Thursday, June 30, 2005

Imagine being able to assume Fed Ex

Today I am thinking about friction and the planet.

For the last month I have been deperately searching for a signed copy of my brother's will. The family attorney knows it existed, as he drew it up. But he doesn't keep signed copies of documents he draws up. I've been trying to get a bank to drill open a family safe deposit box with little luck.

The attorney's office, the bank, the house that I grew up in (and that my brother lived in) are all within a 5 mile radius. But there was a lot of legal friction within those five miles: finding a signed will. And under (benighted) Alabama law, without a signed will, things are awful.

The bank drilled the box in the attorney's presence yesterday, and it was like Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's vault. Well it was a little better; they found some family photos. But no will. Ironically, Redstone Credit Union also opened two boxes yesterday -- and they found my brother's signed will.

Now here's the funny part. They are Fed Exing the contents to me. There's a bunch of stuff besides the will, so it will cost all of $70. I will then turn around and Fed Ex the will to our attorney. That will cost me perhaps $12.

I was all set to get on a plane and try to deal with this stuff in person. That would've cost hundreds of dollars, and of course time.

Now we will do two Fed Ex transactions in order to move a legal document 3 miles in Decatur, Alabama. The total cost will not exceed $100. You might think that's a lot of money to move a document 3 miles in 2 days. To me, right now, it's incredibly cheap.

Lore has it that a Yale professor gave the founder of Fed Ex, Frank Maguire, a poor grade on a term paper proposing the basic concept of overnight package delivery. It makes you wonder what other great ideas have been similarly quashed.

I learned about the Web in Columbus Ohio in March 1993. I was attending the spring meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). A fellow who used to work at Michigan State, Rob Raisch, introduced me to a fellow named Tim Berners-Lee, who would later be known -- and knighted -- as the inventor of the Web.

Tim showed me some examples of what the Web could do. It was cool, but it was primitive. I showed him some cool stuff we'd done at Michigan State, notably our Gopher archive of audio of the Presidential debate of 1992 on campus with Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Perot. Tim asked me why Gopher lacked hyperlinks. I lacked an adequate response.

A few years later, at I believe the second W3C conference, I asked Tim to reflect on the Web revolution. He said "For the Web revolution to occur, we needed to assume the Internet. Once we could, we could build the Web. Now watch what happens when we can assume the Web."

I said "You mean we ain't seen nothing yet?" He echoed "Right. We ain't seen nothing yet."

We all know -- or we think we know -- how important the Web is. Right now, I'm thinking, the Fed Ex revolution is more important. You can move documents or objects of incredible importance thousands of miles for tens of dollars. Hell, can you even get a colleague to move something important at your workplace that fast?

Watch what happens when we can assume Fed Ex. Oh: we already do.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I was an airman in the U.S. Air Force in 1990 when we used an intranet system to share data and messages between military bases. We were excited to because we could send a message to a friend in the military on another base by using a computer. It wasn't called email yet, the military had some long name for the communique so it could have an acronym. Just to let you inside some simple info regarding early uses of a DOD Web.