on connectivity? Are there any advantages?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mobile applications

We all use the Internet from our desktops, but few of us access the Net when we are on the move. Many people expect mobile access to boom. Cellular phone, search, and hardware companies are all developing mobile access products.

Search firms Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have focused on the cell phone. You can try their efforts at http://m.yahoo.com/, google.com/m, and Windows live search.

Text entry is difficult on a cell phone keyboard, so Google and Microsoft are working with voice-based search. You can try them at 800-GOOG411 and 800-555-TELL.

Microsoft, Intel, Apple, phone manufacturers and others are also experimenting with larger form factors than the cell phone. A good example is Intel's Mobile Internet Device. Its features include a four or six inch touch-screen display, stripped-down version of Linux, fast restart from suspended mode, retractable keyboard, GPS radio, and a camera.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Job loss in the long tail: from professional to amateur

The world's largest model train store, Allied Model Trains, has been sold and is downsizing because they cannot compete with low-overhead Internet discounters. Consumers are getting better prices, but many of the highly specialized, knowledgeable store staff will be laid off.


Some of these workers may be able to earn income offering advice and information on-line, for example from advertising or subscription-supported blogs, but they will be in competition with on-line hobbyist communities. In general, amateur train enthusiasts will replace the professionals.


Allied owner Allen Drucker discusses the effect of the Internet on his business in this excerpt (1 min 40 sec) from a recent interview. (The entire interview is here).


This is reminiscent of the time supermarkets replaced small grocery stores or a Walmart store coming to a town. Can you think of other on-line markets where specialized jobs are being lost? What is lost and what is gained when specialized retailers are driven out of business by Internet-based alternatives?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Internet control: Déjà vu

Several governments have recently tried to tighten control over the Internet:

This is nothing new. The Kremlin tried to shut down the nascent Russian Internet -- mostly UUCP at the time -- during the 1991 coup attempt. (You can read about that here).


Nearly every government makes some attempt to control the Internet -- to preserve culture as well as political power. What are some other examples of government control over Internet content? Does the US government control Internet content?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Beginning of the end of music copy protection?

We cover the affect of copyright, which is used to protect music, video and other Internet data. Apple's Steve Jobs has called for dropping copy protection on music, stating that 97% of the songs on a typical iPod music player are already in the open mp3 and AAC formats. The EMI record label has agreed to let Apple sell songs in Apple's AAC format. Microsoft may soon have a similar agreement with EMI.

Presumably Microsoft will distribute the music in the .mp3 format, which, unlike AAC, works with any music player or program. Is this the beginning of the end for copy protection on music? What is the outlook for video?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tim Wu on wireless network neutrality

Skype recently petitioned the FCC to open access to cellular networks in the United States. That petition was based on a study by Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University. Our class notes cover the Carterfone case which opened the wired telephone network, making the end-to-end Internet possible. Wu feels that a neutral-access cellular network would enable Internet-like innovation and competition on wireless networks.

You can read Wu's paper and see the Skype petition at the New America Foundation. Wu was also interviewed on wireless network neutrality by National Public Radio's On The Media. You can hear the interview (with a rebuttal by an industry representative) or read a transcript at the On The Media Website.

Friday, March 30, 2007

VOIP is used in 9% of US homes

In our coverage of voice over IP (VOIP), we saw that VOIP sales passed traditional business PBX sales in 2003. VOIP is making inroads into the home. A recent Instat report states that as of the fourth quarter 2006, more than 10.6 million US households (9%) have at least one active VoIP user. That is up from approximately 9 million households at the end of the third quarter. It seems inevitable that eventually, person-to-person voice will be just another Internet service. Do you use VOIP? If so, do you also have a traditional land-line or cellular phone?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

An open book on open source software

MIT Press has released a free-download version of their book Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software. This is an excellent collection of articles by well known authors. All of them are not open source "cheerleaders." For example, one chapter examines an important Linux module, and is highly critical of the code quality.

With this book, MIT Press has followed the open publishing format of the University of Michigan Digital Culture imprint. Let's hope it works well and more publishers do the same.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Petition to open the cellular networks

In a recent post, we noted that Apple had succeeded in negotiating some control over application and hardware design from Cingular wireless. Now Skype has petitioned the FCC to open cellular networks. If they prevail, we could see a wireless end-to-end network, with Internet like innovation. Wouldn't that be cool?

My guess is that the cellular companies will fight this vigorously, but that might be short sighted. If they provided competitively priced Internet access, they would take the wind out of the municipal network and hotspot movements. More important, an open wireless network would be an important piece of infrastructure, providing a much needed boost to the US economy and our sagging Internet.

There will be powerful companies on both sides of this important issue -- make your voice heard by signing an FCC petition.

The Skype petition is not yet posted on the FCC Web site, but we will update this post with a link when it is.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lessig on copyright "orphans"

What happens if you are not sure who owns the copyright to something you want to use?

Lawrence Lessig, Stanford law professor and the inventor of Creative Commons licensing, discusses this "orphan" problem in the following presentations:

Lessig on spectrum deregulation

Lawrence Lessig, Stanford law professor and the inventor of Creative Commons licensing, gives his views on spectrum deregulation in this presentation.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Overview chapter for a Globaltext book

The Global text project hopes to create a free library of 1,000 electronic textbooks for students in the developing world. One text, which is under construction, will introduce information systems.

I have just drafted a chapter that surveys quite a bit of the material we cover in this course. I'd appreciate feedback -- it is a first draft.

Apple negotiates for end-to-end control on the Cingular network

Our notes emphasize the fact that the Internet is an end-to-end network with application development, funding, hardware, and content being supplied by users, not carriers. Telephone, cable and cell phone companies would rather sell specific services which they provide, charge for and control.

Cellular companies have kept tighter control than telephone and cable companies, but this Wall Street Journal article says Apple's Steve Jobs played hardball in negotiating control over application and hardware design with Cingular in return for being the exclusive carrier for iPhone calls.

This means Apple can innovate. For example, iPhone users will be able to display a list of phone messages and listen to them out of order rather than consuming call minutes while a synthesized voice says "you have ten new messages ..." then listening to them one at a time. Try that with your current cell phone.

Amazon Web Services, a case study

Podcasting pioneer Doug Kaye, Amazon's Jeff Barr and others discuss a complex application Kaye built using Amazon Web Services. Kaye describes both the system architecture (loosely coupled services buffered by queues) and the business reasons (zero startup cost and seamless scalability) for using Amazon's virtual servers and storage rather than his own. He also expresses concern about the lack of a service-level agreement and dependence upon Amazon. Barr talks about Amazon's plans and the important role of the developer community. The show notes contain other links for those interested in more detail and other applications Amazon-based applications.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Larry Lessig talk on "The Withering of the Net"

Larry Lessig, inventor of Creative Commons licensing, gave a talk on "The Withering of the Net" at the Center for American Progress in Washington June 2006. Lessig mentions many things we cover -- the breakup of AT&T, telecommunication regulation, the end-to-end principle, license-free spectrum, copyright, net neutrality, etc. He fears Congress will let powerful network and media companies stifle innovation and participation. Favoring the "read-only" network at the expense of "read-write" network will harm our culture and economy.

Download the talk or the transcript.

If you find it interesting, you will also like Lessig's presentation on US copyright law.