Sky Dayton’ Boingo

From Wired magazine:

Dayton, who founded EarthLink eight years ago, is working his everyman routine to promote Boingo, his new ISP for the Unstrung Era. Boingo sells Internet access via Wi-Fi, the short-range wireless technology that broadcasts 11-megabit-per-second broadband over radio waves. Conceived as a way for sysadmins and home networkers to eliminate pesky cables, Wi-Fi nodes have found their way into conference rooms and living rooms alike. Now they’re spreading beyond private spaces. Geek hobbyists are popping networks up on windowsills and fire escapes, pointing Wi-Fi antennas at adjacent parks, bars, and wherever else city dwellers might dig free bandwidth. Dayton is betting that businesspeople want to surf sans wires, too, especially while on the road, and that they’ll shell out $75 a month for the privilege.

But, as numerous failed entrepreneurs can attest, capitalizing on a snazzy new technology is trickier than it sounds. In Boingo’s case, bringing wireless Internet access to the masses raises a host of problems. For starters, there’s the infrastructure %u2014 or, more precisely, the lack thereof. If Boingo is going to sell access to a far-flung wireless network, it first needs a far-flung wireless network. That’s not as easy as scattering cellular transponders along the highway. Whereas a single cell switching station can cover an entire town, most Wi-Fi signals peter out after a few hundred feet. As a result, we’ll need tens of thousands of nodes nationwide before coverage can be considered even minimal. Wi-Fi’s first big commercial venture, MobileStar, went bankrupt while putting access points which can cost $4,000 each in 550 Starbucks. Deploying a network powerful enough to cover a good-size airport can run well over $500,000. And deep pockets aren’t enough. Before the buildout can happen, someone needs to convince the bureaucrats who operate the hotels and airports critical locations for Boingo’s target customers that a Wi-Fi network can be a revenue-generating magnet for business travelers.

WiFi is what the world’s emerging markets need to leapfrog their bandwidth infrastructure problems. In the developed markets, there are many alternatives for high-speed Internet access. But the emerging markets are where WiFi can become core to the network, and not just another access method.

TECH TALK: Rethinking the Desktop: New Ideas

Before we go ahead, I wanted to share two quotes by Vannevar Bush, both written many decades ago. Their relevance to what our computer desktop should do is striking.

[The human mind] operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course: trails that are not frequently prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all in nature. As We May Think, 1945.

A Revolution must be wrought in the ways in which we make, store and consult the record of accomplishmentIt is not just a problem for the libraries, although that is important. Rather, the problem is how creative men think, and what can be done to help them think. It is a problem for how the mass of material shall be handled so that the individual can draw from it what he needs instantly, correctly, and with utter freedom. Memex Revisited, 1967.

As we seek to make better use of the resources that are today the most precious our time and attention, let us consider the objectives of a new, improved desktop:

  • It should give us a snapshot of the information that we need quickly along the lines of the dashboard in a car.
  • Information should come to us, rather than me going out in search of it.
  • It should reduce the clicks we need to do repetitive tasks. Every click or keyboard entry that we need to do reduces the probability that we will do it.
  • It should be possible to customise what we see because we are all different.
  • There should be a time-ordering option for information: because we understand the passage of time better than the vastness of space.
  • It should facilitate the two-way sharing of ideas.
  • A Search option, which goes across documents, mails and the Web, is a must. The irony is that today it is so much easier to search the Web than it is to search our own hard disks.
  • It would be nice if the desktop could learn what we do, so it could automate some of these tasks. I say this with some hesitation artificial intelligence applications are easier dreamt of than programmed!
  • It should leverage the applications we are already familiar with, rather than making us to learn something new.
  • It should be able to alert us when something important happens if we are not at our desk.

    In a nutshell, the new desktop should help us leverage our time better when it comes to interacting with information, use the computer screen that we see more effectively, and ensure integration with the world of devices through (near) real-time alerts.

    Many luminaries like David Gelernter and Michael Dertouzos have written in recent times about the desktop and the interface which we use to interact with computers. Microsoft (and other companies) have hundreds of engineers working on developing software which can make our computer-related lives better.

    My objective in rethinking the desktop is not to question the fundamentals of the human-machine interface. Rather, given the constraints we work in, we need to see how best we can use an aggregation of some of the ideas and innovations that are happening to provide something that is much better than what we have today. Sometimes, a few simple ideas taken together can make a big difference. In this case, the building blocks for these ideas are weblogs, RSS, publish-subscribe, outlines, open source, XML and web services, IM/SMS and some value-added aggregation.

    Tomorrow: The Building Blocks

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