You thought that was bad – then check this conspiracy theory

Conspiracy theories have always amused me immensely. In fact ghost and spook stories have been more often enjoyed for their amusement rather than to stoke up a bout of fearful hysteria. Not even horror or spy movies quite shocked us to the extend the producers had in mind. Although The Bourne Identity trilogy would be awarded a top place in the almost ran stakes.

It was an ongoing joke in the family while living in Durban to hunt for the mythical ever present Tokeloshes under our beds. We didn’t quite stoop to putting bricks under the bed legs as any self-respecting Tokeloshe believer would. And just to be politically correct, this quick trip down memory lane in no way wishes to undermine the rights of people to believe in Tokeloshes. It just wasn’t for us.

However, reviewing the comments left on my blog as well as those on the Mail & Guardians’ Thoughtleader site where I had submitted the article ‘Facebook – a secret harvest’ has made me re-evaluate my attitude towards conspiracy theories.

It seems that after all, according to some readers, I suffer from extreme forms of the disease. My pointing out the extent of harmful power that the company Facebook has over what it can do with the data of its members, made some readers accuse me of extreme paranoia.

Can you imagine what such readers, and their comments and observations are honoured in the blogosphere, will have to say about the following. I was reading in that lofty of all journals, The Wall Street one, an article on the online advertising industry and the title is most appropriately ‘ Watching What You See on the Web.’

It’s in part about CenturyTel Inc. The company is originally a phone service provider, but stiff competition has forced it to diversify into the online-advertising business. The technology the company is using to play in this market, is Big Brother to the enth degree. The system allows the company to observe and analyse the online activities of its internet customers, keeping tabs on every Web site they visit.

The technology has been developed by a Silicon Valley start-up called NebuAd Inc and is installed right into the phone company’s network. NebuAd uses the collected information in such a way as to be able to offer adverts totally targeted to individual consumers.

It’s called behavioral targeting. And it has been improved, if that is the correct word, to something called ” deep-packet inspection boxes”. This means a tracking device inside the Internet Provider’s network follows all the sites the consumer visits and with this information is able to deliver far more detailed information to potential advertisers.

The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) often also know the name, location, age and income range of the consumer which all adds value to the information supplied to advertisers. And we have such faith in our ISPs!

So why all this infringement on people’s privacy? I think it boils down to the fact that conventional advertising in newspapers, radio and TV is not delivering anymore. The consumer has lost interest and has moved on to find his or her entertainment and information on the internet.

Advertisers have yet to work out how to catch the consumer on the internet. Sure, a fair amount of online Adspend , about 58%, is finding its way into such areas as search, about 23% into display, approximately 19% to classifieds. But this is a fairly inexact science so far.

Just as an example, two companies I have done some work with tried Google Adwords. And it was really a huge waste of money with loads of expensive traffic coming through but with visitors showing no real interest in the product or service. Natural SEO has been far more effective to these companies.

In their bid to sell products, advertisers are making some very shady decisions to ensure their adspend gets a decent ROI. And what gets to me the most, besides of course the secret snooping into my online activities all the time, is the fact that the consumer has to opt out.

The onus is always on the little man to stop being harassed. Surely it should be more like, advertisers asking for permission to intrude. But of course this does not happen. Nobody would give them permission to allow such insidious hounding.

Whatever is happening out there in cyberspace at the moment, it is still fairly innocent. We have seen nothing yet as to the infringement on personal space and the aggressive in your face marketing and advertising that will be spewed at the internet user. It is so easy because it is so hidden. Users beware! Conspiracy theories? Tokeloshe under the bed? You bet.

Belief is suspended – just like the Matrix

We sat around a couple of bottles of red wine, as one does on a chilly autumn evening in the UK, chatting about this and that and the topic of music came up, as it does when talking to the younger generation.

One of the group is working on her Master’s thesis. It deals with the topic of music and at the same time explores new forms of user interfaces. But her take on user interfaces is fascinating. She is looking to see how, traditionally, people have moved things around.

For instance have you noticed how many times a day you open and close a door? Is that how we store and move stuff around? Surely that is how the computer surface should be working by allowing the user to figuratively open and close doors. Touch screens here we come. No more clicking of a mouse. Nice topic for a future conversation, me thinks.

While working on her thesis she has explored trends of music and how popular music reflects the thinking of its time. For instance the sixties music reflected the peace, flowers and dope times. The popular 1967 Beatles’ song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ being a good example.

But what was even more fascinating was that her interpretation of the now generation, the youth of today, is that it is a ‘whatever’ generation. Listen to Lily Allen and her lovely chirpy music, depressing ‘whatever’ type lyrics. Her song ‘Smile’ talks about her partner cheating on her and she turns to her ‘friend’ to get some happiness. One does have an idea what friend that is. ‘When I see you crying, it makes me smile…;’ Depressing!

The music appealing to the youngsters is about ‘whatever’. With other words, the message is that we don’t really care about politics, economics, college, work, relationships and ‘whatever’. Everything is ‘whatever’. Have you heard the way this generation says ‘whatever’? It provides a whole new meaning to the word.

So what should find it’s way onto my computer screen shortly thereafter, but a hugely interesting article by Bert Olivier, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Port Elizabeth South Africa, who introduced me to the writings of Sherry Turkle a clinical psychologist who is also Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT.

Sherry Turkle talks about ‘Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet’. In this particular article she discusses the role-playing of people who take part in MUDs or role-playing games. People who really live their avatars or online characters tend to suspend disbelief. The online world becomes the real world in the moment of playing the game.

For different games the players compose or invent new characters and during the course of the game they immerse themselves in this particular world. In this way it could mean that the user adopts several different identities. None of them are real.

However, these online games allow players to assume or construct a range of personalities and realities. These may become more real than the player’s real life. Life becomes simulation and the game’s story becomes a representation of the self, society and reality. Life itself becomes the stage where one acts out ones fantasies.

With the progress of science and technology it could very well become a fact of life that simulation and real life become indistinguishable. As an example of this check out the ‘Reality TV Shows’. These shows are anything but based on reality, yet viewers become so involved in the show they buy into the simulation of life, not realising that they are being manipulated with every minute of broadcast.

So if the game player does not know what reality is anymore, then nothing will get them excited anymore. They are just observers. They no longer participate, except of course by clicking the mouse. The players take life’ at interface value’ says Sherry Turkle and ‘suspend belief’.

This of course plays into the hands of advertisers, politicians, spin doctors or corporate business for instance. If we have suspended belief then any message could be received provided it fits into a game and takes on wonderful images. Just enjoy the pretty messages, the users are not going to get the significance of the manipulation.

The internet has become hugely important in the American presidential campaigns. Suspend belief is the political message. Don’t worry about the troops in Iraq. Never mind Afghanistan. No problem with Sudan. Once those oil wells have been secured and big business has its contracts, we will move onto other greener pastures. Oh and as for the economy, and the financial problems. No worries. A few heads will roll. Business as usual. Aren’t these flowers pretty, dear?

Facebook – a secret harvest

I was not going to bother with another article on Facebook, or any other social networking site. But then this video flitted across my Mac and it just forced me to take up the pen again, or pull up the keyboard and touchpad.

There are two things I want to point out. And for the rest, I anticipate that the intelligent reader will join the dots, make the connection. With other words, dear reader, if you are member of a social network site such as Facebook, you might want to be cautious as to what you post on it.

First of all, here is an excerpt from the terms, which you would have agreed to when you joined, which I cut and pasted off the Facebook site. Bit long, but worth fighting your way through. Odds are you didn’t when you signed up. They state as follows:

By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

In plain English that says that Facebook can take all of the info you have posted onto Facebook, whether about yourself or your friends, and use that information as it wishes to. If anybody reads that differently, let me know. I would love to be wrong on this one.

What’s more, even if you choose to remove what Facebook calls your User Content, or what you would call the info you have posted onto their site, Facebook retains the right to keep archived copies of your User Content. With other words, information on you is still owned and used by Facebook for however long they would like to make use of it.

Have you ever tried to get yourself deleted off a dating site? I have. Even when I caused a riot, the administrators of the site emailed me to say that my information was no longer visible but they had nevertheless archived it. That was the best deal I could get. And they sounded surprised. Not many people have insisted on the same, by the sounds of it.

Secondly. Lets have a look at who invested money in Facebook and who could have a say in how that information is used. The first bit of venture capital, half a million, came from Peter Thiel previously founder and CEO of PayPal. Peter Thiel is now involved in Vanguard PAC an American ultra conservative organisation.

Then Accel Partners gave Facebook $12.8 million in venture capital in May 2005. Accel’s manager and Facebook Board Member James Breyer previously served on the board of NVCA with Gilman Louie CEO of In-Q-Tel. To get an idea of what In-Q-Tel is about, check the copy on their Our Aim page which states the following:

“Launched by the CIA in 1999 as a private, independent, not-for-profit organization, IQT was created to bridge the gap between the technology needs of the Intelligence Community and new advances in commercial technology.” Read more here.

Guess what. It’s the CIA. For those not in the know, the CIA is the Central Intelligence Agency of the States. The American equivalent of the Secret Service. In addition James Breyer has other connections to ‘spooks’ and American secret services. View the video that tripped across my Mac for further information.

So what do we have here. We have a private organisation that openly states in its terms of service that it intends to use any information you post on its site, for any purpose it feels like. And we also see that there is some fairly straight forward connection to the CIA with a member of the Board. And thirdly, we have an organisation that need never destroy your data.

Shouldn’t you be a lot more careful as to what you put up on Facebook? Those drunken and debauched pictures of you as a student were really fun to take and share. But they could stop you from getting a senior job in ten years time. Never mind the immediate penalty of having the university’s disciplinary body chasing after you as happened at Oxford in July 2007.

Then there are those third generation Iraqi immigrant friends of yours. Totally fabulous people, but with the names they have, you are at risk in the USA of suddenly having card carrying membership of Al-Qaeda just by virtue of the fact that you might know somebody with an Arabic sounding surname. And yes, the US Department of Homeland Security has that level of paranoia. Just check some of the stories on Amnesty International on detainees at Guantanamo.

So have you joined the dots yet? If you have a Facebook profile do filter your future content through a multi-layered process. Regrettably you can’t do anything about the stuff that is already there! Ask yourself: is what I am posting ok for my career, reputation, personal safety and is my ID secure from fraud amongst many other questions. With other words, is it really worth playing the Facebook game?

My new LG Viewty – getting into it

A few days ago my new LG Viewty arrived. Much excitement. I haven’t had a new phone for about four years. That is new out of the box. I have had a fair number of hand-me-downs via the daughters. Believe me no hardship, as they were the latest on the market just with about six months on the clock.

First impressions do count. The packaging is very impressive and the phone itself very sleek to look at and has a good feel in the hand. In terms of the goodies in the box, the only jarring item was the small CD that presumably has the information in interactive presentation.

I would have liked to have had a look at it. But these small discs just don’t agree with a MacBookPro. The CD drive doesn’t slide out of the machine for one to fit a small CD into it. So there went that idea. Will have to dust off the Dell desktop monster for that then. And another Mac complaint. The Viewty microsite doesn’t run on Safari. Boo. Good thing I run Firefox as well.

I was impressed with how easily I managed to get the phone assembled. The ‘lid’ or back panel to get at the battery and sim card is easy to operate and fairly intuitive. There is a clever way one uses the lid to lift the battery out, which I missed, but managed to do with my fingers.

I have a bad habit of trying my luck first. Manuals are only there when one is absolutely terminally stuck! I would imagine I share that with the rest of humanity. Since I had a Nokia a while back that I could not get the back off to check battery or sim card, I have a phobia about opening phones. But this one is ease itself.

I predominantly use a mobile phone to text family and friends in the UK and in South Africa. It’s my best ever. So the first thing I launched into was the text features. Phew. The touch screen will take some getting used to. It is quite a change from the feel of buttons to flat screen and touch.

I had to read the manual to work out how to erase mistakes. The c key outside of the screen area is not an obvious spot for a delete button. I’m only about 60% accurate with the Qwerty keyboard. What has been quite surprising to me is how I have to search for letters. I have always touch typed, so know where the keys are intuitively if all ten fingers hover over a keyboard. Now I am looking at the keyboard and wondering where the u is!

But I love the feature where at the touch of an icon it brings up numbers to replace the Qwerty letters and provides some odd letters as well. Great stuff. However, originally I had not looked at them properly, celebrating that there were umlauts. On closer examination, regrettably not. My sister lives in Germany. I text her in German. Always a battle to work out how to put those dots onto vowels.

Even the normal numbered keypad feels different and in fact I found it easier initially to adapt to the Qwerty one. But I’m so slow! And I am definitely not going to be able to text while driving. Well not any time soon anyway. Shouldn’t be doing that in any case… I think it is in the touch though. Light touch is what it’s all about. Let the fingers dance, no more hammering at those keys.

There might be a feature which will allow me to adjust the sensitivity of the touch. There is something called Touchpad calibration, but haven’t quite worked out what that’s for. I don’t think I would want the touch to have to be heavier though. It’s just a matter of getting used to it.

You might think I’m making a big song and dance about this touch screen typing bit. It’s a big change. Many older users might be put off by it. I have a word of advice to those. Keep at it. Get used to it. I have a feeling that touch screen will become the default feature on gadgets. Not just on mobile phones either.

There is one thing though that has annoyed me to the enth degree. I have not been able to adjust the very short time the phone allows before shutting down to battery saving mode. This is extremely irritating when holding phone in one hand and manual in other. By the time you have read half a sentence, the phone has shut down. So now I am on LG’s website to see whether I can find the instructions.

That’s all for now. The next article will talk about how I fumbled around to try and make a phone call! And how easily I Bluetoothed music from my computer across to my phone. And the sound isn’t half bad. Very cool.

Never – is a dangerous word to use

Just to have some fun, here are some predictions by more or less famous people about all sorts of things. One thing this list teaches us is to be careful when saying ‘never’! When I wrote an article on the death of the PC, several people shot back at me that the PC would never die. Well. Let’s look at some predictions that were way off target.

Let’s start with flying. Wilbur Wright, who with his brother Orville, managed their first successful flight in 1903, just two years before was positive that man would not fly for another 50 years. Lord Kelvin, British mathematician and physicist, president of the British Royal Society was sure in 1895 that Heavier-than-air flying machines were impossible.

Thomas Edison, American Inventor, stated in 1895 that it was apparent to him that the possibilities of the airplane had been exhausted and that one should turn elsewhere. Wrong!

As for cars. Business Week decided in 1968 that Japanese cars were unlikely to carve out a big share of the American market for themselves. Ah oops. And here is somebody who must have kicked himself in later years. The president of the Michigan Savings Bank advised Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co. in 1903 as the horse was definitely here to stay and the car but a fad.

The Scientific American maintained that the car had practically reached the limit of its development in 1909, and in 1899 the Literary Digest put its money on the bicycle being more popular than the horseless carriage.

So what did people have to say about computers? Popular Mechanics decided in 1949 that the computer in the future may have only 1 000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons. Ken Olsen, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., maker of big business mainframe computers couldn’t see any reason for anyone wanting a computer in their home.

Then there was the editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall who in 1957 felt quite strongly that data processing was a fad and wouldn’t last out the year. Robert Lloyd, an IBM executive couldn’t quite work out what the microprocessor was useful for in 1968. That’s the bit that is at the heart of the modern computer.

Some wise person at Western Union decided in a memo that the telephone was not going to be of any value to the company. That was in 1878. As for the Chief Engineer at the British Post Office, he thought only the Americans would need a telephone. After all the Brits had loads of messenger boys to do the same job!

As for the U S, President Hayes in 1876 thought the telephone was a great invention but he couldn’t quite work out who would want to use it. In 1868 the New York papers reported on the arrest of some poor ill informed person who was trying to sell shares in his company so that he could develop the telephone. As if the human voice could be conveyed any distance over metallic wires! Heaven forbid.

What about television? A movie producer Darryl Zanuck thought that people would get bored staring at a plywood box every night. Did he get that one wrong. And a radio pioneer, Lee DeForest was sure that commercially and financially the TV was an impossibility and in his words ‘a development of which we need waste little time dreaming’.

Space travel has also had its share of disbelief. Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal of the UK, 1957 considered space travel to be bunk. This was a mere two weeks before the Russian space vehicle Sputnik orbited the earth. Then the same Lee DeForest, opening his mouth again to change feet, felt that any kind of man-made space voyage would never occur and was worthy of wild dreams of science fiction writers.

And for a final example of how silly it is to pronounce a never statement, the light bulb, of all things, had its fair share of detractors. Again the Brits felt that the Americans could do with light bulbs, but it was definitely unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men in the UK. Henry Morton, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology was also convinced that the light bulb was a conspicuous failure.

It will be interesting to see how many of our gadgets that we are so comfortable with right now, such as mobile phones, TVs, computers, digital cameras etc will be the same in ten or twenty years time. Will we be using trains, motor cars or airplanes to travel from A to B or will we be jumping into hovering pods to go to travel centres where we can teleport to other planets to visit relatives and friends.

Will we have chips implanted in our writs for instance, that allow us to dial up to friends with similar chips in their wrists. Will we have plants that talk to us reminding us to water them. What about clothes that automatically adapt to temperature changes so that we don’t need to take coats and scarves anymore.

Whether any of these will happen time will tell. What will be certain though is that a whole bunch of people will have many ‘nevers’ to say. Even supposedly clever and highly educated people will throw those nevers out at will. So if you feel the computer will never die, don’t feel bad if some totally new gadget replaces it. You are bound to have been in good ‘never’ company.

To Twitter gets a new meaning that has nothing to do with birds

There are more than 540 000 words in the English language. This is apparently about five times more than during Shakespeare’s time. Amongst the many new words or meanings fighting to get accepted onto the hallowed pages of the Oxford English Dictionary would be ‘twittering’ and that would not involve birds.

It was early February of this year that I was introduced to a demonstration of Twitter and the verb to twitter. It was the occasion of the Twitter Tea Party that made me realise that this little bit of software, running on the internet, or on a phone near you, seemed to have a future.

The Twitter Tea Party was being held at our house and was a celebration of the fact that we had all survived the festive season and the subsequent Christmas sales and were ready to face the new year. Everybody brought cake and most participants brought their computers as well. No self-respecting geek leaves home without one.

During this festive occasion the twitter site was open on most of the computers with conversations being tracked and responded to while munching through a huge pile of cake. In fact, the entire happening, from walking to our house, cake consumption, socialising, leaving and arriving at home again was shared with the Twitter community.

At this point, it might be an idea to expand a little on what Twitter is. It is the quintessential micro-blogging service. No message may be longer than 140 characters. Definitely short story time here. The Twitter website acts like a clearing house. All messages are routed via the site and one may pick up the conversation either via the site or sms’d to ones mobile phone.

There are variations to this service of course. One particular nice feature is that one can set up temporary Twitter communities to share special occasions with. This would apply to such events as conferences, political rallies or even family celebrations. All it requires to work would be participants. And to go big, the actual Twitter page could be streamed onto a huge wall with the help of a data projector. That’s sharing for you.

This kind of sharing of all things important and trivial with other people who are not necessarily friends but could purely be following one another, almost a case of stalking one could surmise, was something I couldn’t really relate to. I vaguely asked the group as to who would want to know that I was now consuming a muffin, and the chorus back was – I would. Wow.

So I signed up for a Twitter account shortly thereafter. As with all of these networking sites available, one needs to work at them, which is something I haven’t done. Nine months down the line I have four people I follow and seven followers on Twitter. Ms Popularity? Not. There just seemed no reason to want to find out what kind of muffin people were eating or where they were going to have a mid-morning cup of coffee.

But then, I think, I am totally missing the point here. It’s not about the muffin, or the cup of coffee. It’s all about sharing a simple human action that is watched by others and responded to, that makes one feel part of a community. Facebook on the hoof, so to speak.

In the fragmented world that we live in, where there is no job or home security, where relationships might not last that long, or your favourite techie tools are obsolete within a few months, it is really re-assuring to know that there are people out there who want to share with you the ordinary bits of life. It is almost as if this easy communication, in 140 characters or less, provides a stability that other parts of our life don’t anymore.

To add to this insight, yesterday I found out about the really useful side of Twitter.  We had a meeting arranged at London’s Canary Wharf. From Brighton this is a convoluted two hour long journey – one way. It occurred to us to Twitter to see how public transport was measuring up. Lo and behold, a broken down train and emergency repair services were blocking the stretch between Brighton and Gatwick causing up to 90 minutes delay.

Thus warned, the way around that was to take the car to Gatwick. The website for the train service would have carried that delay on page three if at all, with other words, nobody would have considered checking.

Is this a sign of the times, to have a fairly popular communications tool and growing as we speak, that only allows a max of 140 characters per message. Do we only have time for such short bursts of communication and does that not make our lives seem the poorer for it?

Or perhaps it is only really an indication of the way we want to  communicate and that is in abbreviated text messages.  A tool pops up that allows us to do just that and is an extension of the text messaging used on mobile phones.  Whatever the social reasoning behind the phenomena of micro-blogging, I have decided that I want to become a Twitterer. So, who can I follow?

Free advice to anybody wishing to start another Facebook

This is the kind of business people dream and fantasise about. Facebook was launched in February 2004. In November 2007 it was reported that Microsoft bought a 1.6% share of the company for $240 million. You can do the sums to check out how much the market seems to think Facebook is worth now, in just under four years.

So you think you might want to do something similar. There is even software available, called Ning, that can get you started. You won’t need to employ a galaxy of developers to set it up, which would mean that you wouldn’t need to go cap in hand and find some venture capital. But if you did want your own developers and the whole story to go with it, about $50 million would do nicely.

Of course by now there are hundreds of competitors out there. But that’s no problem. With the masses of people on the internet and the numbers increasing rapidly, there will be some interest group out there in cyberspace who could be served by setting up an online community. Do remember that clever thinking by Chris Anderson on The Long Tail theory.

A quick think, and here’s one for you, free to use. A social network site that caters to people who love dressing up as pirates and speaking the pirate lingo. This group would like to live pirate lives for more than just one day a year, on international Talk Like a Pirate day September 19. You are sure to think of many yourself.

By now you will be impatiently tapping your fingers on the desk. Where is this free advice? So here it is, and you can thank me later, once you have made your mega millions. Once your social network site is up and it has a few thousand members, open it up to outside developers.

Is that it, I can hear the chorus. This hardly sounds like a magic formula. But it is. The business giants of this century, present and future, will be the ones who open up their business to outside participants. It really makes sense, and in any case why do it all yourself when there are so many willing participants out there?

For some light hearted fun, watch the video on YouTube where you will find Steve Ballmer making that precise point. He just went a bit overboard! Ballmer is CEO of Microsoft and his little dance and scream routine was all about celebrating developers.

External developers in this context are individuals or companies who develop products to run with, or enhance, ones core products. Developers do this at risk to themselves, investing their resources into projects which they hope will be popular with the same clients that, as an example, Microsoft’s products serve.

Facebook has done just that by launching an API this year. It certainly made me sit up and think that social networking could be around much longer than I originally had thought. The purpose of social networking had evaded me. After all I have been a Facebook member since the beginning of the year and have, so far, accumulated all of 17 friends, of which only one is a proper friend! Hardly a peak user.

In techie terms an API, the acronym stands for application programming interface, is a source code interface. For us amateurs it means that it provides the parameter to allow other developers to write little applications that can run on the mother ship, so to speak. As an example, a developer has written a software application that allows one Facebook user to play scrabble with another Facebook member. This application plugs onto Facebook’s software.

This kind of participation creates, in the case of Facebook, a bigger buzz, more fun things to do, greater interactivity with your friends, in other words a whole new fun time to be had. And all this at no major development cost to Facebook, that is at no more cost than they have had to spend to develop their own bits and pieces.

Microsoft for instance does the same in providing the API for developers to write their software to run on MS Windows. This means that companies such as Adobe will develop their Flash software to run on Vista. And this doesn’t cost Microsoft anything. At the same time it adds immense value to the operating system.

This sounds so logical, one would think. However, have a look at some industries and instances where this is not happening. The mobile phone industry is particularly locked up to outsiders. This has meant that the development of the phone technology and services offered to users has crept along very slowly.

With the huge number of users worldwide, the mobile phone market is certainly large enough to make it worthwhile to develop large number of additional products. But what is available? Nice little pouches, fancy earphones? Even Apple, who knows the value of external developers, has buttoned down its iPhone.

The music, film and broadcast industries are similarly insulating themselves from anybody who is encroaching on their turf. Jealously they protect their industries and their intellectual property. In this way it will surely contribute to their demise. Protecting what you have rather than encouraging people to develop for it, and in this way finding new ways to do business, will be a business killer in this society where the digital revolution has allowed the sharing of everything.

Watch the excellent TED talk by Larry Lessig, Stanford professor and foremost authority on copyright issues. While the entertainment industry tries to rein in the likes of Napster and YouTube, are they not missing the boat? Instead of seeing what the digital era can do to enhance their business they are trying to erect barriers.

So if you are considering setting up a social networking site, or in fact are considering any business venture, keep it open to everybody. Sure, some people will try and take you for a ride. But the benefit of having many brains and energies participate in your venture will far outweigh any little bits of theft perpetrated by the trolls out there.

Make space for the PC in the museum

Three days of wonderful inspirational stuff at the Flash on the Beach conference has regrettably come to an end. As an aside, I get a beach towel and beach thongs, or flip flops for the South African readers, in my free handout kit. It’s all of something like 14 degrees during the day and 4 degrees at night in Brighton, hardly beach weather. In the twelve months I’ve lived in Brighton, I have yet to stick my toe into the surf – what surf. And here I am, coming from Cape Town!

But I digress. One of the talks that I went to was by Richard Leggett. His talk was on ‘Touching the Future’ which looked at Human Computer Interaction and the web in 2012. This talk kind of fitted in with my speculations on whether the PC had run its course. I had spoken about this in a previous article. Much to my surprise it had caused quite a fair amount of discussion and speculation. So I looked forward to this presentation to give me more ammunition with respect to my own guesswork as to the demise of the PC.

One of the first points Richard made, and apologies if I don’t get the order right as it’s so dark in the conference venues one can’t make notes, is that we will all be online all the time. That is actually a huge concept on its own. Of course one must remember we are talking Europe and the developed world here. The developing world is lucky if it can dial up to the internet.

Not only will people be accessing the net permanently, but they will be on the net with any gadget that they can grab at that moment in time. There will be a growth in surface based computing. This could be a panel on the wall in the lounge or your coffee table as Microsoft has shown in demos. With other words, touch surfaces will become more popular. Makes sense to me.

There will be greater development in intelligent software that will allow people to use the internet more intelligently. That means that the search software will be able to attempt some kind of logical interpretation of the search requests. He gave the example of a task somebody might want to complete that would query what language the next economic super power of the world would speak.

This would mean that the search engine would be able to evaluate what criteria would need to be met in order to determine what would be considered an economic super power. Once the criteria had been identified, then only would the search engine be able to propose possible economic super powers of the future. For most of us it seems obvious that the language in question would be Mandarin!

Richard Leggett also felt that there would need to be a much more logical and central way of filing one’s digital possessions. This would mean establishing libraries for DVDs, music, eBooks, photos etc. with retrieval and pre-view systems. He demonstrated an available software application, Delicious Library, which had some fascinating features already, even though only at v1.6.6 of its development.

Talking about libraries, a great way of lending out an eBook for instance would mirror the existing hard copy where one quite willingly lends a book to a friend and receives it – one hopes – back again in one piece. One would be able to lend out the eBook and the Intellectual Property attached to that book. As this eBook would continue to be recorded in our library, we would know who had it at any one time and would be able to terminate this right when we wanted the eBook back. A much safer way to lend something to somebody. Once having taken the right to the IP back, your friend wouldn’t be able to open the file again. How clean is that.

A further development that Richard saw, making the point by presented a demo using a live subject much to the amusement of the audience, was the ability of the new gadets to scan the user’s face or iris and in this way identifying the person. The facial ID would tie in with all the other personal details already accumulated on the web and available to whoever was looking for it.

As an example, the video camera on the gadget – in this case a PC but could quite easily be a mobile phone – would scan the face onto the machine/gadget. And if one was visiting Amazon for instance, Amazon would be able to take the image and search through the internet information available on you, such as your Facebook friends and what they were interested in and what books or movies you had discussed with them on Facebook. Amazon would then present these options to you for possible purchase decisions.

One of the important points made during this presentation was the fact that the human computing user would be using many gadgets and that the gadget would fit the circumstances of the user’s needs. But what seemed fairly obvious was that for the private user the standard PC would probably not be at the top of the list. Hand held devices and touch screen technology would feature strongly in the future.

Presently computing power is being developed to fit onto smaller and smaller chips in this way allowing tiny but powerful devices to come onto the market. To augment this, the innovation in the field of computing is now in the software arena with small teams of developers producing the next level of intelligent applications and that would be software that has the ability to reason.

Science fiction anybody? And just like science fiction, let your imagination run freely for a moment and imagine how wonderful it will be to have little hand-held gadgets to point, click or manipulate text, photos or video with. Or you can swipe across a glass surface to get your task done. Isn’t it time the Qwerty keyboard got ditched and we could move files around without having to use a mouse or trackpad. And trash that 15 or 17″ monitor, what’s wrong with using that 63″ plasma TV screen. We ain’t seen nothing yet.

On the other hand, for those of you out there who are clutching onto your laptops and desktop PCs for dear life, you will be happy to hear that at least 90% of the computer nerds attending the conference were never far away from their Apple MacBookPros, the forest of lit-up Apple logos a dead give away in the dark auditoriums!

The rise and rise of mobile phone connectivity

According to Jan Chipchase, principle researcher for Nokia, there will be 3 billion people connected on mobile phones by the end of 2007. That is a fair chunk out of the approximately 6.3 billion people inhabiting earth.  He also anticipates that within another two years, a further billion people will have connected.

Wow. That puts a new spin on the number of Facebook members, said to have been 42 million in October 2007,  and relegates them to total insignificance. Yet the fight between the big boys such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft for a stake in social networking communities such as Facebook is vicious and large amounts of money are on the table. Microsoft paid $240 million for a 1.6% stake in Facebook, just to remind oneself of the insane numbers being thrown around.

So who is fighting over access to these 3 billion connected people? This is surely a similar community? Mobile phone users want to be connected. So do Facebook users. Mobile phone users can text any other phone user, provided they have the number. Facebook users can poke or send messages to other members, provided they know that person’s Facebook ID. There are many other similarities between these two ‘communities’. Simplistic analysis? Perhaps.

I have been disappointed at the slow rate of development of the mobile phone, both what the gadget can do and what marketers are doing with it.  By now I had anticipated marketers talking to the audiences using full on Flash animations, interactive viral campaigns or video ads instead of the odd text message.

Companies would have designed products exclusively for mobile phones. As an example, phones have both a speaker and a microphone. Where are the mobile language courses for quick on the hoof  lessons – without the need for internet access. For the health conscious, or those with illnesses that need monitoring, what about a diagnostic monitoring facility that automatically dials to emergency services if there is a problem?

Sure some great software features are available. One can play animated games, watch good quality video, take photographs and upload automatically to Flickr for instance. One can use pre-paid air time as a gift, or even as a form of legal tender.  Some phones use the internet for free phone calls.

What about the handset itself? I would love a phone the size of a button that could be pinned onto a lapel and because it comes with a solar powered battery, I don’t ever need to worry about running out of juice. No space for a keypad then? Where is the long awaited and hyped voice activation software?  And of course it plugs into a small monitor when I want to watch movies.

When I walk out of my house I carry keys, wallet and phone at least. And according to Jan Chipchase, this is what most people do. One less item to carry in my hand or bag, would be great.  So the phone could replace the keys in that doors and phones would run on bar code systems with the use of bluetooth. And possibly the phone could replace the credit card? Pay via the phone by dialing up automatically to your bank.

Of course there is definitely innovation. And there are probably many features and products available that I just don’t know about.  It just seems that the technology is moving at a slower pace than I anticipated ten years ago when I thought that mobile telecommunication would be the next huge thing.

And of course it is the next huge thing in terms of users. Who would have thought ten years ago that the uptake would be so quick, and quicker in the developing world where state owned fixed line operators are not delivering a connecting tool to communication starved people.

Whatever the rate of progress, great and exciting things will surely be happening in the mobile phone landscape. It’s just a matter of time. Do watch this short video of a TED talk by Jan Chipchase on mobile phones, what the people are doing with them and where they could be headed for. Makes for interesting watching.

The reason why bloggers blog

According to Technorati, an internet search engine for searching blogs, the compay is currently tracking 104.6 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of tagged social media. There are certainly blogs that are written by employees of companies trying to put a good spin on their organisation and products or services they offer.

There are political commentary blogs that support candidates vying for voters. You can find blogs on every topic you can imagine. There are many blogs that are written on behalf of people or organisations for some kind of spin-off whether money or power, or both.

What I want to rather speculate on is why ordinary folk, like myself, pick up the digital pen and write a blog. My younger daughter had tried for years to get me going on my own blog. It was only at the beginning of this year that I took the plunge. My main objections had been that number one: why would anybody want to read what I wrote. Number two objection: what could I write that was of any value to anybody and third objection: only people with huge egos actually write blogs.

Listening to a talk on TED by Mena Trott, co-founder of Six Apart, a start-up which has successfully developed such products as TypePad and more recently Vox for bloggers, I started considering a whole new vista of reasons as to why people blog. One of her main reasons she says that people blog is the quest of human beings to create a history of themselves and who they are, with other words, a kind of footprint in the sands of time.

I suppose one could equate this to the Bushmen’s paintings on rocks, or the hand painted urns of Ancient Greece, the wonderful tapestries of the middle ages, portraits painted by Rembrandt or even the films created by Hollywood, Bollywood and other famous film regions. Human beings want to be able to see where they came from, and they would like to pass a bit of their existence on to others.

This passing on of ones history used to be easy when people lived in the same village for generations and where one could trace ones family back for hundreds of years just by reading through the church registry. My father’s family managed to trace the origin of their surname right back to the 800’s. Of course it ended up being a bit of a let-down. The person with the first surname such as his, had been a hay stacker. No knights on white horses and beautiful damsels were apparent in our family.

With our personal blogging efforts we present to our families and to the world a sliver of our history. We carve into the digital world, a part of our existence, to a certain extent we are trying to create a smidgen of immortality. We have existed and here is proof of this.

Does that mean that the blog has replaced the church registry then, or the church graveyard stone, one can wonder. Probably not entirely, but it has allowed people to leave something of themselves behind. It could be a reason for the popularity of scrap booking as well, which up to now had eluded me. Scrap booking is a similar effort by people to leave a memory of themselves and their families behind.

And finally, on this topic of personal history, we hope that somebody will actually read our blog. And such is the long tail theory that there will be somebody out of the millions of internet visitors, who will be touched by your blog and in whom the content will resonate. They might even leave a comment to tell you that they have read and have understood where you are coming from. When that happens, then it is truly a visit to Blogger Heaven.