‘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, http://www.business
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
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
• Downside’s Deathwatch (http://www.downside.com/deathwatch.html)
• F***** Company: The Dotcom Dead Pool (http://www.fuckedcompany.com)
• The Standard’s Flop Tracker (http://wwwsearch.thestandard.com/texi/trackers/flop)
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, http://www.informationweek.com/801/peer.htm)
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 (http://www.napster.com),
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,” http://www.smartcomputing.com/editorial/article.asp?article=articles/2000/s1112/08s12/08s12.asp).
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 (http://www.lotus.com/home.nsf/welcome/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 (http://www.groovenetworks.com).
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, http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/24/technology/24GROO.html)
Explains PC Magazine, which offers Groove’s beta client as a
free download (http://www.zdnet.com/downloads/stories/info/0,,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
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
athome.ssl.berkeley.edu): “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
(http://www.ud.com; “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
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— http://www.ornl.gov/TechResources/Human_Genome/home.html)
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 (http://www.bluetooth.com)
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 (http://www.bluetooth.toshiba.com),
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 http://www.ebentertainmentondemand.com.
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 (http://news.yahoo.com/h/cn/20001129/tc/yahoo_delivers_encrypted_email_1.html).
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
Strange—Willard Library Ghost Cam (http://courier.evansville.net/ghost).
“A fascinating, and at least somewhat credible, old legend exists within
the ancient walls of Willard Library: It’s a living, breathing haunted
Stranger—Crank Dot Net (http://www.crank.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 (http://lightning.prohosting.com/~receipts/index.shtml).
“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
Shirl Kennedy, a librarian by training, is Web Guide Manager for
eCompany Now (http://www.ecompany.com),
Time, Inc.’s e-business publication. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.