Friday, May 25, 2007

Mid 90s view of the future Web: cable modems, and the insights of John Naisbitt

It was the mid 1990s. The awesome possibilites of a future broadband Internet were before us. We introduced the Web to a famous futurist, and reported the dreams of how cable modems and content deals would transform the world.

In October 1995 my friend John Liskey arranged for Chuck Severance and me to interview some impressive folks at the Midwest Cable Show in Indianapolis. We interviewed the famed author of Megatrends, John Naisbitt. We had a cable modem set up at the show so we could demonstrate the future world of residential broadband. Naisbitt had been out of the country, in Asia, researching a book. It's my impression that he saw the Web for the first time via that cable modem.

Besides Naisbitt, I interviewed an engineer explaining a radical new device that provided Internet access to the home at 10 megabits per second. Dr. David Walker of the late, lamented Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) described the cable modem they offered at the time. Just a few months earlier,Liskey had a cable modem installed at my house; thus since summer 1995, making me, I claim, one of the first few hundred people in the country with residential broadband. (I have no way to verify this claim.) Dr. Walker gave the example of finding Beatles outtakes and bloopers on the Net, and how broadband could bring multimedia to the home. Looking back, he accidentally predicted both YouTube and RIAA lawsuits.

David Coles spoke optimistically to Chuck about @Home, TCI's venture at the time to deliver content over broadband to homes and small businesses.

Lo how the world has changed.

TCI is now long gone, devoured in the many mergers of the dot com era. @Home is a footnote in the history of broadband. And my Comcast cable modem in the basement offers service at a fraction of the speed serving our house in 1995.

Hmmm.... What is John Naisbitt thinking about today?

Check out the video, a wistful window into the excitement and anticipation we all felt in the 90s about the future of the Internet.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The peril of thinking that Gmail (Beta) is in production

For the last few hours, I've been unable to access my Gmail account. Error 502, whatever that is. I'm on deadline to finish an article, and some essential quotes are locked in my inaccessible Gmail Inbox.

Right up there on the Gmail logo, it says "Beta". They gave me fair warning. But I treat it as production, my total e-mail solution, a service I can trust.

My bad.

How many people think of Gmail as an industrial-quality, trustworthy, production service? What are Google's criteria for taking this product, introduced in April 1994, out of beta? When they do, what level of service can we expect?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Logistics conundrum: how do you evacuate a zoo?

IT folks spend a lot of time doing disaster planning, thinking through various scenarios, writing plans, and testing those plans. At my Day Job at Michigan State, my colleagues just installed some MSU servers at Penn State so that MSU can have a Web presence even if lots of technology in East Lansing gets wiped out.

Right now a fire in Griffith Park has the zookeepers worried. It's not immediately threatening to zoo, but yesterday they evacuated the humans. They said they considered evacuating the animals but decided not to.

I don't understand the logistics. How the hell do you evacuate the animals in a zoo? Build a land ark?

Does a large zoo have enough trailers and cages to hold all, or even a substantial fraction, of its animals?

Where would you take them? How would you care for them?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Facebook polemic: Flash as pamphleteer medium

Bill Moyers compares today's bloggers to the pamphleteers of the American Revolution. I think you could describe what I call the Flash polemic the same way. The style involves a professional-sounding, measured narration over words and images moving about the screen. Here's an example:

It's not just a polemic; it's a conspiracy theory involving the CIA, BBN, and DARPA.

I'm not sure I buy the conspiracy theory but I think the format is compelling. It's longer than an issues ad but it's shorter than a documentary. The production values are better than, say, a spot on local television, and much better than much of what you see on YouTube.

We'll see much more of this new form, I think.