The News – 06/12/01
With the Information Flow
Everything you know about computer interfaces is wrong,
according to David Gelernter, noted computer author and thinker, and
founder of Mirrorworlds Technology. The desktop metaphor was a revolutionary breakthrough in the ‘60s
(yes, the ‘60s, when Douglas Englebart
invented it and the mouse.) Almost 40 years later, the metaphor is worn out
and unable to keep up with the demands of computing. The rise of small personal
devices such as phones and PDAs has made the obsolescence of the desktop
obvious. What we need, Gelerntner says, is a way of organizing information
that is closer to the way our brains do it: in chronological order with a
fast (well, relatively fast for those of us over 40) associative search
Rather than dealing with information by conforming to
computers, Gelernter wants computers that conform to the way we think. To
accomplish this, Mirrorworlds has recently released Scopeware 2.0, which
allows you to organize your life around streams, rather than a “standing
pool of sludge,” as Gelernter calls current file systems.
The stream would be an all-inclusive electronic
diary: every information item that entered your life would enter the stream
at the same time. When you made plans for the future, you'd store the plans
in the "future" of the stream. The stream could reclassify
everything instantaneously. If you wanted to see all your zeppelin
documents you would type "zeppelin," and all non-zeppelin-related
documents would disappear, and you'd have a pure zeppelin stream. You'd
rely on the powerful symbiosis among full-content-searching, easy browsing
and time-order to find exactly what you wanted, fast. Emails, electronic
images, and other information items would be first-class citizens of the
stream, alongside documents and applications and anything else. In other
words, this information management system would actually manage
information, instead of gazing off into space while YOU managed
Scopeware allows companies or individuals to set up a
stream which will contain all emails, word processing files, spreadsheets,
PDFs, contacts, calendars – any of the electronic bits of information that
currently rule our lives. Using sophisticated security, permissioning, and
distribution technology, you can access the stream from any computer or any
device, at least eventually.
Gelernter, whom you may be familiar with as a result
of the Unabomber’s letter bomb attack on him in 1993, envisions a world in
which we can forget all the arcane things we’ve learned about dealing with
computers and concentrate on dealing with the information. Streams will be
provided as a utility, like power and water, rather than being purchased in
boxes that grow obsolete every 18 months.
Whether Mirrorworlds’ scheme pans out or not, you can
expect some radical changes in the way you do computing over the next few
years, what with dramatically increasing bandwidth and computing power, and
the proliferation of computing devices.
It seems obvious that the primary computing metaphor,
the desktop, will need to change. My feeling is there will be a variety of
schemes to fit the variety of ways that people interact with information. I
once had a colleague who filed everything by time, much the way Scopeware
does. When she left, we couldn’t find anything, but it all was immediately and
intuitively accessible for her. We’ve probably all known people with
idiosyncratic filing methods. Chances are good, then, that the new
computing environment won’t be a tyranny of standardization like the
current one, but rather infinitely adaptable to the way people think.
- Buzzword Alert: We’re all familiar with megabytes by now, and
most will recognize gigabytes (1,024 megabytes). You may even know
that a terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes and a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes.
But now, for the first time, I’ve seen a number associated with the
Internet that dwarfs them all: zettabytes. A zettabyte is a 1 followed
by 21 zeroes. That’s the current estimate of how much information the
Internet will contain by the end of the decade. Any bets on how long
it will take to get to a googolplexbyte?
- NetZero and Juno Online Services, two ISPs who made their
names with free Internet service, said they would merge to form a new
company called United Online, expected to be the second biggest US ISP
after AOL Time Warner's America Online.
- It’s Better to Burn Out Than to Fade Away: At least 54 US Internet
companies closed in May, pushing the casualty total for the first five
months of this year to 269, beyond the 222 total closings for all of
2000. According to Webmergers, a San Francisco research and advisory
service, at least 493 Internet companies have shut down since
Webmergers began tracking the phenomenon in January 2000. The company
estimates that there are 7,000 to 10,000 substantial Web firms still
- Ferry Tale: Forbes columnist Rich Karlgaard waxes eloquent on the topic
of assessing broadband demand: “How accurate is it ever to gauge, say,
traffic for a proposed bridge by counting ferry boats and swimmers?
Forget last-mile as you know it today: clunky DSL or cable modem
service. These are mere swimmers and ferry boats. The bridge will come
when last-mile connections are easy to order (one phone call or Web
click); quick to deliver (the very next day); always on (like
electricity in, uh, 49 states); and cheap ($20 a month or less). When
the dogs are served that, they'll eat till they burst.”
Can’t Get Enough of ME?
In the unlikely event that
you want more of my opinions, I’ve started a Weblog. It’s the fashionable
thing for pundits to do, and I’m doing it too. A Weblog is a datestamped
collection of somewhat random thoughts and ideas assembled on a Web page.
If you’d like to subject the world to your thoughts, as I do, you can
create your own Weblog. You need to have a Web site that allows you FTP
access, and the free software from www.blogger.com.
This allows you to right click on a Web page and append your pithy thoughts
to your Weblog.
I’ve dubbed my Weblog
entries “Stratlets”, and they are available at www.stratvantage.com/stratlets/.
Let me know what you think. Also check out the TrendSpot for ranking of
the latest emerging trends.
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