Razor & Blades

The business model for Amazon’s Kindle is very interesting to me.  It’s one of few products I can think of that offers free access to the cell phone network, even if you are using it to line Amazon’s coffers just a little more.

The wireless market is so proprietary and inaccessible in the US that any way of utilizing it that doesn’t involve a two-year contract looks like a breakthrough.  We’re also seeing little pinpoints of light in Verizon’s open data network and unlimited calling plan.  Of course, pulling off iPhone’s Visual Voicemail was also a jaw-dropping accomplishment, even if the concept was blindingly obvious to everyone who ever hears about it.

Are we nearing the end of the wireless phone carriers, and (finally) heading to wireless data pipes, as we need to?  Once we unbundle the device from the network, I think we’ll start to see lower prices and better availability.

Then, the real fun begins.

Telecom: Wrapping Up

The entries I’ve written for the past month or so examine the role technology plays in everyday life. I’ve noticed that many of the entries during this time unconsciously seemed to focus on the negative aspects of telecommunications that we face, particularly corporate consolidations and the effect of telecommunications service interruptions on society.

In a way, this isn’t particularly surprising. I’ve been an advocate for strong protections of the freedom of expression (as well as the other freedoms protected by the Constitution) for about as long as I’ve been a netizen. These freedoms are essential for understanding the world we live in, and finding common ground on issues of morality, ethics, and peace.

Today’s telecommunications enables all of these rights to be exercised freely, but only if we choose to. I feel that we’re rapidly approaching a stage where the amazing freedom that telecommunications has enabled today will be surpassed by a new era, when technology is used to suppress people and force them to conform.

Like all technologies, the trick to making telecommunications technologies valuable is to ensure that they’re free from regulation, reliable, and available as widely as possible. It is in our interest to do so, because it will enable the discourse that maintains our free society.

Ma Bell: Even Closer

The new AT&T (created by a merger of AT&T and SBC late last year) is once again shopping for companies to merge with. This time, they’re looking to purchase BellSouth, for $67 billion. Among other things, the merger would result in AT&T completely owning wireless phone carrier Cingular. Verizon and Qwest will be the only two remaining Regional Bell Operating Companies.

Analysts expect that AT&T will have little trouble getting merger approval from the FCC.

Last year, Verizon sold off its Hawai’i landline division to Hawaiian Telcom. As a result, customers will likely see minimal change. Cell phone customers, however, may see increasingly steep discounts as AT&T and its competitors try to achieve superiority in the industry.

CNNI: It’s the Pictures

CNN International, the five regional feeds that CNN provides outside of the United States, was the subject of a bold and risky redesign earlier this month. The new design was created with several considerations in mind:

  • Easier navigation. The new design greatly minimizes the clutter of text that has become the norm on other channels. They have pared away all but the most essential information.
  • Slower. An irony of the new design is that it seems to transmit information slower than a screen filled with information. This is in stark contrast with CNN’s competitors, but it seems to be a result CNN is taking baby steps toward. Last year’s Headline News redesign stripped away all but a fraction of the on-screen data. CNNI goes even further, by removing the ticker that has been a staple of American cable news since September 11th, 2001.
  • Edgier. A major goal of the CNNI redesign was to allow the video to “breathe.” They accomplish this by letting the text out of its box, so to speak. The text is now white on a black background that tightly borders it – it looks a lot like closed captioning. The new look frees up space behind the text to allow the video to show through.

I haven’t been able to see what the the design looks like in motion, but if it’s as good as it looks in stills, I think it’ll be a major improvement. I do feel that the “flipper” still takes up too much screen space, but I think many people appreciate that second channel of information, so it’s probably not going to go away. Also, the CNN logo is kind of distracting in its new home. I personally would like to see it when the “navigation box” is not on-screen, but to speak of removing continuous branding in today’s competitive world is sacrilage, so I don’t expect that to happen either.

All in all, it’s a significant improvement, but I wouldn’t call it perfect yet.

The World Live Web

The web is vast, but not all of it is current. Many pages (like this blog during 2005) languish into disuse. There’s even a page that links to a web site, now long gone, that I created ten years ago. It’s unlikely that any web user today has never experienced the dreaded 404 error message that marks the place where a piece of history has since disappeared.

What fascinates me about the World Wide Web is how it has evolved from its roots as a place to publish papers, to the fastest way to spread information across the world.

Keep in mind that the Common Gateway Interface, the technology that enables dynamic web sites, has only been around since 1993 – three years later than the formation of the web itself. Since then, a variety of very cool ideas have contributed to making it easier to find information online.

RSS has been the foundation of much of the technology behind the live web. Originally developed by Netscape, RSS is a simple file that contains a list of links in a format that computers can understand. Today, all weblog systems and many other sites provide RSS (or a competing format, called Atom). Programs called aggregators read RSS feeds from multiple sites, and combine them into a single screen. planet 432 is an example of an aggregator – in this case, an aggregator focused on combining the posts of college students studying telecommunications technology.

One excellent resource for exploring the live web is Technorati, a search engine developed specifically for that purpose. Tecnorati combines RSS processing with some other so-called Web 2.0 technologies to provide a real-time glimpse of the conversation of the web. It’s a fascinating way to get a cross-section of opinions from people around the world about a significant world event. Often, thousands of blogs will weigh in within seconds of a story breaking.

The pulse of political discourse has shifted. It is no longer found on street corners or in a government building, but is instead carried out across multiple web sites 24 hours a day.