Information Today
Volume 18, Issue 1 — January 2001
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• Internet Waves •
A Trendmeister’s Technology Forecast
Techno-fads come and go, but here are a few things that are hot right now
by Shirley Duglin Kennedy 

‘Anyone can be a trendmeister,’ says Larry Samuel, a partner in Iconoculture and co-author of The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be. In fact, says Faith Popcorn, chairman of BrainReserve and probably the best known of her breed, you might even outsmart the pros. ‘Amateurs are actually better at it,’ she insists. They aren’t ‘restrained by the rigid structures of education and all of the false wisdom.’ (Business Week, “Trend Spotting: Anyone Can Play,” March 2, 1998,
Yoo-hoo! It’s your amateur trendmeister here. Although there are no mega-corporations lining up to pay me Big Bucks for my prognostications, the good folks at Information Today are willing to compensate me to fill this space with my, uh, amateur technology forecast. 

Because of what’s known as “Internet time”—i.e., compressed product-development cycles—there’s an obvious danger in trying to predict, technologywise, what will be hot or not. This column is being written in early December 2000. By the time it appears in print in January 2001, some of the stuff mentioned here could well be yesterday’s news. We’ve all seen various techno-fads come and go so quickly that observers on the sidelines are at risk for whiplash. And with the tech-heavy NASDAQ in such a shaky state as the year heads toward a close, venture capitalists are quick to pull the rug out from floundering companies, particularly in the Internet sector.

You can, by the way, keep track of the dot-com carnage at these three sites: 

• Downside’s Deathwatch (

• F***** Company: The Dotcom Dead Pool (

• The Standard’s Flop Tracker (

So what’s hot in tech? Right now, close to the top of the heap, is peer-to-peer (P2P) technology. An Information Week article (“The Power of Peer-to-Peer,” August 28, 2000, provides a lucid explanation: “Peer-to-peer networks come in two basic versions—Napster-style models that use servers to direct traffic, and server-free implementations that directly connect desktops over an IP network.” 

As a computing architecture, P2P has been around for years, but it didn’t start making headlines until the advent of Napster (, the Internet MP3 file-sharing program that’s giving the music industry fits (while simultaneously lining the pockets of their attorneys). Although the company itself is under legal siege, the technology itself is red hot, and venture capitalists are throwing money at various and sundry P2P startups. 

Smart Computing offers an excellent overview of the file-sharing aspects of P2P in its December 2000 issue (“The Scoop On File-Sharing Services: Get By With A Little Help From Your Peers,” You’ll see that this goes way beyond teenagers swapping bootlegged music files, and that there are obvious applications in the corporate setting. 

If your institution uses Lotus Notes (, y’all have Ray Ozzie to thank. Ozzie, the creator of Notes, is widely acknowledged as one of the software industry’s most brilliant developers. He left Lotus in 1997 to work on his own private venture, Groove Networks ( Attracting a large chunk of venture capital and a top-drawer development team, Ozzie and company labored in stealth mode until this past fall, when Groove released what The New York Times called “a software tool intended to provide a wide range of new ways for work-ers to collaborate over the Internet.” It is, said the Times, “a sort of Napster for the workplace.” (October 24, 2000,

Explains PC Magazine, which offers Groove’s beta client as a free download (,,001CT8,.html)

Groove is a new approach to the instant-communication capability of  the Internet. Chatting with strangers may be fun at first, but then you want a way to communicate with friends, family, and business contacts without all the interference. That’s Groove. You establish a “space”—it might be for a club gathering, a family meeting, a business conference, or a work-group collaboration. With Groove, you set the purpose and the entrants, then you can chat, e-mail, share files, lead Web tours, and communicate in real-time audio. 
Groove intends to make money primarily by licensing the technology to corporations, which can custom-tailor it to meet their own needs. Whereas such collaboration tools traditionally require a central server, the advantage of P2P applications like Groove is that all the information is stored on individual client computers—which offers greater simplicity and flexibility in the way it links user machines together. 

Want to learn more about P2P? O’Reilly & Associates, well-known computer book publisher and open-source booster, has established a “Peer-to-Peer DevCenter” ( that offers news, feature articles, conference information, and a comprehensive directory of  “companies, projects, and initiatives in this emerging but as yet undefined space.” 

Not Exactly New 
A related hot technology is “distributed computing.” Again, this is not a new-new thing. Basically, it involves linking a bunch of client computers together and harnessing their idle processing cycles to work on a single, large number-crunching project. Universities and research institutions have taken advantage of this technology for years. Now, with the widespread popularity of the Internet, distributed computing projects can be carried out on a much grander scale. 

One well-known distributed computing project is SETI@home (http://www.seti “a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data.” You down-load the SETI client to your computer and set it up to run as a kind of screensaver mode, where it crunches data only when your machine is completely idle. As of early December, SETI@home boasted more than 2.5 million individual users who had donated 500,000 years’ worth of processing time. 

David Anderson, former SETI@home project director, designed the SETI@home client, server, and Web site software and data architecture. Not surprisingly, his expertise was snapped up by Austin, Texas, start-up United Devices (; “Building the world’s largest computer, one computer at a time”), which wants to commercialize distributed computing technology. The whole deal sounds a bit like a “Make money at home in your spare time” operation, but, in a way, it’s kind of intriguing: 

With your help United Devices will find a good home for every spare resource on the Internet. The extra power of your personal computer, along with that of every other member of our community, will be put to work to accelerate discovery in many different fields ranging from Medical Research to Environmental Studies, from Research Science to improving the Internet itself. Imagine if your computer found signs of extraterrestrial life or discovered a cure for cancer. All of this is possible with our Internet Distributed Computing platform—the Meta-Processor platform. When you join our mission you can feel good knowing that your PC is working hard to improve society. 
Sign up, download the client software, and earn frequent-flier miles or “cash rewards” while your formerly idle PC is crunching numbers in the name of science and/or technology. As an added enticement, in early December, United Devices was also giving away one MP3 player a day to some lucky participant. Prospective customers for United Devices include bioinformatics concerns (e.g., the recently completed Human Genome Project— and companies that provide services such as load testing of Web sites. 

Granted, the name is strange (derived from an ancient Viking warlord, Harald Bluetooth), but this wireless technology (invented by Nokia, Ericsson, and Intel) is heating up. If your computer is anything like mine, it has spawned a veritable snake pit of wires and cables that is ugly, confusing, and maybe dangerous. Imagine how cool it would be if your PC could communicate with a printer, scanner, hand-held device, headset—even a cellphone— without the need for a physical connection. This is what the Bluetooth ( low-cost, short-range wireless protocol is designed to do. 

For the last couple of years, Bluetooth was all talk, no action, as there were no devices available that could take advantage of the technology. Early adopters, however, can already purchase a Bluetooth PC card for their laptops from Toshiba (, and cordless phones and headsets are available, too. Whereas there are still not too many Bluetooth-enabled devices available and you may want to hold off pulling your wallet out, one intriguing application is being pursued by Ericsson, in conjunction with Collin County Community College’s Preston Ridge campus in Frisco, Texas. Ericsson is providing the funding and expertise to help engineering students develop a Bluetooth wireless system for monitoring the vital signs of athletes. 

Although fewer than 10 percent of U.S. households currently have a broadband connection to the Internet (e.g., cable modem, DSL), the broadcasting and motion picture industries are already anxiously looking into business models that will protect them from so-called “Napsterization.” Where does this look like it’s going? Payper-view or subscription-based movies and special programming. Last summer, Block-buster entered into a 20-year exclusive arrangement with Enron Broadband Services to sell movie-on-demand services. Details, including a Webcast, are available at

Cryptography Goes Mainstream 
It’s not just for geeks and spooks any more. Spurred by the growing acceptance of digital signatures and online banking, driven by the need for digital watermarking technology to protect intellectual property, cryptography is increasingly being integrated into an expanding variety of software applications. Sign o’ the times? Late last November, Yahoo! quietly began offering users of its Web-based e-mail service the opportunity to route messages through the secure delivery site of Zixit, a Dallas-based e-mail encryption firm ( In early December, when this column was written, it was still uncertain whether this was a time-limited test or the launch of a permanent service. And the technology appears to be far from bulletproof. Nonetheless, this would makeYahoo! the first major Web portal to offer an encrypted e-mail service. Whether this is something useful right now for the average user is another issue entirely. 

Location-based m-commerce (“m” for “mobile”) is what can happen at the intersection of cellular phones and global positioning systems. Say you are driving down the freeway. As you approach an exit, your wireless phone is suddenly deluged by come-ons from fast food restaurants that are located just off the exit ramp. Or you’re in an unfamiliar city on a business trip, you have time to kill after your meeting, and you feel like browsing in a bookstore.Your cellphone can provide you with the location of the closest Barnes & Noble. 

This whole sector got a boost last year from an FCC ruling that required all wireless carriers to find a way to pinpoint the locale of users dialing 911. There are still technological and logistical roadblocks ga-lore, not to mention privacy issues. eCompany’s Web Guide, which is the nexus of my day job, has a good collection of articles about location-based m-commerce at,1660,32128|125|0|0|1|a,00.html

Strange Sites 
Strange—Willard Library Ghost Cam ( “A fascinating, and at least somewhat credible, old legend exists within the ancient walls of Willard Library: It’s a living, breathing haunted house.” 

Stranger—Crank Dot Net ( “Crank Dot Net is devoted to presenting Web sites by and about cranks, crankism, crankishness, and crankosity. All cranks, all the time.” 

Strangest—Derrick’s Big Web Site of Wal-Mart Purchase Receipts ( “It’s been about three years now. For some odd reason, I don’t throw away my shopping receipts, any of them. I just keep them all in an old toaster box. No indexing, no purpose, no real reason to hold on to them. Until now.” 

Shirl Kennedy, a librarian by training, is Web Guide Manager for eCompany Now (, Time, Inc.’s e-business publication. Her e-mail address is

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