FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, April 28, 2006

Smart Wristbands for Smart Gyms

Gym rats who appreciate a high-tech workout experience will be interested in Casio's development of an RFID wristband that can track members and enhance their workout experience. In addition to allowing seamless check-in and tracking for safety purposes, the wristbands can interact with workout equipment to display customized workout data and an overall fitness profile.

Because it is both waterproof and unobtrusive, the smart wristband can be used in any facility where physical activity takes place, such as swimming pools, schools, day care facilities, and spas.

Source: RFID in Japan

A Database for Your Dog

Dogs don't use PDAs. But they can still benefit from having an "onboard computer" if they ever get lost, thanks to the Dog-e-Tag.

Like a traditional dog tag, the Dog-e-Tag lists a dog's name, and the owner's address and phone number. But the Dog-e-Tag can also hold e-mail addresses, alternate phone numbers, veterinarian contacts, vaccination records and even allergy and other health alerts (such as "I am an old dog and can't see very well."). Unlike RFID-based ID chips that are inserted between a dog's shoulder blades, the Dog-e-Tag doesn't require specialized equipment to read. In fact, it can display up to 40 lines of data in multiple languages.

The Dog-e-Tag is waterproof to 165 feet, scratch and shock resistant, operates in temperatures between 14°F and 160°F, and backlit. It's available in six colors and retails for $39.95.

Although the Dog-e-Tag has been around for several years, it remains an intriguing concept that could certainly be extended to use with other animals, children (especially those who are disabled or too young to know their address and phone number), and seniors with dementia.

Source: Untangled Life

Thursday, April 27, 2006

In Sympathy

Terry Heaton, whose Pomo blog has been a rich source of information and inspiration for this and many other online resources, lost his wife very suddenly the other day. According to the blog, her funeral will be held tomorrow (Friday). Over the coming days, please keep Terry in your prayers and thoughts.

RFID Finds Space on the Shelf in Libraries, Bookstores

Books, that quaintest of media, are proving themselves to be a good fit for RFID tagging, a technology still on the cutting edge.

A bookstore in the Netherlands, Boekhandels Groep Nederland (BGN), is tagging every book on the shelves of its "SmartStore" with RFID tags. Aside from expediting distribution and inventory tracking, the tags will help customers search for titles and their availability in real time using in-store kiosks or BGN's website.

Similarly, a new central library in Minneapolis is embracing RFID tagging of its items for real-time inventory and self-service checkout. Other innovations featured in this library include a "learning commons" with Internet access, educational and collaboration resources; a teen lounge featuring downloadable music; electronic "art walls" through which paintings can be displayed digitally; and reading areas with comfortable chairs and gas fireplaces.

What's striking about all this is the continued relevance of books in the face of the Internet and digital media. Bookstores and libraries were predicted to be among the first casualties of the Information Revolution, when in fact just the opposite has been true. No matter how far we advance technically, there will always be the appeal of curling up with a good, old-fashioned book... paper, binding and all.

Sources: RFID Update, Christian Science Montior

The Opt-Out Generation

More evidence that the best and brightest of the young generation are rejecting corporate America and redefining employment:

Five years after collecting an Ivy League undergraduate degree, I look around at my crew of brilliant and promising young friends and see only a few of us who are willing to slave away 12 hours a day for the security of a 401(k). It isn't that we're impractical - I'd give my pinkie finger for the comfort of health insurance - or adverse to hard work. It comes down to this: We have watched our parents waste away in drab cubicles and count the days to retirement. We have heard them whine about the work/life balance. And we're not having it.

Call me idealistic, but isn't work supposed to be part of life? In other words, a vital, joyful activity? Do I have to accept the idea that "real life" begins when I punch out at 8 p.m. each day? Am I supposed to settle for being alive only on the weekends?

I don't mean to say that my peers and I are spoiled brats who don't want to pay their dues. We do want to contribute to society, but we want to do it in a way that doesn't drain the life out of us. That is why the majority of my friends have gravitated toward self-employment, freelancing, consulting, and part-time work. According to Working Today, a national nonprofit that advocates for these outside-the-box thinkers, 30 percent of the current workforce is independently employed. I predict that this number is heading nowhere but up. [Emphasis added]

Source: Christian Science Monitor (via Yahoo)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"Classic" Diseases Resurface

Everything old may be new again... but unlike bell-bottom jeans and ballroom dancing, not all of it is welcomed back with open arms. Among the blasts from the past we'd rather forget are re-emergent diseases once thought conquered: mumps, whooping cough, rickets, tuberculosis, and even scarlet fever -- the illness that left Helen Keller blind and deaf.

Several factors are causing these scourges to make comebacks in the 21st Century:

  • Changes to less potent measles/mumps/rubella vaccines in the '80s have left many of today's college students more vulnerable than their elders to mumps and other contagious diseases, which can spread quickly in crowded dorms and cafeterias.
  • "Vaccine fatigue" has made inoculations less effective against newer virus strains.
  • The trends toward breastfeeding and organic foods may leave some children with vitamin deficiencies, particularly a lack of Vitamin D that leaves them vulnerable to rickets.
  • Ease and frequency of travel, which accelerates epidemics.

Drug manufacturers continue to develop new antibiotics and vaccines to fight the new forms of these vintage bugs, yet they can only move so quickly. In the meantime, individuals and physicians need to be aware of the symptoms, and parents need to be alert when children feel ill.

Source: Newsweek

Who Will Be the Next MySpace?

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, MySpace is being positively fawned over. And there's little wonder why. After all, MySpace is the classic web startup success story, going from the brainchild of two friends in 2003 to 70 million users and its sale to News Corp. for $580 million in the space of two years.

A multitude of startups is now hoping that lightning will strike twice. Sites like TagWorld and VarsityWorld are building on MySpace's social networking model, but are hoping to offer a difference. TagWorld's edge is technology, including shopping and the ability to store documents; similarly, a site called Imeem integrates chat tools. VarsityWorld promises to supervise user activity, seeking to make its bones by exploiting the perception that MySpace can be inappropriate and even dangerous for its teen audience. (To that end, there may be an evem more lucrative market in the field of MySpace add-ons, such as tools that could help parents monitor their kids' activities or aid marketers in data mining by searching for and analyzing discussion topics.)

All of these MySpace wannabes currently have only a fraction of the original's user base. By chasing after a fickle and ever-changing audience of young people, they hope to capture some of that golden attention. However, they need to have the right feature set at the right time to generate the right buzz. And the gold rush could go bust quickly if that audience decides to abandon social networking sites altogether.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Healthy Boomers

Much has been written on the aging of the Baby Boom generation and their expected impact on healthcare. But a new report from the Census Bureau suggests that Boomers will remain healthy as they age... mitigating the demand placed on hospitals, physicians and nurses.

The product of affluence and education, Boomers in general have had the benefit of good nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices throughout their lives. Instead of treating chronic illnesses, healthcare professionals might find themselves serving seniors through wellness and fitness centers, working to prevent the onset of chronic conditions.

Source: Hospital Impact

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Therapy by Chat

Therapists are finding instant messaging to be an effective medium for offering mental health counseling and for supporting their patients. While some office-based therapists use common IM programs to chat with their patients between sessions, other services such as MyTherapyNet.com and eGetGoing.com offer "e-therapy" that's entirely electronic.

Some mental health professionals say that the anonymity and physical distance provided by IM actually helps patients, especially those dealing with difficult issues such as sexual abuse. Encrypted chats are also more confidential and private than phone consultations (one could even engage in a session from his or her cubicle at work). Supporters of e-therapy claim that it reaches a population that would not seek help otherwise. "No one can see you, and because they can't see you, people don't have the impression that they're being judged," says Barry Karlin, CEO of CRC Health Group, which runs eGetGoing.

Others, though, argue that IM is no substitute for face-to-face therapy, where mental health professionals can "read" patients' facial cues and body language. Nearly all mental health experts agree, though, that IM should not be used to treat severely disturbed or suicidal patients.

Many of the e-therapy services accept health insurance, and offer services ranging from life coaching to marriage counseling to smoking cessation. Fees can range anywhere from $60 to $120 per hour, and though largely unregulated, e-therapy sites claim to have a high success rate (or, at least, a high completion rate of their programs).

Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press, Smart Mobs

Smart Glasses Automatically Focus, Enhance Hearing

The legions of aging Boomers who suddenly realize that they need bifocals and hearing aids may soon welcome battery-powered "smart glasses" that automatically compensate for distance and amplify sound.

While hardly a fashion statement, a prototype developed at the University of Arizona in Tuscon demonstrates the feasability of glasses with lenses that shift focus between long-range and short-range objects. The lenses contain a liquid crystal solution with molecules that, when given a mild electric charge, rotate to change focus.
Unlike bifocals, smart glasses provide a full view for the wearer, not just the top or bottom half.

A Roanoke, VA-based optical company called PixelOptics, is developing a commercial version of the glasses, featuring what it calls "supervision" technology. No word on when the glasses will be available from your local optician.

Auto focus is not the only way that glasses are getting smarter. A Dutch consortium is planning to market a line of eyeglasses called Varibel, which amplify sound while filtering out background noise. The Varibels are reportedly more sensitive and provide better sound quality than conventional hearing aids.

Sources: Science News, Roland Piquepaille's Tech Trends, Eurekalert

Shopping in the "Never Normal" Retail Environment

The American shopper shops more frequently but buys less, going out of her way to seek low prices while still valuing service. So says the study "How America Shops 2006" by WSL Strategic Retail.

The survey found that many retail categories saw declines in purchases since 2004, with only pharmaceuticals, food and pet supplies (necessities, in other words) seeing an increase in sales. Net spending declined in almost every population category studied, including those with incomes over $100,000. It also found a saturation in the retail space, with little growth in any retail channel over 2004. Regardless of income level, shoppers appear to be seeking out the most for their money, whether by shopping at "big box" retailers or smaller stores that enhance their value by providing unique services. "A growing gulf has emerged between where affluent and lower-income consumers shop," the report says. "For the first time in years, how much money a shopper has defines where she or he shops."

WSL attributes these patterns to what it calls a "never normal" business climate. As WSL founder and principal Wendy Liebman puts it, "Post 911, consumers found themselves in a 'New Normal' retail landscape... but today they reel in a 'Never Normal' world rife with unrelenting shocks that range from corporate scandals, war and tsunamis, to Katrina, see-sawing oil prices, and who knows what comes next. They anxiously wait for whatever may come next and shop accordingly." In such an environment, comfort and security become key factors.

The survey was compiled before the most recent run-up in oil prices, so it would stand to reason that the report's findings will only be exacerbated in the coming months.

Source: Visibility PR

Friday, April 21, 2006

Web 2.0 = Corporate Intranet 2.0?

How quickly will Web 2.0 technologies (blogs, wikis, social networking tools) penetrate the workplace to consitiute a next-generation intranet? And when they do, what will their impact be?

Harvard professor Andrew McAbee thinks that the effect of Web 2.0 in the enteprise could be transformative, and that a lot of non-technical business trends are converging that will accelerate its adoption. His article in MIT's Sloan Management Review offers a blueprint for implementing what he calls SLATES (search, links, authoring, tags, extensions, signals) as a knowledge management system.

Not so fast, cautions IT gadfly Nicholas Carr. In a critique of McAfee's suggestion, Carr argues that Web 2.0 technologies remain immature, and that a key variable in such technologies' success is a time investment on the part of knowledge workers. "Managers, professionals and other employees don't have much spare time, and the ones who have the most valuable business knowledge have the least spare time of all," Carr writes. "Will they turn into avid bloggers and taggers and wiki-writers? It's not impossible, but it's a long way from a sure bet."

Source: Many2Many

More US Youth Downloaders Going Legit

The percent of US kids and teens who download music, games and other content illegally has fallen sharply in the past two years, according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive.

In the survey, only 32% of young people aged 8-18 surveyed in 2006 say they download music without paying for it, versus 53% in 2004. Similarly, the number of those who download movies, games and software illegally have also declined significantly.

Although some of this decline could be attributed to the greater availability of legal downloading sites such as iTunes, the survey found that the largest disincentive for illegal downloading was the risk of viruses and spyware. However, the threat of legal jeopardy, combined with awareness campaigns casting illegal downloading as unethical, appear to be having an effect. The survey found sharp increases in young people who say they don't download illegally because "it's just not right to do" (up 9% from 2004) and fear of "getting in trouble with my parents" (up 14%). In many households, Mom and Dad must have made it clear that they don't want to be on the receiving end of an RIAA lawsuit...

None of this, though, should be taken to mean that the recording and movie industries have succeeded in turning back the clock on downloading. Instead, all signs point to the Internet as becoming the primary vehicle for distributing entertainment media... and the entertainment industry seems to be accepting it. A sign of the times appeared last week when Apple Corps, which manages the Beatles' music catalog, announced that it is preparing to sell the Beatles' songs online. Besides being one of the major holdouts in the online music business, Apple Corps has, in the Beatles catalog, a virtual license to print money into perpetuity. Nearly four decades after the band played its last note -- and with only two surviving members -- the Beatles' music generated $1.1 billion in sales in 2005. That will only increase once that music is available for online purchase -- and may settle once and for all the debate of whether downloadable media is bad for business.

Source: eMarketer

A Future Internet Where YOU are the Device

Internet pioneer Vint Cerf and futurists Ray Kurzweil and Esther Dyson envision a future Internet in which we are the devices and nodes, thanks to wireless implants. Never mind that such pervasive environments have been prediced for over a decade, but these thinkers profiled in Red Herring believe that such embedded controls will become the norm by 2016, with connection speeds of 100 megabits per second, a loss of distinction between types of media (everything is a mashup), and a blurring of the line between the real world and virtual reality.

Of course, with such power comes great responsibility, and future thinkers worry about the ability of government and business monopolies to control an Internet that's infinitely more powerful and influential than the one we have today -- and, by extension, control us. The technical structure of the Internet is also a worry, as it was never designed for this level of interactivity (though previous reports of the Internet's death have been greatly exaggerated).

Much of the success of such a future will be determined by how transparent the underlying technology becomes. As Om Malik points out, today's consumers suffer from "feature fatigue" when it comes to technology. After an initial attraction to feature-rich and complex devices, consumers often become overwhelmed, and either become dissatisfied with the device or simply make use of one or two key features.

Exciting? Unsettling? Both? How (and whether) we arrive at this future will be determined by whether it's a direction in which people really want to go. Recent history suggests that we embrace technology more or less unquestioningly (some of us more rapidly than others), but as it becomes more pervasive (invasive?), more of us will be asking critical questions, much like futurists are doing today.

Source: Emergic.org

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Movin' On Out to the Exurbs

Following a consistent pattern of moving from large cities to more rural areas, the American population continues to migrate away from city centers and toward "exurbs" -- rural areas that are within commuting distance of cities.

The general migration pattern is from the urbanized areas on the coasts to the largely rural Midwest region, as well as to the South and West. According to the Census Bureau, 18 of the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the US lost population between 2000 and 2004.

The driving force behind most of this exodus is the price of real estate; families are moving away from cities not because they don't like them, but because they can't afford to live in or around them. Small, affluent families with the means to afford urban real estate are displacing larger families on tighter budgets, thereby driving large numbers toward the exurbs while driving up the price of urban real estate. Meanwhile, Americans appreciate the quality of life that many small towns and rural areas have to offer.

Source: AP (via MSNBC)

Cell Phones for Seniors

Niche operators have attracted much attention in the cell phone space, but most of these have focused on families, children, teens, and adults with special interests. Now comes GreatCall, a cell phone service designed especially for senior citizens who may have been intimidated by such devices in the past.

GreatCall offers two phone designs, the Jitterbug Dial (featuring large buttons and a simple, no-nonsense interface) and the OneTouch (with single-button dialing for emergency use, much like the children's Firefly phone). Both presume that the user is interested only in making calls, and not in texting, web access, cameras or other features.

The service, which debuted at the CTIA 2006 show in Las Vegas recently, will announce pricing plans when it goes live this summer.

Source: CNET

Through Life's Ups and Downs, the Internet is There

Increasingly, the Internet is playing a large role in major life events, according to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The survey found that people rely on the Net to help them make decisions and gather moral support for coping with or helping others cope with a serious illness, training for a new career, making major financial moves, finding a new place to live, choosing a school or college, and buying a car. The number of people who claim the Net has been a major factor in such key decisions has increased markedly since Pew conducted a similar survey in 2002.

Longtime observers of the Internet are surely not surprised at these findings, which underscore how the Net is replacing older, smaller networks such as family, neighbors and close friends. To than end, an interesting study might be to what degree the information/support found online is better or worse than that gathered through more traditional means. On the one hand, access to online communities is available regardless of one's family status or physical location. But on the other, community members rarely have a stake in each other's success; it's no skin off someone's nose if they provide biased, misinformed or misleading advice.

More Web Users Browsing via Mobile Device

More than ever, those who access the Web are doing so through their mobile devices, according to a study by Ipsos Insight.

Although PCs and laptops remain the dominant media for Web browsing in North America, web-enabled phones and handheld devices are becoming more commonplace elsewhere. In Japan, 40% of adults surf the Web via phone; worldwide, 28% of Web users accessed it through a handheld device. Interestingly, the Ipsos survey found that it was users over 35, rather than teens and young adults, who were driving this growth... perhaps because the older demographic is finding mobile Web access to be useful for business. They also likely appreciate the way that the mobile Web can provide quick access to brief yet important snippets of information (news briefs, traffic conditions, weather maps, etc.).

Ultimately, mobile access will reshape the way we interact with the Web. "Accessing the Internet on a wireless handheld device is no longer a novelty for consumers in the major global economies," said Ipsos' Brian Cruikshank. "It's becoming a common, everyday occurrence for many people. In the long term, many of today's PC-centric online activities could be complemented through the mobile phone or migrate to the mobile phone altogether, due to greater convenience and faster connection speeds."

Source: InformationWeek

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Classic Video Games Rediscovered

Gamers fluent in the latest Xbox and Playstation games are learning that everything old is new again. Many of the old 8- and 16-bit video games from the '80s (Pac Man, Asteroids, Legend of Zelda) are being re-released, as a new experience for the kids and a nostalgia trip for their parents. Indeed, Ubercool reports that retro video games are a hot tech trend.

Some will say, why bother, when today's games are technically light years beyond even the most advanced 80's arcade game? It's for the same reason we still play classic board games like Monopoly. Despite the technology, a good game is a good game.

PCs in VWs

Volkswagen is developing an onboard PC for its vehicles, allowing drivers to control entertainment devices such as iPods, send e-mail messages from their smart phones, and even manage household appliances remotely. Dubbed "Gypsy," the PC has a touch-screen, driver-friendly interface.

This video summary on CNET suggests that VW has barely touched on some of Gypsy's potential, covering low-hanging fruit such as an MP3 player interface (one wonders if they will make the OS source code available to developers). Critics, however, will surely question the necessity or wisdom of such onboard computing, citing it as an one more distraction that drivers don't need.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Podcast Prediction Sparks Debate

Forrester's latest forecast of the growth in podcasting has triggered heated debate in the podcasting community. Specifically, the report, written by veteran analyst Charlene Li (who comments on the report here), cites audience numbers that are far lower than those frequently quoted.

According to the report, only 700,000 US households will be listening to podcasts in 2006. That number is projected to grow to 12.3 million households in 2010. While that growth is respectable, it falls far short of the growth rates projected in other surveys. Those with a vested interest in podcasting say the research is flawed, claiming that 15 to 20 million listeners already download podcasts through iTunes, and that the Rocketboom videoblog alone gets 200,000 downloads every day. John Furrier, founder of PodTech.net, initially called the Forrester report "way off base."

However, the Forrester figures parallel research by eMarketer, which forecasts an increase in "active listeners" (those who download and listen to podcasts at least once a week) from 3 million this year to 15 million in 2010. The estimated "total" audience (anyone who has ever downloaded a podcast) is, of course, much higher.

So who's right? Some of the discrepancy may be in methods (households vs. individuals, active vs. occasional listener), semantics (as with surveys about blogs, some users might listen to podcasts and not realize it), and the difficulty in measuring RSS feed traffic. The fact that the Forrester and eMarketer reports display some consistency suggests that podcast audience counts may be normalizing... though it will likely be some time before the industry gets complete and accurate data.

Source: eMarketer

Smart Homes Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

In part because the technology driving them is maturing, and in part to help sell homes in a softening real estate market, "smart homes" are coming out of the realm of theory and testing into mainstream housing construction.

Mass-market home builders, which sell new homes in the $250,000+ price range, are adding sophisticated networking technology to their designs. State-of-the-art home theater systems, pre-wiring for video and data networks, and Web portals controlling the house's lighting and climate are all being integrated into new home models. In the race to provide these amenities, however, home builders are discovering usability and stability issues that have long challenged IT professionals working with new technologies that can still be quirky. High-tech may be a selling point, but in the end, a house has to be Home Sweet Home first.

Source: MSNBC

Monday, April 10, 2006

ABC Putting Its Hit Shows Online for Free

Hit shows like Desperate Housewives, Lost and Grey's Anatomy have made ABC the hot TV network. Now, it's trying to make itself even hotter by making those and other shows accessible on the Internet for free.

The online access is part of a two-month trial set to begin in May. As a trade-off for being free, the online episodes will feature embedded ads that viewers will not be able to skip over.

TV networks are finding strong audiences in free online programming. In March, CBS provided live streams of March Madness NCAA college basketball games at no charge. CBS had 1.3 million registered users, as opposed to just 25,000 last year when it charged $19.95 for access. In a similar vein, AOL has begun offering free access to vintage TV series such as Maverick and Welcome Back Kotter.

If ABC's trial is a success, it could point the way for an entirely new business model for broadcasters, as well as new challenges. On the Internet, network programming will have to compete with smaller competitors who can likewise produce and distribute buzz-worthy online programming without the resources of the networks. And, without FCC oversight, such programming could be edgier and raunchier than anything the networks have experience in developing. One trick the networks might try is to offer special "uncensored" versions of its shows online, or expanded versions as the Internet will liberate show creators from the restrictions of timeslots.

Source: CNN/Money

Christian Lindholm's Top Mobile Trends

Christian Lindholm is Yahoo's VP of Global Mobile Products. On his blog, he makes some forecasts for the top mobile trends for 2006. Yeah, I know, the year's nearly a third over, but he has some interesting insights, based on his observations at recent trade shows and personal experience.

The hot new mobile devices, he notes, integrate Blackberry-like e-mail, high-definition cameras and music -- so handsets such as the new Nokia 3250 might be on a lot of wish lists toward holiday time.

One technology Lindholm doesn't see as big this year, though, is mobile VOIP. It's still emerging, he believes, but when mobile VOIP hits the mainstream, the impact will be revolutionary. "What I think people miss in the VOIP discussion is: The important thing is not free calls, the important thing is the social transformation of communication moving into multi-modal communication," he writes, noting that VOIP is an ideal medium for keeping his children in touch with their grandparents on the other side of the Atlantic. "Any time there is technology which brings generations together my alarmbells go off and I see a killer app. Video+voice+text fusion is just that."

Source: Russell Beattie

Biotech as the Ultimate Weapon

Until now, concern about bioweapons has largely focused around the relatively low-tech spread of an existing contagious disease such as anthrax. But now, some scientists are thinking the unthinkable: that DNA splicing and other biotechnologies could produce some of the most fearsome, diabolical weapons ever conceived.

The technology already exists to synthesize the smallpox virus -- technology that could be easily acquired by terrorists, crime syndicates and rogue nations. Combination viruses have reportedly been created in labs that, instead of causing immediate illness, attack the victim's immune system, causing neurological damage and death. Serguei Popov, a Russian biologist who conducted biowarfare research for the former Soviet Union, claims that deadly diseases as diverse as Ebola, polio and multiple sclerosis have been weaponized. The Soviets, he says, also tried to splice viruses that normally infect animals with a highly infectious human virus such as chickenpox to create a contagion resistant to existing treatments.

Even more bizarre, Popov claims that he was ordered to develop "psychotropic recombinant pathogens" -- viruses whose payloads affected the central nervous system, causing depression, amnesia or even schizophrenia. In the most extreme scenarios, bioweapons could be used to perform forms of mass mind control. Such agents were never fully developed, but Popov believes they are feasible.

What can be done to counter this threat? Proposals range from a radical overhaul of our national healthcare infrastructure to ensure rapid immunizations to tightening the controls over biotech components and equipment. But, as history has taught us, the problem will likely manifest itself long before any solutions become available.

Sources: MIT Technology Review, KurzweilAI.net


An unintended (if not entirely unexpected) consequence of laptops, wireless access and public Internet cafes is the rise of brazen laptop thefts. The San Francisco Chronicle reports on incidents of cafe patrons being assaulted and having their laptops literally yanked out of their hands, with one theft victim being stabbed in the chest.

San Francisco police say that laptop robberies soared from 18 in 2004 to 48 in 2005, and that thefts will almost certainly surpass that by the end of this year. According to the police, the robbers (one of whom was only 15) have discovered a lucrative market for "hot" laptops that sell on the street for as little as $200 each.

Police and computer experts urge users to exercise common sense; be aware of one's surroundings, use cable locks (which are now being provided by some cafes) to prevent a quick snatch, and, of course, back up critical data. For their part, police are setting up better surveillance and undercover decoys in some locations. One factor in the rise of such crime is that patrons in wireless cafes reasonably assume that the establishment is safe, and therefore let their guard down.

Source: Techdirt

Friday, April 07, 2006

Social Sites Go Wireless

The good news: MySpace and other popular social networking sites are making themselves cell-phone-friendly, so that teens who use them can access them anytime, anywhere.

The bad news: MySpace and other popular social networking sites are making themselves cell-phone-friendly, so that teens who use them can access them anytime, anywhere.

Source: MSNBC

Too Much of a Cute Thing?

For this week's Friday afternoon diversion, visit the Cute Overload blog, which features more cute images than you can shake a pastel-colored stick at. Puppies, kittens, bunnies and babies are prominently and adorably featured, as are other items that follow the "Rules of Cuteness."

More Advertising Dollars Move Online

In addition to more advertising money being spent on the Internet, advertising is getting more local and specialized... at the expense of "old media."

A survey by Nielsen Media Research shows that spending on Internet advertising surged 23.3% in 2005 -- the largest growth in the categories studied. Spanish-language TV was next (16.9%), followed by cable TV (11%) and local magazines (10.1%). Network radio, network TV and national newspapers all saw a decline.

In addition to simply following the eyeballs, advertisers may merely be seeking out audiences that have previously been untapped. The may also be reacting to the realities reflected in another Nielsen study showing that (surprise!) TV audiences don't always watch the commercials. The study noted that in February, the hit CBS crime show CSI garnered an average 9.5 Nielsen rating while the actual show was on, but that the ratings fell to 8.1 during commercial breaks. Similarly, American Idol experienced an 8% audience drop between the show and commercials. Hey, you gotta get a snack or hit the bathroom sometime!

A number of conclusions can be drawn from these studies, but perhaps the most significant is that as ad viewership metrics become more detailed, media buyers are able to make better decisions about how they spend their dollars. If the Internet proves to be a more measurably effective advertising medium -- and network TV measurably less so -- ad spending will reflect that.

Source: eMarketer

Male Contraceptive Undergoes Clinical Trials

A safe, affordable, reliable, reversible male contraceptive has been one of medicine's holy grails. Now, clinical trials currently underway are pointing to a viable solution.

RISUG (Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance) is just such a contraceptive. Instead of using hormones, RISUG uses a surgically implanted gel to stop the flow of sperm. Inserting RISUG involves a 10-15 minute procedure, and the birth control effect can last for up to 10 years, or until the gel is flushed out.

Clinical trials in India show that RISUG is safe and effective. Tests on men in North America, though, won't begin for several more years, and FDA approval would not occur until several years after that.

Source: Eurekalert

Social Networking for Haters

The next generation of social networking websites appears to have begun in the form of Snubster. Instead of focusing on shared preferences, this beta site cultivates relationships through shared dislikes.

President Bush, MySpace, Scientology and Microsoft top the list of most-hated items... so if you hate those, you'll find friends on Snubster. Other hated subjects include Texas Hold 'Em, "emo kids," MTV, the Hummer, and "neighbors who throw xmas trees over their balcony."

Sites like Snubster point out a common weakness about social networks: that members usually fail to leverage their networks once they join. Bryant Choung started Snubster as a joke, but soon realized that a social network based on shared annoyances was perhaps more logical and useful (or at least more entertaining) than other networks:

"The whole concept of online social networking was really starting to irk me," said Choung, who initially envisioned Snubster as a way to stem the often irritating flow of invitations to join networking sites like Friendster and LinkedIn. While such sites seemed like a good idea at first, their usage too often devolves into "an attempt to get as many fake friends as possible."

So sign up... and feel the love.

Source: Wired

Disney's Cell Phone Service for Kids

At first blush, it might seem surprising that the Walt Disney Company is getting into the cell phone business. But when you consider that Disney's primary business model is marketing technology to kids (and their parents) -- and that the niche cell phone business is surging -- and it makes perfect sense.

Disney Mobile is a phone service designed specifically for kids and parents (in fact, Disney bills it as "the first mobile phone designed specifically for families"). For kids, the phones have the full range of voice, text, content and picture messaging services. For parents, the phones allow control over who and when children can call. The phones also include built-in GPS technology so that parents can track kids' whereabouts.

Older kids won't appreciate having their calls blocked and their location being tracked, but parents of younger children might find this to be the ideal service, and might appeal to families who heretofore have resisted cell phones. The service might also have a market on the opposite end of the age spectrum, as caregivers could use it to monitor the elderly under their care.

Disney Mobile is scheduled to debut this summer.

Sources: WKMG-TV, Futurismic

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Most New Hires are Found Online

If you're an employer looking to fill positions this year, chances are you'll find most of your candidates online, according to a recent study by BoozAllenHamilton.

Between general and niche employment websites, employers' own websites, social networking sites and commercial resume databases, employers found more than half of their job candidates online in 2005, and considered online sources to have strong quality and ROI . Only direct employee referrals ranked as a better source of employees.

For 2006, surveyed employers cited their own websites, employee referrals, social networking sites and niche job boards as the top sources for job applicants. Newspapers, search firms and career fairs were rated toward the bottom.

Storefronts for the Super-Small Business

Perhaps taking a cue from cooperative antique stores in which dealers can rent tables to sell their wares, malls around the world are beginning to cater to the very small entrepreneur. One store in Singapore, inQbox, offers "boxes," a few square feet in size for as little as $50 USD per month. All the businessperson has to do is stock their box; inQbox handles the sales transactions.

InQbox describes its services as fostering "creativity and entrepreneurship by providing individuals with a low cost and low risk platform to develop and incubate their talents further than just a hobby, home business or side interest. This allows you to continue with your busy life, be it taking care of your children, traveling or working in a corporate firm."

Source: Springwise

Blogs, Wikis, Social Networks Driving Web Growth

Yahoo and Google may still be the big dogs of the Web, but plenty of powerful upstarts are nipping at their tails. While Yahoo remains the Web's biggest brand (115 million unique visitors as of February, according to a recent ComScore Media Metrix survey), it saw a modest 5% growth rate from the previous year (in line with overall growth in Internet traffic). Growth at MSN and AOL was virtually stagnant, while eBay traffic actually fell 3% from 2005.

So where are all the netizens? They're visiting blogs, wikis, online communities and social networks. According to ComScore, the web properties enjoying the greatest growth from 2005 are:

  1. Blogger.com (528%)

  2. MySpace (318%)

  3. Wikipedia (275%)

  4. Citysearch (185%)

  5. Whitepages.com (60%)

"The growth in blogging reminds us the Internet is fulfilling its original promise about participation," said Gary Arlen, a research analyst and president of Arlen Communications Inc. "This medium empowers users in such a way that they can do what they want and be heard." Experts also note greater interest in local search, as more small businesses and local groups go online.

However, growth can be a dual edged sword, as increased traffic to MySpace and Wikipedia may be attributable in part to controversies associated with those sites.

Source: Washington Post

Adulthood Redefined

In the past, we've discussed the phenomenon of kidults and yupsters -- adults who prefer the fashions, music, trends and lifestyles of those much younger than themselves. Now, we can add a new buzzword to our collection: grups. Grups, however, are not stuck in adolescence, but are intent on redefining the very essence of adulthood.

The word comes from an old Star Trek episode in which the Starship Enterprise encounters a planet populated and run entirely by children, who call Kirk and the crew "grups," short for grown-ups. An article about grups by Adam Stenbergh in New York magazine cites many of the familiar grup/kidult/yupster characteristics, though their take on it emphasizes affluence and materialism (spending hundreds of dollars on shredded jeans and vintage rock t-shirts), as well as some aspects of maturity (unlike kidults who never left home, many grups have marriages, kids and careers).

Truth is, pretty much everone under the age of 50 exhibits some grup-like characteristics. In fact, the New York piece makes a tongue-in-cheek stab at ranking "the four stages of grupitude." But why is this happening? And what's the significance?

The most obvious consequence may not be that grups/yupsters/whatever are fighting aging so much as that the "generation gap" that delineated the kid and the adult worlds has disappeared. Not only do thirty- and fortysomethings enjoy current pop culture, but their children appreciate the music, movies and fashions of their parents' youth (witness VH1's I Love the 80s).

A number of trends have nudged us in this direction, from the increasingly casual dress codes at work to the persistent marketing of counterculture “rebellion” as an easily attainable, catchall symbol for cool. During the dot-com boom, businesses not only allowed people to come to work in clothes they might usually wear to clean out the attic but encouraged this as a celebration of youthful vivacity and an upheaval of the fusty corporate order. Suits were thought to be the provenance of, well, suits. The dot-com bubble burst, but the aesthetic remained, as part of the ongoing rock star–ification of America. Three-day stubble and shredded jeans are the now-familiar symbols of the most desirable kind of affluence and freedom. So why would anyone dress up anymore? A suit says, My mother made me wear this to go to a bar mitzvah. The Grup outfit says, I’m so cool, and so damned good at what I do, I can wear whatever the hell I want. At least when I go out to brunch.

The subjects profiled in the New York article are extreme cases -- upscale, educated New Yorkers with the time, resources and inclination to obsess over style. That obsession, though, can be especially unsettling when it trickles down to (or is forced on) grups' kids:

“It’s hard to say [what the impact of grup-style parenting will be] right now, because most of these kids are between the age of zero and 5,” says Pollack [one of the grups profiled]. “So they’re still . . . I don’t want to say accessories, but they’re still moldable. You can still sort of play with them.” Although, if you’re planning to take this parental approach, you’d better make damn sure you’ve got good taste. “I find myself arguing with dads about the music their kids like,” he says. “One guy was telling me his son was really into Wilco. And I was telling him that’s lame. Because Wilco is so over.”

Of course, there are plenty of places around the country where is it not OK to wear tattered jeans to the office. But for many grups and grup wannabes, this is not a problem... because, between their preference for freelancing and telecommuting, there's no office to go to. In yet another trend we've explored extensively, grups are among those professionals who expect to be able to work whenever, wherever they want. And here might lie the most important significance of the grup phenomenon. Instead of yearning to climb the proverbial corporate ladder (such as it is these days), grups are singing, "Take This Job and Shove It"...

The Grup does not want a corner office. The Grup does not yearn for a fancy title. The Grup does not want—oh, please, do not ask the Grup to manage—a staff...

A human-resources executive told me recently that there’s a golden rule of HR: To motivate a baby boomer, offer him a bonus. To motivate a Generation-Xer, offer him a day off. The Grup, I think, would go for the day off, too....

You see, it’s not that Grups don’t want to work; they just don’t want to work for you. In a recent Money magazine poll about bosses, 54 percent of the respondents said they wouldn’t want their boss’s job no matter how much money you paid them. Fifty-four percent.

Remember, grups are of the generation burned by layoffs of the '80s onward, so they have no reason or intention of giving corporate America their undying loyalty. But will their cynicism and reluctance to play the corporate game be enough to reinvent the workplace for the rest of America? And will it trickle down to workers with less education? Management gurus such as Tom Peters have been talking up grup values for years: passion and the need to have fun and make a difference rather than just make money. Now, it may be more than just talk. Businesses that recognize grups as both employees and consumers in a different mold will have an edge over those that don't.

South Korea Creating a Robot Utopia

As it has embraced other technologies, South Korea is aiming to be the premier country in the world for personal robotics. Already the most wired nation (72% of households have broadband Internet), the government hopes to have robots in every South Korean home by no later than 2020.

The government has been randomly distributing experimental robots to households and businesses. Most of these perform simple tasks such as cleaning, but developers are working on robots that can "read" human emotion and provide true companionship.

South Korea prides itself in being a technological guinea pig, testing and adopting technologies long before they appear elsewhere.

RELATED: Read an interview with Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot, in Knowledge@Wharton (registration required)

Source: New York Times

Americans Embrace Multi-Function Cell Phones

The results of the latest study from Pew Internet and American Life Project should hardly surprise anybody -- Americans love their cell phones, and are making greater use of advanced features such as MP3 players, games, Internet connectivity and cameras.

Howard Rheingold summed up the essence of the study: "We think of them as mobile phones, but the personal computer, mobile phone and the Internet are merging into some new medium like the personal computer in the 1980s or the Internet in the 1990s."

The details of the study offer some interesting insights about our growing love affair with our cell phones:

  • One quarter of those surveyed said they couldn't imagine life without their cell phones.

  • 28% admit they don't drive as safely as they should because they often make calls from behind the wheel.

  • Three quarters have relied on their cell phones to help out in an actual emergency.

  • 36% say they are sometimes shocked by the size of their phone bill.

  • Nine in ten say they encounter rude cell phone users (talking too loud, phoning in an inappropriate place, etc.), though only 8% admit being rude themselves.

Meanwhile, a UK study found that inexpensive 3G phones are actually changing social habits. People interact more frequently via video calls, post to blogs directly via their phones, make creative videos, and otherwise use their phones to document their lives. The falling cost of 3G phones is driving their adoption, to be sure; despite increased capabilities, the survey found that most cell phone users valued styling, cost and battery life when selecting a phone.

Source: AP (via Excite)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Iraq the First Battle in a "Long War"?

According to one expert on global conflict, Iraq is not only irreparably broken, but has the capacity to break the nations and economies it touches.

John Robb of Global Guerrillas believes that Iraq's descent into what he calls "primary loyalties" (tribal and sectarian allegiances) is more or less permanent, and that the war there will affect us for decades to come, long after George W. Bush has left office and the last American soldier has left that country:

Increasing pressure on US forces (from all sides) and an inability to take sides will eventually result in a US withdrawal. Oil production from Iraq will remain at current levels -- below pre-war -- despite the need for it to supply rapid growth in global demand. Regional instability will follow and transnational terrorism will continue its meteoric growth rate. Unfortunately, unlike the US withdrawal from Vietnam, global integration will ensure that this conflict will follow US forces back home.

In other words, according to Robb we've only begun to see the effects of this conflicts, both in the US and worldwide.

JCPenney Wraps Pilot of Self-Service "Concept Store"

Last week, retailer JCPenney closed a temporary "pop-up" storefront in New York City's Times Square that it had opened earlier in the month to coincide with the Oscars. The store was an experimental "concept store" in which shoppers made all their purchases via kiosk.

Instead of having racks of clothes, the store featured minimalist displays of large photos and mannequins modeling certain items. Shoppers could then place an order through a kiosk and either take their purchases or have them shipped to their home. The store was staffed with a handful of managers from other stores, who were on hand mainly to answer questions and assist shoppers with the kiosks if necessary.

Though few shoppers had difficulty with the kiosks, reaction to the store was reportedly mixed. Some shoppers liked the kiosk concept, while others would liked to have seen more inventory in stock. Admittedly, using technology in clothes shopping -- a tactile experience in which shoppers like to try on different sizes and styles -- is more of a challenge than with other products.

JCPenney said that the purpose of the store was to generate interest in their website, JCP.com, though they are continuing to test kiosks in three of their more conventional stores. They surely had some takeaways from the concept store experience, such as the situations in which kiosks were effective and where they were actually counterproductive.

Source: SelfServiceWorld