Digital Home

Barron’s writes: “The battle to control the digital home is linked inextricably to the heated fight between the cable and phone sectors for control of your telecom dollars. The rapid spread of wireless phones, combined with the soaring adoption of the Internet-based phone service known as VOIP, has accelerated erosion of the regional Bells’ core residential phone market. That has spurred telcos to make bold moves, ranging from multibillion-dollar projects to compete with their cable rivals in video distribution, to a flurry of mergers with cellular and long-distance outfits. Both cable and phone companies now offer a “triple play” — phone, video and broadband ‘Net access — bundled into a single bill. Add wireless, and you have a quadruple play….In the digital home, consumers will have a rich array of choices. Television lovers will be able to choose among conventional scheduled programs, video on demand, shows recorded on DVRs and material downloaded from the Internet. They will be able to access the music and photos on their PCs via the TV. The television will be able to display e-mail and voice mail, the Web and home security and control systems. And all of this will be accessible from any room in the house — and, eventually, from any place outside the house with an Internet connection…It’s an enormous opportunity. Shane Robison, the chief strategy and technology officer of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), puts the annual revenue from all the affected markets north of $1 trillion. And the roster of combatants eager to snatch a piece of that enormous prize is vast.”

Groupware at Sun

Tim Bray writes:

At the recent Sun Analyst Summit, I was chatting with one of the guys from IDG, who noticed that I lived in Vancouver and wondered if this was a problem. I explained that Sun is highly-distributed and were pretty good at this stuff. I suppose, he said, you must have some really advanced software for collaborative work. Beyond email, of course… I began, but in fact a huge amount of Suns work is done by email; Ive heard internal people give values for the total number of messages our email servers deliver every day which sound frankly ridiculous for a mere 32,000 employees, but they have no reason to lie.

Beyond email, of course, well, theres VPN, instant messaging, and wikis. Because I, and most people I know, have a dozen Gaim/iChat/whatever windows open all the time for the people we work with all the time. And basically all of the substantial projects Im involved with that have a design component also have a wiki in the mix somewhere. And of course you need VPN so you can do some of this stuff privately.

Chat and wikis are not exactly what the collaborative-future visionaries of past years had in mind. But they seem to hit an awfully-big 80/20 point. (Mind you, it helps if your chat software can do audio and video, and you have good telephone infrastructure.)

We can do better, of course; theres this Sun-labs thing Ive seen that looks like a real step forward. But for now, VPN, chat, and wikis feel like theyre at the centre of the near-term future.

Google Maps Tech

InfoWorld writes about the technology being used for Google Maps:

What rich and smart client technologies enable this magic? DHTML, JavaScript, CSS, XML, and XSLT.

As is the tradition when Google launches a new service, curious hackers immediately took Google Maps apart to see how the magic was done. The best early analysis came from Joel Webber, who worked out the details of image tiling, dynamic updating, and route plotting (infoworld.com/2533). Among other interesting discoveries, he found that the application uses the browsers built-in XSLT engine to transform packets of XML received from the server into search results, displayed as HTML.

This explains why Google Maps supports only Internet Explorer or Mozilla-based browsers. The others, notably Safari and Opera (Overview, Articles, Company), lack built-in XSLT processors.

Commenting on Webbers post, one reader noted that no W3C standard defines this capability. As is the related XMLHttpRequest object, which enables the browser to programmatically fetch XML from the server and parse it, the built-in XSLT processor was a Microsoft (Profile, Products, Articles) innovation that was later copied by Mozilla. Safari and Opera do support XMLHttpRequest, by the way, which is why they can run Google Suggest, the experimental version of Googles search that dynamically expands partially typed queries into lists of choices.

QuickSilver-like User Interfaces

Russell Beattie writes:

QuickSilver is this program running in the background which you call up by hitting control-spacebar (or whatever combo you want) and then you start typing the name of the application, document, link, etc. and a list of items that match that name come up and you can quickly choose that item to launch it. It’s very useful.

There’s another company called MotionBridge that’s doing something similar in the search space. They’ve even added an iPod-like hierarchical view of the data as well. I definitely love that way of looking at my data. I don’t know about everyone, but I think in hierarchies, so being able to drill down to me is great.

I think this stuff, and the pop-up helpers on the web made popular by Google Suggest, is very cool. It’s taking a new look at user interfaces and figuring out what people want to get done, rather than forcing real-world analogies on top of the interface. And all this of course, goes back to the Ask and Ye Shall Receive post I wrote a week or so ago. If you know what you want, just ask for it (i.e. start typing it) and then get it.

This is especially important in the mobile space as the size of the data you store on your mobile is going to increase much faster than the screen size which is physically limited. Being able to just type what you want like in the example above and work through several gigs of data is exactly what’s needed. The S60 address book works similarly if you want to test it, just start typing a name and it’ll filter out matches.

Really what search and these types of predictive user interfaces do is allow people to easily work with abundance of data, and I find that exciting. I hope these UIs hit the mainstream soon.

Tagging Revolution

ITworld.com has an interview with David Weinberger:

In the past few months and with the pace picking up, there’s been a huge amount of development in the realm of tagging online and digitally. The differences between the sort of real-world way of organizing stuff, which in its finest incarnation, you have somebody who builds a universal taxonomy, a set of classifications into which everything can fit, you know, like the Dewey Decimal System. Every book can find a place in this preset set of categories arranged into a hierarchical tree.

The absolute opposite of that is what’s happening on the Web now as more and more sites allow people to tag content, whether it’s bookmarks at del.icio.us or it’s photos at flickr. So you post your photo and you put in a word or two that constitutes a tag. And those tags are then made public, so anybody can find all the photos that have been tagged as Grand Canyon or as humorous or whatever. So that’s a bottom-up taxonomy, a bottom-up set of classifications. There’s not a preset set.

TECH TALK: The Future of Search: Whats Changing (Part 2)

2. RSS

RSS is about syndication and subscription. RSS, which means Rich Site Summary (or Really Simple Syndication), is a format for making content available in a language (XML) which a computer program can read and process. RSS can be used for making available incremental updates available. Interested users can subscribe to be alerted when the updates are available, and can view the updated content in an RSS Aggregator.

Mark Pilgrim wrote about RSS in 2002: RSS is a format for syndicating news and the content of news-like sites, including major news sites like Wired, news-oriented community sites like Slashdot, and personal weblogs. But it’s not just for news. Pretty much anything that can be broken down into discrete items can be syndicated via RSS: the “recent changes” page of a wiki, a changelog of CVS checkins, even the revision history of a book. Once information about each item is in RSS format, an RSS-aware program can check the feed for changes and react to the changes in an appropriate way.

Brad Feld wrote recently: In the early 1990’s, SMTP enabled a raft of companies that built businesses around all aspects of Internet-based email. Shortly thereafter, HTTP enabled – well – an entire industry. SMTP and HTTP are really simple protocols (and – when they were first created – had a slow initial commercial adoptions that suddently went non-linear and became pervasive.) We are seeing exactly the same thing with RSS – and blogging is simply the first broad-based instantiation.

In the past couple years, there have been a number of RSS-based search engines: Feedster, PubSub and Technorati are some examples.

3. Mobile Phones

The PC is now no longer the only personal device in our lives. The mobile phone has usurped the personal space. Mobile phones are moving beyond just voice communications and becoming part of the primary information platform in our lives. 600 million phones were sold globally in 2004 (as compared to about 200 million computers). For many, the phone is the only device that they have in the emerging markets, the mobile phone is going to become the platform for both communications and computing.

Ramesh Jain wrote recently about home mobile phones is really a personal computer and communicator.

The quality and functionality of mobile phones keeps on improving at a rapid rate. Combine this with the increasing availability of video content on phone and increasing bandwidth, and you clearly see what will be the real multimedia client for information and communication technology.

I do believe that for many reasons, mobile phones are real PCs (Personal Computer) or really PCC (Personal Computer and Communicator). Currently computers have evolved to be the most common means for ICT (information and communication technology). This was natural because ICT evolved out of computing. Now we are at a very important point in the evolution of mobile phone technology. Due to miniaturization of sensors, processors, and storage, it is becoming possible to bring enough computing power in mobile phones. This computing power is definitely not comparable to today’s computers, but definitely can be compared favorably with lap top computers of a few years ago. The more important thing is that the computing power is becoming enough to utilize mobile phones as a powerful client, more powerful than traditional clients of modern road warriors the lap top computer. Why do I think that it will is a better device to replace a lap top for many uses?

Are there any inherent limitations in phones? I really dont think so. The screen size is the one that people will mention. I think that in future screens will be very good quality, of course they will be smaller than your media room’s 65 inch TV, but for mobility I am willing to settle for a smaller screen as long as it gives me good quality video. And that is already started it is not yet there but will be there soon.

As we shall see later, the personal, always-available and always-on nature of mobile phones will change our expectations of search in very interesting ways.

Tomorrow: Whats Changing (continued)

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