Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive forOctober, 2003 | back to home

31 October 2003
Filed under:Weblogs at5:22 pm

The machine it was hosted on had a hard disk crash and was last backed up on the 26th – at least that’s how it looks things happened. Thankfully I hadn’t done much in the meantime. Thanks, “Harald”:http://www.cfrq.net/~chk/, for bringing it back up so quickly and for having the foresight to back it up frequently! Service should be back to normal…

26 October 2003

Some very useful-looking web tools to help UK citizens to hold their national representatives (MPs) to account and to organize offline and online campaigns for change. Public Whip takes publicly available information about all Westminister MPs and brings it together in an easy-to-view manner. You can see how often your MP votes, how often they vote with their party and, most importantly, how they voted on specific issues.

“iCan”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ican/ from the BBC is a long-awaited site (still in beta) designed to enable and encourage community activism. It includes advice from activists, tools to link grassroots campaigns to larger organizations, and roving reporters who will publicise success stories. If it is done right this could be big (but if it is too successful it could involve the BBC in some interesting rows!). One interesting thing I notice already – I don’t know yet whether this is crucial or a weakness – is that to register you are encouraged to give your real name. For most online communities this would be an advantage, but if I were starting a campaign on something controversial I might not want to do so in a way that could allow employers to identify me. Of course, there’s nothing in the BBC’s registration process to prevent you from lying…

Thanks to “NTK”:http://www.ntk.net/2003/10/10/ for the links.

25 October 2003

I expressed worries about the new Outlook in an “earlier posting”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_email_discoveries.html#000904. It seems if you receive an email message using “Information Rights Management”:http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/editions/technologies/irm.asp but don’t have the latest version of Outlook there is still a way to read it – you have to download an “Internet Explorer plugin”:http://r.office.microsoft.com/r/rlidRestrictedPermissionViewer?clid=1033 (and be given the necessary rights of course). It’s still a bit clumsy, though.

24 October 2003

In a recent article in the “Times Higher Education Supplement”:http://www.thes.co.uk/ (subscription only), “Alan Ryan”:http://users.ox.ac.uk/~ajryan/ mentioned in passing that UK funding of universities is ‘not much above half the proportion of GDP per capita spent in the US’. Does anyone know the correct figures? (And does anyone know how Canada compares?) It’s a pretty appalling state of affairs if true – particularly since I intend to become a career academic!

22 October 2003

If you are in London tomorrow, have a half day free and have £150 (£120 concessions) I encourage you to attend a “half-day workshop”:http://nmk.prismix.com/courses/course.cfm?ItemID=4926 I am running on Internet research methods. It’s not too late to “book”:http://nmk.prismix.com/courses/register.cfm?CourseDateID=120! Assuming all goes well, I hope to do it again – possibly for a full day. Meanwhile take a look at my “search engine category”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_search_engines.html for some of the latest news and my thoughts on the subject.

I fear I have somewhat misrepresented Ian’s position on “‘bonsai’ (128Kbps) broadband” It’s not that he thinks it is going to disappoint everyone – speed, phone line blocking and always-on remain the main drivers to broadband adoption according to Jupiter. But he believes that, ‘once consumers switch to such a ‘bonsai broadband’ product they will then become disillusioned that they can’t do the activities that they will have been led to believe possible on broadband (even though these may not have been their main motivations they may be ‘nice to haves’ and which they expected to have).’

This is a very fair point. In an attempt to make broadband sexy, broadband providers promise things like “Movies and TV on demand”:http://www.bt.com/broadband/ which they just can’t deliver. But I would contend it isn’t just the ‘bonsai broadband’ companies that can’t offer this – you can’t get streaming TV or movies via most other broadband providers either – “HomeChoice”:http://www.homechoice.co.uk/ is the obvious UK exception. 512Kbps or even 1Mbps isn’t fast enough for adequate streaming video across the Internet (except for Flash animation or short films where the small size and occaisional jerkiness aren’t so much of a problem). Even if the speed were good enough, there just isn’t a wide range of on-demand high quality video available online yet (see my “Broadband Content category”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_broadband_content.html for more on this point).

So if people do want VOD, the broadband available to consumers today generally won’t give it to them, so those people would be disappointed with any broadband, not just ‘bonsai broadband’. I contend, however that a customer that has always-on Internet without blocking their phone line (two out of three of Ian’s key broadband drivers) will likely be happy and that someone like that would be almost as happy with ‘bonsai broadband’ as they would be with today’s commercial broadband.

The next step forward will happen when/if 2-4Mbps broadband to the home becomes cheap enough for the consumer and broadband providers strike VOD deals and a large BBC “Creative Archive” comes online.

21 October 2003

An old colleague of mine, “Ian Fogg”:http://weblogs.jupiterresearch.com/analysts/fogg/ (a Jupiter analyst), commented in an “earlier posting”:http://blog.org/archives/000896.html that he didn’t think ‘cheap broadband’ at 150kbps would would ‘really offer the full broadband experience that customers expect’. The reasons he gave were interesting, and reveal I think a kind of ‘supplier led’ thinking that is holding back broadband takeup.

* ‘150kbs is not sufficient for good quality [streamed] mp3 music’
How many people want to listen to streamed music? How many subscribers have services like Real One managed to sign up? If you are at work in a sympathetic company you might use it instead of bringing a radio in to work, but if you are at home you already have a radio! People who really want broadband for music are (I’m guessing) relying on broadband to download tracks either legally or (more probably) illegally.

* ‘To build community around online games, it’s important to enable access to add-on levels, and enable players to host, or run, their own games’ – well, I could see there would be a problem if a broadband games player frequently found they were being asked to download a map from within a game and they then found the ‘game cycles to the next level and the player has missed playing’. But if you found that to be a problem as a player you could also just go off and download the necessary files from one of many fan sites. As for hosting, I have played many, many online games and I have only hosted one or two. As long as one of your friends has ‘proper’ broadband this is not a problem.

* ‘it’s still good value if you care about price and mainly email and web browsing’ [but]… it doesn’t exactly encourage third parties to deliver rich video/audio content and applications … and subscribers that expect broadband to enable a richer online experience will be disappointed.’

Aha! But we’re not talking here about what subscribers *should* want from their broadband in order to support a healthy industry – we’re talking about what they *actually want*. And all the evidence I have seen is that what subscribers value most from broadband is always on/instant on connection, better web browsing and no arguments about who is on the line. A smaller segment may value download of large files but if you no longer need to worry about the ‘clock ticking’ on your connection does it really matter if that game demo comes down in the background in four hours or two?

My personal view is that the only commercial service that would cause a substantial increase in the desire for ‘true broadband’ would be something like iTunes but for TV and movie content. (And yes I know you can already download movies but so far this is very much a minority sport because of bandwidth problems).

My guess about the best way to boost broadband takeup is to a) offer it at £15 a month with speed limits (but no publicised download caps) and b) offer free three month trials – I imagine enough of the people who get it would keep it that this would pay for the installation costs for the few who tried and rejected it.

Of course I may be wrong – I am basing this largely on my own experience, friends, gut instinct and (to a lesser extent) on the ‘iSociety’s broadband research’:http://www.theworkfoundation.com/pdf/broadband.pdf

If there is, however, evidence that the consumer wants what the broadband content industry wants them to want then please bring it on!

20 October 2003

intro is an application for conference-goers designed to help them meet others who share their interests and attitudes (I apologize in advance for the over-Flash-y website – what do you expect from a Macromedia-led project?). I have dreamed for years of something like this, but it won’t realise its true power until you can essentially download it into your location-aware PDA/smartphone.

19 October 2003

Microsoft’s new “Information Rights Management”:http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/editions/technologies/irm.asp software in Office 2003 will only let approved users open Outlook email messages which are ‘IRMed’ and allow users to set an expiry date after which their messages will die. Rather handy for business use, but if you “read the fine print”:http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/technet/itcommunity/chats/trans/office/OFF0327.asp you find out that:
1) This is a subscription-based service, so if you use it you will be locked into paying Microsoft for ever after.
2) The only email software that will be able to read ‘IRMed’ messaged so far will be Outlook 2003 – and there are not even plans to make rights management work on the Mac.

I worry profoundly about what might happen if this proves popular. It might result in a situation where it’s a lot of hassle for non-Outlook email users to receive Outlook email and/or where people using Outlook end up having to remember who in their address book has Outlook and who doesn’t.

It also might actually make corporate email security worse – no technology fix is perfect and this might make people think they have solved the problem when in fact the only solution is eternal vigilance…

18 October 2003

A barking mad alternative medicine practitioner “‘The Barefoot Doctor'”:http://www.barefootdoctorworld.co.uk/mainpage.htm published (for some reason) in a regular column in The Observer went online recently for a “live chat”. What resulted was a hugely entertaining hour-long session of abuse where several indignant and sarcastic people ask questions like, “To the best of my recollection, you have said in various columns that massaging your kidneys with your fists 44 times a day can help relieve:
* baldness
* bad breath
* bad dreams
* indigestion
* migraine
and many other conditions beside. I was just wondering what therapy you would recommend for someone who has problems with their kidneys?”

(If you want to see an example of one of his columns, “here”:http://observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,11913,1061077,00.html is a recent one).

Thanks to “NTK”:http://www.ntk.net/ for the link.

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