In the Internet graveyard: RSS, USENET, CompuServe and GeoCities

You have to be of a certain age to remember that geeky feature known as ‘RSS” and why it was supposed to change everything.* Or to have been on a USENET group or a BBS to know that there were ‘discussion boards’ before Twitter and Discord. I still remember creating a ‘homestead’ in GeoCities, which was a precursor to, Second Life. Second what? This was a ‘massively multiplayer’ virtual hangout in which businesses spent millions of dollars creating virtual storefronts, hosting virtual conferences etc. This was all part of a frenzy to colonize cyberspace, as if real estate was about to run out. This was when we breathlessly talked about the clash between the bricks and clicks.

IBM’s meeting room in SecondLife

I have to admit I too went in for a land grab with a domain I registered called Brand Buzz. I was nearly sued by a big name ad agency that claimed I was trespassing on their ‘land’ and for awhile stood my ground. (Long story; I featured this in my book Chat Republic.) As a tech columnist for Communication World magazine I remember attending virtual conferences in Second Life, and wondering where this bizarre game-like experience was taking us. Could we be chatting with each other as (through) pixelated avatars in the future? Thankfully not.

There was also a time when we had 56K modems, and needed a CD-ROM from American Online (Who remembers ‘ROM’s and AOL?). I bring these up because we are now being submerged in new terms and new technologies claiming to be defining the future of the Internet. I occasionally broach the subject in my class to give my students some context to the tech hype they are being exposed to, as we were then. Like 5G. Here’s what the Electronic Frontier Foundation, (a thinking person’s guide to anything with or without wires and apps) had to say of 5G:

Without a comprehensive plan for fiber infrastructure, 5G will not revolutionize Internet access or speeds for rural customers. So anytime the industry is asserting that 5G will revolutionize rural broadband access, they are more than just hyping it, they are just plainly misleading people. (“Enough of the 5G Hype 2019)

We’re still drowning in hype, aren’t we?

* RSS is dead. But the protocol that it was based on to provide ‘feeds’ lives on. Second Life is still on life support.

Browsers will take Augmented Reality mainstream

Rory Cellan-Jones, tech correspondent at the BBC reports on how Augmented Reality is now available in public spaces such as Trafalgar Square.

It ends with a skeptical person saying what many have used before about new developments. The person, of course is one of the Ladygeeks, who says that ionly people with a lot of time to kill will use something like AR. I was immediately reminded of the 1943 comment, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” That was an observation by Thomas Watson, who was the chairman of IBM, no less.

While it is too early to tell if AR will go the way of Second Life, which became a nice experiment and somewhat fad, it is too early to write it off as pointless, or too geeky.

Especially with the new Augmented Reality browser, Wikitude, that has already started appearing in some smart phones. Before the browser came along, you could download an application such as Layar that works with the iPhone and Android.

You don’t need to be technically savvy to use interact with AR. The camera in a smart phone, laptop, tablet even iPod is all you need. The browser does the rest. Says Wikitude, “By using the camera, simply hold up your smartphone and explore your surroundings. Wikitude will overlay the camera’s display and the objects you look at with additional interactive content and information.”

Soon there will be many browsers, such as Wikitude. Another good browser called Argon was out earlier, and was developed by Blair MacIntyre, at the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech. When that happens, it won’t be people with time to kill who begin using it. As organizations, cities, libraries, and media and entertainment companies begin to see the value in layered, augmented information, how we think of AR will change.

Where’s that 3D Web we were promised?

Whatever happened to all the business infatuation with the 3D Web?  Until a little over a year ago, when Second Life was all the rage, it seemed like we would one day interact with each other as avatars, on a 3D Web and two-dimensional interaction would be history. Young people would check into Habbo Hotel,  and business folks would mouse over to IBM, PR types would exchange virtual business cards on Reuters’ island, car buyers flock to Pontiac island, and those needing a technology fix would fly over to Circuit City.

It’s not entirely over with SL. Accenture is still recruiting  at their virtual career center there. But lately the bloom is off the rose, and instead of spending time over sculpted prims and private islands, people are getting into more pragmatic modes of interactivity. Reuters (!) reports that the Second Life Community Convention (in real life, mind you)  in Florida last September, only drew half the number of attendees that came in 2007.

Flash has grown up to a point that we could give users a simple 3D experience like this without crashing their computers. An interactive game or animation with data input could hop across a number of platforms. Even create realistic simulation and movement like this.

We don’t live in one dimensional worlds, and some form of 3D will be part of our online experience. But I was at a tech meetup yesterday and one of the takeaways from that was, despite all the ra ra about web 3.o being upon us, we all seemed to agree with Aaron Post that those sites that will be valuable will be those that have an offline component.

Offline, as in Real Life. As in the original 3D, interactive experience!

I say this, even though a lot of impressive work we do and showcase here at the Decision Theater is in 3D!

Visualization meets communication – my new job

A new phase of my career kicked in this week at ASU. I’ve joined the Decision Theater. A perfect fit for my deep interest in technology and collaborative media.

Excuse the brochure-speak, but if you’ve never stepped into an “immersive environment” on the edge of information technology this is it. The thing that strikes me is how useful it would be to apply this blend of informatics and visualization to other disciplines. Marketers and analysts who value pattern recognition will relate to this high end visualization.

If you’ve dabbled in database mismanagement, you know that spreadsheets and bar charts in spiral-bound books don’t quite set people’s heartbeats racing. Which would you prefer: reading a 90-page document on the ‘water atlas’ or moving a slider to see what happens to the community when reservoir levels dip? Data in 3D, and information presented as alternative scenarios make us want to do something, because we don’t live in one dimensional worlds.

Speaking of which, there was a lot of talk in the last year that the web as we know it is quietly gravitating to a “3D web.” For now it’s a visually interactive web, but the visualization part is making quantum leaps.

Let me know if you would like to see what the future of decision making looks like.