Archive by Author - Howard Rheingold

Traveling Geeks’ favorite online power tools

by on August 24, 2009 at 5:33 pm

The Traveling Geeks’ tour of the UK this summer was one of the most intense junkets I’ve ever been sucked into. Among other things, I gave my first major talk at Reboot Britain about 21st Century Literacies. One of the nice side-projects is JD’s survey of the geeks about our favorite productivity tools. Check out Coolest power tools of some top geeks: (more…)

Toward the era of (printed?) sentient things…

by on July 22, 2009 at 9:06 pm

When I wrote Smart Mobs in 2001 and launched the blog with the book in 2002, I made a number of forecasts about the convergence of the mobile phone, the personal computer, and the Internet. Some of these forecasts, particularly in regard to the use of mobile communications to organize political demonstrations, were accurate. Some of them haven’t happened yet. Some of them might not happen at all. I looked back at Smartmobs Revisited when I spoke at Mobile Monday Amsterdam in June, 2009. And I recently blogged about some reasons why the mobile Web hasn’t developed as rapidly as the tethered web did. Another 2001-2 forecast that has not come to pass by 2009 was what I called “the era of sentient things:”

Different lines of research and development that have progressed slowly for decades are accelerating now because sufficient computation and communication capabilities recently became affordable. These projects originated in different fields but are converging on the same boundary between artificial and natural worlds. The vectors of this research include:

* Information in places: media linked to location.
* Smart rooms: environments that sense inhabitants and respond to them.
* Digital cities: adding information capabilities to urban places.
* Sentient objects: adding information and communication to physical objects.
* Tangible bits: manipulating the virtual world by manipulating physical objects.
* Wearable computers: sensing, computing, communicating gear worn as clothing.

Information and communication technologies are invading the physical world, a trend that hasn’t even begun to climb the hockey stick growth curve. Shards of sentient silicon will be inside boxtops and dashboards, pens, street corners, bus stops, money, most things that are manufactured or built, within the next ten years. These technologies are “sentient” not because embedded chips can reason, but because they can sense, receive, store, and transmit information. Some of these cheap chips sense where they are: the cost of a global positioning system chip capable of tracking its location via satellite to accuracy of ten to fifteen meters is around $15 and dropping.

Watch smart mobs emerge when millions of people use location-aware mobile communication devices in computation-pervaded environments. Things we hold in our hands are already speaking to things in the world. Using our telephones as remote controls is only the beginning. At the same time that the environment is growing more sentient, the device in your hand is evolving from portable to wearable. A new media sphere is emerging from this process, one that could become at least as influential, lucrative, and ubiquitous as previous media spheres opened by print, telegraphy, telephony, radio, television, and the wired Internet.

But…not yet. However, I’ve seen a couple of recent indicators that this forecast might have been more premature than totally off the mark. First, one of the most reliable early indicators I turn to all the time, one of the few RSS feeds that I rarely miss scanning at least once a day, ReadWriteWeb, recently noted that IBM might be getting into the act:

In the Web world, you know that a trend has major traction when IBM is all over it. Like any large Internet company, Big Blue is careful about which trends it latches onto. It was a good couple of years before they were spotted at the Web 2.0 conference, for example. However in the case of Internet of Things, IBM is proving itself to be an unusually early adopter.

I recently spoke to Andy Stanford-Clark, a Master Inventor and Distinguished Engineer at IBM. Yesterday we wrote about how Stanford-Clark has hooked his house up to Twitter. Today we delve more into what his employer, IBM, is doing with the Internet of Things.

IBM is involved in some very interesting projects at the intersection of two big trends we’ve been tracking in 2009: The Real-time Web and Internet of Things. They have a website devoted to this topic, called A Smarter Planet. As the name implies, it focuses on environmental matters such as energy and food systems. Sensors, RFID tags and real-time messaging software are major parts of IBM’s smarter planet strategy. The catchcry for the site – Instrumented, Interconnected, and Intelligent – is about outfitting the world with sensors and hooking them to the Internet to apply the ’smarts.’

My spider-sense might not have tingled as strongly at this tidbit about IBM if I had not met Dr. Kate Stone in Cambridge, UK, a few weeks ago. Although the Travelling Geeks had seen dozens of remarkable startups in London and in Cambridge, the hint of what-might-be-news came when Dr. Stone approached me after a series of pitches and told me about Novalia, a company that is combining current printing techniques, electroconductive ink, and ultra-thin control units to make paper an interactive medium, capable of sensing visual, auditory, or touch inputs, connecting to the Web, displaying audiovisual information. At least in theory. I didn’t see any prototypes. But if you put together the clues from Novalia’s website with the more concrete news from IBM, it seems like the era of sentient things might still be ahead of us – and maybe not too far:

Control module
We have developed and supply a ‘printed electronics control module’; this self contained unit consists of a power source, integrated circuit (I/O control and interaction flow), and sound transducer.

The module is very simple to integrate with the printed item, in fact it’s almost as easy as putting a stamp on an envelope (but for now it’s not quite as thin).

The integration of the module and the conductive inks enables the printed item and the user to communicate through the senses of touch, sightand sound.

JD Lasica’s 6 minute interview with Howard Rheingold about 21st century literacies

by on July 19, 2009 at 5:51 pm

If you want the 6 minute version, rather than the 40 minute version of my talk about 21st century literacies, check out the interview JD Lasica did in front of King’s College, Cambridge, UK, during the last part of the Travelling Geeks tour:

21st century media literacies from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

Video of Howard Rheingold talk in London on 21st Century Literacies

by on July 18, 2009 at 6:42 pm

This is my edit of a talk on 21st century literacies that I gave in London at the Reboot Britain conference in July, 2009. It was part of the action-packed, fun-filled Travelling Geeks tour. About 40 minutes. {Original link: Howard Rheingold on 21st Century Literacies.}

Howard Rheingold on 21st Century Literacies.

Will BT let JP create the first open network operator? One scenario for the mobile Web

by on July 14, 2009 at 11:21 pm

The Web exists because Tim Berners-Lee didn’t require any network operator to rewire its central switch. Google exists because nobody has to ask permission to create a new way to use the Web. These affordances for innovation are no accident: Sir Tim could give away the Web and Larry and Sergey could make billions of dollars for themselves because the architects of the internet’s original protocols were wise enough to reserve innovation for the edges, not the center of the network. The authors of what has become known as the internet’s realized that control of the network – technical, economic, political – could be radically decentralized, and that by enabling anyone who played by the TCP/IP rules to connect anything they wanted to the network, future media that they didn’t even dream about in the olden days would one day become possible. So the Web, cyberculture, the dot com economy, digital media, the refashioning of global economic production by digital networks, grew extremely rapidly.

The merger of the mobile phone and the internet has not grown anywhere nearly as rapidly as the web precisely because there is someone you have to ask for permission in the mobile world – the network operators. And network operators evolved from regulated monopoly telephony providers, who have done their best to prevent, rather than to facilitate, an internet-like ecology of small and large businesses, heterogeneous media, decentralized control, and a rising economic tide that lifts small boats and threatens huge ships that take a long time to turn. We have yet to see an owner of significant telecommunications network open their network by providing an open application programming interface (api)

Which brings us to JP Rangaswami:

JP Rangaswami talks to the travelling geeks

JP Rangaswami talks to the travelling geeks

(Source: JD Lasica)

JD Lasica’s photo was taken atop BT Tower in London, when British Telecom’s CIO of Global Services invited the Travelling Geeks to dinner in a private, revolving dining room in BT’s high-security antenna tower, a landmark on the London skyline I’ve often wondered about. How that dinner came to be is a story of how life happens online these days. A link from another blog brought me to JP’s blog, Confused of Calcutta, years ago; I read it via RSS regularly, and when I saw that the blogger was on Twitter, I started following him. When JP used, it tweeted what he was listening to. I couldn’t help noticing that he listened to a fair amount of Grateful Dead music. So I started to correspond with him. When he visited the San Francisco Bay Area, he invited me (via Facebook) to join him for dinner. He had more than a few interesting things to say about the way media infrastructure might evolve in the future. So when I knew we were going to London, I introduced the Travelling Geeks to JP. He, in turn, invited us to dinner. It dawned on me that my blogger thinker Deadhead social media acquaintance wielded some clout at BT when we were greeted for dinner by the CEO of British Telecom.

It was probably JP’s idea to seat me next to Ted Griggs, the founder of Ribbit, a company JP had acquired. The seating was probably no accident. Here’s Ribbit’s elevator pitch. (Another way of describing Ribbit’s product, Griggs told me, as London revolved below us, would be “open API’s for [now BT’s] networks.”)

I’ve been writing about the future of digital media for a while now, and I think I’ve developed a pretty good spidey-sense for something that could change everything. When I met the people JP had collected and saw what they were doing (during a morning of demos after our dinner), I was reminded of nothing so much as the time I got to know Bob Taylor at Xerox PARC and started to realize that what they were doing on Palo Alto’s Coyote Hill Road with personal computers, networks, graphical user interfaces way back in the 1970s was going to be the foundation of the 21st centuries fundamental structuring technologies.

But Xerox management, of course, thought they were in the copier business and failed to take advantage of the fact that their research arm invented the GUI, the Ethernet, and the laser printer.

Will BT management realize that they aren’t in the telephone network operator business, and that someone in their midst has invited not only their future, but everyone else’s? Stay tuned.

Punting on the Cam: Grand finale of Travelling Geeks trip

by on July 11, 2009 at 7:36 pm

A great finale for an intense week with the Travelling Geeks in the UK: I streamed video from the Nokia N79 phone I had on loan while I punted on the Cam River with TG organizer JD Lasica and his family in Cambridge, UK:

Phone video interview with founder of Moby Picture

by on July 9, 2009 at 6:33 pm

The sound isn’t great, and I didn’t use a tripod so it is a little shaky, but I was streaming video from a Nokia N79 from a balcony overlooking the Thames (in a restaurant in the Globe Theater) when Mathys van Abbe, founder of Mobypicture came along — he had some good things to say about the future of digital storytelling.

Reboot Britain – First Stop on Traveling Geeks tour

by on July 7, 2009 at 8:28 am

I knew it would be intense when I said yes to the call to adventure, but if the first day is any indication, the Traveling Geeks tour redefines intense. The day starts with an exercise in cat-herding, with the whole crazy crew piling into three London taxis. Try putting any five of those rather strong individual personalities into an enclosed space and “intense” is the only word for it.

We spend our first day at Reboot Britain, the kind of event I’d love to see in the USA. It was sponsored by NESTA, also the kind of organization I’d love to see on our side of the pond. You can get a sense of what went on by searching our tweets via the #rebootbritain hashtag on Twitter. I was particular nervous because I was scheduled to speak at 6:00. I far prefer to get my talk over at the beginning of the day, so I can relax. The speakers were engaging enough for me to spend all day sitting down, which is not my custom. It was probably the first day in two years that I didn’t take an hour out to walk. I was surprised at the extraordinarily warm response to my talk. It was the first time I had spoken publicly about a subject I’ve grown passionate about – 21st Century Literacies. You know you’ve hit the mark when people are still sitting at the end of the last session of the day. I finished speaking, acknowledged warm applause, sat down — and people kept sitting. So I got back on stage and fielded questions for another 20 minutes. Thank you, London, for making my day!

After Reboot Britain, we were treated to the extraordinary hospitality of the extraordinaryJ.P. Rangaswami and his colleagues at British Telecom, aka BT. I first became acquainted with JP through his blog, Confused of Calcutta. This was not the usual thinking from a highly placed executive at a telecom operator. Not the usual thinking, period. So I started following him on Twitter (@jobsworth) and when I noticed that he was often listening to vintage Grateful Dead tunes, I struck up a correspondence. On one of his visits to San Francisco to visit BT acquisition Ribbit (more about them later), we got better acquainted over dinner. So when he heard the geeks were headed for London, he arranged a mind-boggling capper for our first day – dinner at the top of BT Tower. We were greeted by no less than the CEO of BT, who made some surprising and welcome statements that lead me to suspect that BT might be the kind of un-telecom, un-operator that the world needs to remove the telecom operators’ obstacles to a truly mobile web. We’ll see. Mark my words – just as Xerox PARC changed the world because Bob Taylor was a once in a century people collector, I suspect that BT is going to have a similar impact because of JP. Really. Watch and see.

Off with the Traveling Geeks

by on July 2, 2009 at 10:46 pm

I’m heading for the airport, anticipating meeting up with the Traveling Geeks. Look for posts, pix, maybe streaming video next week.

Smartmobbing the Traveling Geeks

by on June 22, 2009 at 9:33 pm

I learned from Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle that “unexpected travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” This explains why I knew I could not turn down the opportunity to spend an intensive week in London and Cambridge with the Traveling Geeks. I already knew Renee Blodgett, JD Lasica, Craig Newmark, and Sky Schuyler, but I won’t meet Meghan Asha, Sarah Austin, Susan Bratton, Tom Foremski, Jeff Saperstein, Robert Scoble until July 5 in London, at which point we’re scheduled to swarm over London, meeting various geeks, enterprises, institutions. Here are the geek bios. How could I not want to ride along with a crew like that? I’m not much of an industry observer, more of the 30,000 foot level observer, but I do follow the fellow geeks’ reports. I like that the geeks represent a range of media and beats. I like we’re not just old guys. The agenda sounds juicy and tiring. We’re supposed to be equipped with the latest from Nokia, so we’ll all be streaming video at one time or another – or simultaneously. I’m supposed to speak at two events while I’m there: Reboot Britain and Civil Service Live. Stay tuned.

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