Monthly Archives

4 Articles

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Extra Sensory Perception

After decrying the sensory overload that some of us are suffering, I want to offer a slightly more positive view on the wealth of comms technologies available. It stems from a defence of IM blogging services such as Twitter and Jaiku, that I read a couple of months back (though I confess I can’t remember where — possibly Wired).

Many people just don’t ‘get’ these services — basically tiny blogs of a few words or characters, telling you what the blogger is doing at that moment. They criticise them as pointless and narcissistic. But the commentator in said forgotten article pointed out that the constant stream of information from your friends as they go about their lives becomes a type of extra sense. You begin to know instinctively where a person might be at a given time, and you get a much better idea about how their day/week/life has been going.

As long as the human brain can adapt to the vast amount of information streams available, bite-sized information streams like this may indeed begin to give us a form of sixth sense. We are already adapting in some sense, to pop-ups from our IM, text alerts with football scores and electronics screens in high streets and train stations throwing out snippets of information. Even the free papers given away on commuter routes now seem to be written to appeal to those used to receiving all their information in 160 characters or less.

Imagine if we found a way to begin absorbing these streams of information in a more comfortable, automatic, subliminal fashion. Imagine how well informed we would be, and how much better our decision making might become, if these streams began to cover a whole range of information. You could stay in bed five minutes longer knowing that the traffic is fine that morning; pick up a bunch of flowers on the way home because you know your partner has had a rough day; choose to go to the gym another day because the pool is closed for repairs. All this information is available to us today, but we either have to seek it out, or it has to be fed to us. In an ideal world, we could just absorb it and use it.

It’s not quite ESP as forecast in the Book of the Future, where people with psionic powers go in to battle and can divert missiles and damage enemy space ships. But it’s still quite an exciting prospect.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Where’s My JetPack?

I did another little slot on the radio the other day, talking about the technologies that futurologists thought would be commonplace by now. There are plenty to choose from that excited us all twenty years ago but remain distant dreams.

Jetpacks for example, have never overcome their various technical challenges. Even if they did, there would serious issues of user error to overcome. Assuming people could be trained to be perfect pilots, there is still the problem of ensuring that no-one runs out of fuel at 5,000 feet.

The authors of the Book of the Future thought that laser guns would be standard issue on the battlefield by now. The last demonstration of a portable military laser I saw was somewhat less than effective. It required sustained contact for a few seconds to cause a mild singeing of the eyebrows. You can just imagine it: “Hold still Mr Bin Laden, I’m trying to shoot you…”

The most distant dream from that book remains the Replicator. By 2000, the authors believed a device would be able to rearrange individual atoms using lasers, to recreate any product or substance. It sounds fabulous — I could do with one right now to recreate me a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea. But sadly the technology remains some way off.

Without my replicator or jetpack, I guess I’ll just have to walk to the cafe.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

MySpace is Dead

I have long asserted that the prices paid for hot Web 2.0 properties are a little nuts. My belief is that they are only valuable because they the latest fad, but fads — by definition — do not last. Especially when the fad is amongst the most fickle consumer group — young people. Now I can add a little science, or at least economics, to prove my gut instinct.

Admittedly this is based on a very limited amount of knowledge. I am currently reading ‘The Undercover Economist’ by Tim Harford, a fantastic book that should be part of the national curriculum in every country. Few books give more insight in to the way the world works in so few pages. It explains the basic rules that govern the value of a company: their potential for earnings, and their scarcity.

Apparently most company’s shares come to rest around a price to earnings ratio of 16. So companies that are worth much more than 16 times their earnings must have great scarcity power.

I would argue that this is true of very few hot Web properties. They generally don’t do anything that could not be replicated or improved upon. And given the fickleness of the consumers they target, their long-term value has to be seriously questioned. Even revolutionary ideas like Skype seem to be losing some momentum — though the figures may not show it, certainly amongst my peers I have noticed a steep decline in its use. News Corp’s acquisition of MySpace may have been vindicated by the subsequent advertising deal it signed with Google, but MySpace most of all looks very vulnerable to its users departing for new pastures, notably Facebook.

I believe there are opportunities to create more lasting Web 2.0 ventures but they need to rely on more than novelty — they need scarcity power. If you can provide information and resources that are not available anywhere else, or at least are more difficult or expensive to find elsewhere, then you can create a lasting proposition — assuming you can maintain the scarcity.

Like any good scientist, I intend to test this hypothesis. Watch this space — I’ll be inviting readers to join the beta community.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Ill Communication

I’ve spent the last four weeks trying to move in to a new office. Once I finally got the keys, the only challenge was to get a phone line and broadband up and running. Complaints about problems getting DSL live are completely cliched. But that doesn’t seem to have driven the providers to improve service — at least not in my limited experience.

Despite there being six landlines previously connected to said office it has taken a month to get working broadband. Even then it only happened because I supplied my own router and rang up to get the login details. The supplied router is apparently somewhere near Bolton at the moment…

This isn’t just a random rant though. Problems like this are massively detrimental to small businesses like mine, and highlight the true nature of ‘Broadband Britain’ today. The best analogy I can come up with is that we are running a car with the body of a Bugatti Veyron and the underpinnings from a steam train. Though my final hold-up was down to human error, the major part of the delay is down to the ageing infrastructure.

Thankfully the national infrastructure is in the process of being upgraded by BT — one of the more forward-thinking national carriers. I just hope that when the 21CN is complete, we get improvements in operational performance to match the improvements in the network.

Tom Cheesewright