Friday, November 30, 2007

The Internet and urban migration in developing nations

We have discussed the digital divide between rich and poor nations and proposals for closing it. We have argued that closing the digital divide would improve the quality of rural life in developing nations, thereby reducing the impetus for migration from rural areas to urban slums.

A recent estimate holds that half of the world population now lives in urban areas, and the UN predicts that will grow to 59.9 % by 2030.

This will lead to increased crowding and the growth of megacities. For a description of one such megacity, Bombay, see this book by Suketu Mehta, or listen to this interview.

Do you believe the Internet could improve life in rural areas of developing nations? Do you believe that would cut migration to cities?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Running applications from flash drives

We have been able to use the limited-function computers in campus labs by running applications like Filezilla and GIMP from flash drives. Fred Langa has published a two part series on the topic: Part 1 and Part 2.

The articles review available flash drives, sources of portable software (like PortableApps), and operating concerns like security, privacy and backups.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Portable devices -- innovation and form factors

In discussing mobile and portable connectivity, we talked about competing device form factors and innovation. We have also discussed new devices which may influence future form factors and user interfaces: the One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC) laptop, the Apple iPhone, and, most recently, Amazon's Kindle.

Each has hardware and user interface innovations that may become standard fare on future portable devices. For example, the Kindle and OLPC laptop have low power displays that are legible in daylight, and the iPhone has an elegant touch screen interface and can be programmed to automatically switch between displaying documents in landscape or portrait mode if it is rotated. The OLPC laptop automatically forms a mesh network with nearby machines; the Kindle is directly connected to Amazon via Sprint's cellular network; and the iPhone can move between WiFi and AT&T's cellular network. The list goes on.

They each deliver different functions. The Kindle is a book reader, period. The iPhone a phone, Internet browser, email client, camera, etc., and it is now open to third party developers. The OLPC laptop is a PC running Linux. It comes preloaded with applications and there are tools for what I hope will become a vibrant developer community. It was conceived of as a computer for school children in developing nations, but in many ways it is more attractive than a "serious" compact laptop like a Sony Vaio for a business traveler.

Each is physically different:

Height (in)
Width (in)2.45.39
Depth (in).46.71.25
Weight (oz)4.810.351
Resolution 420x320  600x800  1200x900
Screen diag (in)3.567.5

The iPhone is a smart phone with a bright and large enough screen to browse the Web and read email fairly comfortably. The Kindle is designed for easy reading, and the OLPC laptop's high resolution display may be even better.

Which form factor do you favor? Are you willing to carry around a 3 pound OLPC laptop? Is the iPhone screen large enough for your portable applications? Would you rather carry a Kindle or a paperback book and a magazine when you board a plane?

Portable devices -- the Kindle book reader

Over the years a number of vendors have marketed portable devices for reading books, magazines and other material, but none have caught on. The latest attempt is Amazon's Kindle. Kindle is both hardware -- the portable reader -- and a service. The service includes an online store with 90,000 books, magazine and blog subscription and free downloading using Sprint's cellular network. It also includes a backup copy of everything you buy or transfer to your Kindle in case it is lost or damaged. That is the good news.

The bad news is that the Kindle service is a "walled garden." It is like having a cell phone that can only call one number -- the Amazon book store. Furthermore, the cost of downloading and backup must be covered, so a subscription to a blog which is free on the Internet might cost $1 per month, and you must pay to put your own Word files or other documents on your Kindle. The charges cover the backup and downloading service.

Would you be willing to have a specialized book reader or would insist upon a portable device capable of other functions like listening to music, Web browsing and email? Would you want a portable device that was tied to a single vendor, Amazon?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Who needs the broadcast television networks?

The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times both ran recent stories on entertainment programs being produced for the Internet by successful, mainline TV producers and writers. They are attracted to the new medium by creative control and cost savings on distribution. You can check episodes of two of them at The Fantastic Two and Qarterlife.

For more insight into the background of TV production and what is motivating these successful men to move their talents from television to the Internet, see the companion LA Times article Are Corporate Suits Ruining TV?". (You can guess the answer to that question).

Watch a couple episodes from one or both of these programs. How do they compare to TV? How do you think they could be improved?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Will open WiMax disrupt the closed cellular networks?

As we have seen, WiFi and 3rd generation cellular networks are the primary options for mobile and portable connectivity today. But, WiFi covers only limited areas (though there are millions of them), and cell networks are closed to innovation and focused on a business model of selling voice and other expensive services rather than pure Internet connectivity.

One day, Google and others may force the cellular networks to open up, but it will be a struggle. Another possibility is that a new standard, WiMax, will provide viable wireless Internet access.

We have spoken of WiMax earlier, and the WiMax leader at this time seems to be Clearwire Communication led by industry veteran Craig McCaw. You can read of McCaw, Clearwire, and their possibly foundering negotiations to combine WiMax networks with Sprint in this Wall Street Journal article.

If WiMax sounds promising, you can follow standards and industry progress in blogs written by Glenn Fleishman and Steve Stroh both of whom know a lot about wireless technology and business. Fleishman has just written a positive review of Clearwire's test deployment of pre-standard mobile WiMax in its home city of Seattle.

Do you plan to subscribe to either Stroh's or Fleishman's blog? What industry blogs do you subscribe to?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New notes on mashups and rating, identity and reputation

I posted three new class notes with assignments today. Two are on mashups between Blogger blogs and Talkr, a nifty text-to-speech service. Talkr essentially converts your blog into an audio podcast using a one-line API. Users also have the option of listening to rather than reading individual posts.

The other new note is on rating, identity and reputation. It gives several examples, and the accompanying assignment has the students add a rating widget from to their blogs.

The notes and accompanying assignments are listed under Applications in this list of notes and assignments.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Can Google open the celllular network?

As we have seen, the cellular network is closed. On the Internet, anyone can deploy an application, but most cellular operators control applications. This problem was highlighted by John O’Rourke, general manager of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile business, who pointed out that it had taken Microsoft more than half a decade to get to its current level -- doing business with 160 mobile operators in 55 countries. Even Microsoft has to negotiate with mobile operators one at a time.

Mr. O'Rourke was quoted in a New York Times article on Google's plan to provide open-source telephone software and application development tools. They have formed a coalition to develop and promote this software. The coalition, called The Open Handset Alliance, includes a number of large telephone manufacturers and network operators, but others, like Apple, Verizon and AT&T are noticeably missing.

Columnist Robert Cringely predicts that Google will go further and become a cellular operator by bidding in the FCC auction of 700 MHz spectrum which will be freed up by the switch to digital television broadcast. If that happens, he expects them to offer free, ad-supported cell phone service.

Given the Apple iPhone and Google's plans, what do you expect your cell phone and service to be like in five years?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Using a wiki for a presentation

Raquel Mireles built a presentation for another class on a wiki. She included videos (stored on Youtube, a Web service) as well as links and notes.

How does using a wiki for a presentation compare to using Powerpoint? How does it compare to using a specialized online presentation service like Thinkfree Show or Zoho Show?