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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Twitter: Life’s Red Button

I popped in to 5live last week to talk about Twitter’s review of the year with Aasmah Mir. In the process I did some thinking about what it is about Twitter that has so captured people’s imagination. I didn’t get a chance to squeeze what I came up with into the chat on air so thought I’d put it down here.

For me Twitter is a bit like the red button for your TV: rather than passively observing what’s happening in the world it gives you a feeling of interacting, of being involved. Getting your information direct from the participants in major events — whether they be activists or celebrities — makes you feel that bit closer top the action.

That is true for both the dominant modes of use of Twitter that I see: the ‘few to many’ broadcast practiced by celebrities, and the ‘few to few’ interactions of niche groups connected permanently through ‘friend’ relationships (mutual followers) or more fleetingly through hashtags. For example, there’s a noticeable excitement from people following even fairly mundane live tweets from an event that may not be there if they were just reading a transcript or watching a video after the fact. Even though they’re not physically there, they feel somehow like they’re in the room.

This works because of the nature of Twitter, both that the posts are near-instantaneous, and that the reader can digest them in near real time because they are so short. It is these things combined with the very personal nature of the posts, that for me gives Twitter that sense of being close to the action, and hence its appeal.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Contactless Payments – The End of Cash?

I’ve been trialling a watch that could replace your wallet. The device contains a small slot for what looks like a SIM card from a mobile phone. This is in fact a payment card that communicates with the till when then watch is held to a reader, now being installed in shops around the UK. There’s no PIN number, but there’s a limit on transaction size and the account has to be topped in advance, so that you can’t be cleaned out if the watch is stolen.

This is, in short, a replacement for cash. It is designed for the many small purchases that we make throughout the day: newspaper, chocolate bar, sandwich, train ticket, coffee etc. And for me it is a lot easier.

The fact that it is in a watch is something of a distraction, albeit that it is a very sensible place to put a wireless payment card. The point is that both Visa and MasterCard are piling money into these ‘contactless’ technologies, with merchants rapidly beginning to fit out their stores with NFC readers that will enable people to pay with a wave of the hand, whatever medium the payment chip may be held in.

Darryl Morris on Radio Manchester joked about my prediction that we will see the end of cash within our lifetimes: I think that is a very safe bet. It will hang around for certain uses but in five years time I would be amazed if I am still carrying coins in my pocket on a regular basis.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

4G and WiFi: Completing the UK’s Coverage

Talking about 4G on 5live last weekend, one of the issues that was raised was that of coverage: even with the next generation of mobile network, won’t we still have the same issues that we do in rural areas with 3G?

The answer is a complex one, but with a potentially positive outcome for users.

It is pretty hard to give 100% coverage of the UK with a single network technology. There’s just too much terrain to cover and it isn’t economically viable — nor necessarily desirable to local residents — to stick in a base station and mast to cover every square inch. Even the 800Mhz frequency set aside to carry the signals for 4G (currently used for analogue TV) will have issues, despite being ideally suited for range and building penetration. An additional frequency, 2.6GHz, will be used to boost capacity in metropolitan areas, but this doesn’t help out in the country.

However, 4G is about more than just capacity. It is the first truly all-IP standard. That means the whole thing is build on the technology that underpins the Internet, not hacked together from ageing telephone standards as 3G was. What that means in practical terms is that it should be relatively straightforward for 4G devices to use other types of network, even roaming from 4G straight onto WiFi.

Of course for this to be of value outside of the range of your own home network, there will need to be other networks for you to roam onto in areas where 4G is weak. Fortunately there are already efforts in train to make logging on to new networks quicker and easier. Combine this with the extension of programmes like BT’s Fon, which shares portions of people’s home networks, and you can see how 4G plus a mesh of WiFi networks could give us much complete network coverage.

Tom Cheesewright